Q: I’m renting a house in Fairfield and the owner has just put it up for sale. My first question is whether the owner do that while I’m renting? Doesn’t he have to wait until my lease is over? The other question is whether I have to let strangers into the house to view it? I’m a single mother who lives here with the three kids. Not only is it inconvenient for somebody to call and say they’re coming over, but I don’t know who these people are and I have my kids to protect. On top of that, the landlord says he wants us out of the house while people are here seeing it. Surely I’m entitled to some peace and quiet in the home I’m spending $1,500 per month to rent, aren’t I?
A: Being a tenant in a home that’s for sale can be a pain. No doubt about it.
The law tries to balance the rights of the tenant to use and enjoy the property they’re renting against the needs of a property owner to deal with the property as he chooses.
The balance the law strikes doesn’t always seem fair.
Yes, a landlord can certainly sell his property, even with you living there under a lease.
The good news is that the lease doesn’t go away. The new owner has to buy the place with you in it. The buyer simply steps into the shoes of your current landlord. You have a right to the same terms and conditions as you had with the previous landlord, as well as the right to get your deposit back at the end of the lease.
The bad news is the inconvenience you suffer along the way.
No home seller likes the part of the process where people and their Realtors wander through the house like uninvited guests. It’s even worse as a tenant, since you’re not the one who decided to sell the home in the first place.
But a landlord has, in effect, the same right to enter your home for the purpose of showing it to perspective buyers as he does to inspect or to make repairs.
The law requires the landlord to give you “reasonable” notice of his intent to enter. The law presumes that 24 hours is “reasonable” notice. The notice must be in writing and state the day and time the landlord is going to enter and for what purpose.
Except in emergencies, landlords only have the right to enter, after the proper notice, during “business hours.” Business hours are usually considered to be from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., seven days per week.
When a rental house is on the market, the listing Realtor will alert all other Realtors in the Multiple Listing Service regarding how to give notice to you that they intend to come see the property.
Typically, Realtors will call you at least 24 hours in advance if you’ve given permission for the MLS to print your telephone number, which you don’t have to do.
However, it can be more convenient than holding the landlords’ feet to the fire and requiring 24-hour written notice. Otherwise, you may find Realtors constantly on your doorstep to hand you the required written notice.
Now, your question about the landlord’s request that you and your kids leave the home during a showing is interesting.
It’s likely the landlord was told by his Realtor that houses show better without the seller, or by extension their tenant, being at the house. And that’s true. Prospective buyers will feel freer to stay in the house longer and to speak more candidly with their Realtor if you aren’t there.
But there’s nothing in the law that requires you to leave or that gives the landlord the authority to order you to do so.
So you have a couple of choices.
You could stand on your rights and simply refuse to leave during a showing. And that’s fine.
Or, you could barter with your landlord.
For example, you could promise to straighten the place up and leave during a showing if he cuts the rent in half from now until the house closes escrow.
The landlord would benefit by giving buyers a longer, more relaxing look at the property, and the cash you save would help offset your inconvenience.
Smart landlords don’t generally want disgruntled tenants in their properties when they’re trying to sell them.
Deliberately making it difficult for the landlord to show and sell the property could get a tenant evicted. But remember, the tenant is going to be inherited by the new buyer. So a cooperative tenant can help maximize the sales speed, and the ultimate price, of the property.
Tim Jones is a real estate attorney in Fairfield. If you have any real estate questions you would like to have answered in this column you can contact him at [email protected]