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Holdover Tenant: What To Do When Your Tenant Won't Vacate

Sophia Merton
January 17, 2023

When a tenant remains on your property after the expiration of their lease without your permission to stay, you’re dealing with a holdover tenant. Unfortunately, this isn’t a particularly unusual circumstance for landlords or property managers to face.

In this article, we’ll take a look at what to do when your tenant doesn’t vacate. Navigating this situation correctly is absolutely key to avoiding legal or financial consequences.

What Your Options Are When You Have a Holdover Tenant

Before we jump into the different options you can choose from, it’s important to understand that you should not accept any rental payments from your tenant if you want them to leave the property after the lease has expired. If you accept rental payments or even a portion of a month’s rent, they are legally able to continue occupying the property without a lease in place.

female holdover tenant looking out window
If a tenant is staying in your rental property after the expiration of the lease and you want them to vacate the property, it's important that you don't accept any payment from them towards rent. If you do, you are making it more difficult to legally remove the individual from the property.

If you accept rent payments from a holdover tenant and you don’t have a written agreement in place, the situation can be complicated. Since the laws vary by state, it’s impossible to make a broad statement about the potential consequences that will apply to all 50 US states. That being said, your legal recourse to remove the tenants from your property is likely limited or complicated if you accept rent from them.


Let’s just get this one out of the way first.

Evictions are pricey, time-consuming, and often ridden with tenant-protective legalities that make the process even more difficult. Even so, if you need to forcibly remove a tenant from your property, an eviction is the only legally permitted way to do it.

female holdover tenant looking down stairwell
If you have a holdover tenant that won't move out of your property after the lease has expired, eviction is one of the first options you should explore.

The exact steps you’ll need to take in order to evict a tenant will depend on the state that you’re property is in and the laws governing the landlord-tenant relationship. In some states, so long as you don’t accept any additional payment, you won’t even need to send a 3-day, 7-day, or 30-day notice to quit. Instead, you can simply file for an eviction.

Check out this post on the best places to buy rentals if you’re tired of dealing with state laws that unfairly favor tenants at the expense of landlords.

If you did take a rental payment, however, you will likely need to provide all of the notices required by state law.

The eviction process involves filing the case with your local municipality, standing before a judge at a hearing, and abiding by whatever decision results from this process.

Unfortunately, evictions can take weeks or months to resolve. If a tenant still won’t leave your property, you’ll have to call a police officer, constable, or sheriff, that will be legally permitted to forcibly remove the holdover tenants from your property. Again, you’ll want to look into your specific state laws about the eviction process before taking any action.

Are you dealing with squatters? Check out our guide to evicting squatters here.

Cash for Keys

If the idea of going through an eviction is giving you a headache, you might consider another option that doesn’t involve filing a court case, hiring lawyers, standing in front of a judge, or any of the red tape associated with filing for an eviction.

holdover tenant handing keys to landlord after receiving cash
Some landlords choose to offer cash for keys in order to regain control of their property rather than going through the expensive, lengthy, and frustrating eviction process.

While that all might sound great, you might not love what the option consists of. Many landlords believe it to be a truly unjust alternative.

In short, this is when you offer to give the tenant cash in exchange for them moving out on an agreed date. It might sound ridiculous that someone is staying on your property illegally, and you have to pay them to leave, but it is a strategy that is often successful.

You’ll want to evaluate your specific circumstances before going this route. For many landlords, forking over some cash in order to regain control of their rental property is simply the most financially sound decision, even though it seems profoundly unfair.

It’s generally a good idea to start small if you decide to offer cash for keys. You might consider offering them an additional portion of their security deposit. If this isn’t enough, you could also throw in a small percentage of their monthly rent (10%, for example.)

It is absolutely essential that you do not give them the money until their possessions are removed from the property, and the keys are in your hand. It should be a single exchange, not something that you pay in installments. Otherwise, you could be in an even more frustrating situation where you’ve now paid the tenants, and they’re still living in your property.

For some tenants, this won’t be their first rodeo. They know that landlords are motivated to avoid the eviction process, and they might try to use this as leverage. If they continue negotiating the price upward and it simply doesn’t make sense for you financially anymore, it’s likely best to begin the formal process of eviction.

Are you tired of dealing with long-term tenants? Read this guide to Airbnb arbitrage.

Officially Terminate the Lease

It’s possible that your lease agreement or the laws in your local area allow a holdover for some amount of time. If this is the case, you’ll need to officially terminate the lease agreement. The laws vary by state, but in most places, you can provide notice that is equal in length to the rent payment period.

Once notice has been received by the tenant; they’ll have to leave the property by the date stated in the notice. You will need to pursue an eviction or the cash-for-keys option if they don’t leave after that point.

Let the Tenant Stay

If a tenant has been causing you trouble and is refusing to leave after the lease has expired, it’s likely not a wise decision to let them stay. However, this is technically one of your options, so it is worth mentioning.

If you continue to accept rent payments from a tenant after the lease has expired, there are two different categories that their occupancy will fall into. These are:

  • Tenancy at will: When a tenant occupies and pays for a property with the consent of both the tenant and the landlord but without a formal lease agreement
  • Tenancy at sufferance: When a tenant occupies and pays for a property without the consent of the landlord and without a formal lease agreement

In many cases, when a tenant isn’t vacating your property when they don’t have your permission to stay, the last thing you want to do is nothing.

What You Should NOT Do When Your Tenant Won’t Vacate

When someone won’t leave your rental property, it’s natural to feel pretty angry about it. That being said, it’s important to avoid taking certain actions to try and drive your tenant out on your own, as it can land you in some serious legal hot water.

Turn Off the Power or Other Utilities

In pretty much every circumstance, it’s illegal to turn off the power or necessary utilities in a rental in order to try and force your tenants out.

apartment with power shut off because landlord tried to get rid of holdover tenant illegally
Don't be tempted to turn off the power to your rental property to try and get your tenants to leave-- instead, stick with legal options.

Doing so can damage your eviction proceedings if you ever go the formal route.

Change the Locks

Similar to turning off the power, it’s illegal in almost every state to change the locks in order to force your tenants out. This will also reflect very poorly on you if you are in front of a judge during an eviction hearing.

Harass Anyone Occupying the Property

It’s important to remain professional when interacting with holdover tenants, no matter how difficult it is. You could be jeopardizing your eviction ruling and even face criminal charges if your communications with the tenant or anyone occupying the property are perceived as harassment.

Dispose of Their Belongings

Finally, you also should never remove or dispose of a holdover tenant’s belongings without their consent. On top of a fine, you could also face criminal charges.

One of the best ways to deal with holdover tenants is to prevent this problem from occurring in the first place. While you can't always know how a tenant will act once they've moved in, a thorough tenant screening process should help reduce stressful, frustrating, and expensive events like these from happening very often.

Are you running the numbers on your prospective rental property? Be sure to use our rental property calculators.

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College and is a real estate investor and researcher. With more than ten years of experience owning and managing investment properties, she has gained valuable insight into the pros and cons of operating rentals. Sophia is dedicated to helping others create wealth through real estate and aims to provide straightforward information about every aspect of rental property ownership.
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