What tenants should do when landlords sell rented apartments


Handling a case of landlord selling a house while there are tenants in the house is an issue that needs both legal and understanding spirit to manage.

For the ordinary citizen on the street, the tenant cannot stop the landlord from selling or transferring his house to another. But there are more to that, as everybody has a right in every situation. Tenants have many rights when a landlord sells the property under rent. Typically, tenants will have rights to be notified of any showings and sale of the property and may also have the right to remain in the property after the sale (through the end of their lease). Even, tenants with no lease will have rights when a landlord sells the property. The specific rights tenants will have when a landlord sells his house will depend on the terms of their lease and local and state laws.

According to Jonas Okechukwu Ike Esq, Principal Counsel, J. O. IKE & Co, when a landlord has sold his house, the right of the tenant will depend on some factors.

“One: If the tenant during the sale still has unexpired tenancy, he can sue the landlord if the landlord or the purchaser tries to terminate the tenancy before the end of the tenancy period.

“Two: If the tenancy has expired before the sale and the purchaser is aware that a tenant is still in his purchased house, the tenant still has a right as a ‘Tenant at Will’ to sue the purchaser now the landlord, if the landlord tries to eject the tenant without the required statutory notice.

“Three: There are some other rights as may be found in the tenancy agreement between the tenant and the landlord. However, numbers one and two above are the outstanding situation where the tenant can sue the landlord for his right after the landlord has sold the house the tenant is occupying,” he stated.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) who pleaded anonymity said there are different angles to any issue by way of interpretation, which, he explained, make lawyers to argue cases instead of believing whatever was presented to them.  He further said, there are various rights the tenant could hold unto to take his pound of flesh in the event of the landlord disposing his apartment/house. These rights include but not limited to;

One: Right to advanced notice before showing

The right to advanced notice before a showing is a right that guarantees that you need to be notified at least one to two days in advance prior to the landlord accessing the property to show it to prospective buyers. This right also applies to other forms of access the landlord may need, including conducting an inspection, appraisal, or getting estimates for necessary repairs and upgrades. The exact amount of notice the landlord needs to give you varies by state, so it’s important to be aware of local laws. You and the landlord must mutually agree on the time that they can access the unit. Since it is their property, you can’t outright refuse entry as long as they give you notice and have a legitimate reason. But they also can’t just show up and demand access. So, the landlord must give you fair notice and come at a reasonable time if they need to gain entry to your living space for any reason.

Two: Right to advanced notice to vacate property

The right to advanced notice to vacate the property is a right that requires landlords to give the tenant sufficient notice that he will need to leave the home. This will allow him ample time to make arrangements and find a new place to live. Even if the lease is set to expire soon, the landlord will still have to let you know if they don’t want to renew the lease or if a change in ownership means that you cannot renew it for an additional year. The exact amount of time required will vary from state to state, but typically it’s either 30 or 60-day notice. 

Three: Right to original lease terms

The right to original lease terms is a right that ensures tenant original lease is enforceable, even if the landlord decides to sell the house. So, if you still have six months left on the agreement, you have the right to remain in the property until it expires, and the new owner must respect the existing lease. This also includes the right to any utilities or amenities included in the contract. For example, if the lease agreement included heat and electricity or the use of a rooftop deck, you are still entitled to these add-ons until it expires. So, the new landlord must either continue to honour the terms or approach you about making an arrangement to end the lease early.

Four: Right to ‘cash for keys’

The right to cash for keys gives the tenant the right to negotiate a cash for keys payment if he and his landlord agree to terminate the lease early. In this scenario, the landlord agrees to pay you a fee to turn over the keys so they can sell the property. This typically occurs when the new buyer plans to demolish the building or do a gut renovation and needs the tenants to leave. For this to work, both parties must agree to terminate the lease early and arrive at a fair rate of compensation. If either party violates the lease without the consent of the other, they may still face legal action.

Five: Right to occupy the unit after sale

Even if the landlord offers you a payout to vacate, you have the right to refuse. If you do, you have the right to continue to occupy the unit until the end of the lease term, even if the new owner has other plans for the building. The new owner must honour any conditions in the original contract until it expires, and they are not allowed to put any pressure on you to move out sooner.

Six: Right to break the lease if terms are violated

If at any time the lease terms are violated during or after the sales process, tenant has the right to break the lease without repercussion. You should make sure to document any clear examples of neglect or violation of the rights in case you need to prove it in court. For instance, if the new owner stops maintaining the building to put pressure on you to leave, you have a right to walk away. You can even take them to small claims court if their actions are egregious. No matter who the owner is, tenant has a right to whatever was laid out in the original contract – which automatically includes a habitable environment. If these conditions or any others are broken, you have a right to take action.

Do tenants with no lease also have rights when landlord sells property?

Yes, even tenants who with no lease will have rights if the landlord decides to sell the property. The most common right for tenants without a lease is the right to advanced notice before a showing. Other rights are typically less important for tenants with no lease since the landlord can typically give them a 30-day notice to leave.

In his argument, Nwonwu Ubaka, Legal Practitioner, Diamond Bridge Solicitors and Co said that “the right of a tenant cannot be extinguished at the sale of a property he resides to a third party.

“The law is settled that anyone who purchases a property, purchased both asset and liability, and the tenancy of the tenant that occupies such property continues to run with the new owner.

“The purchase of the property by the third party will not affect the right of a tenant with respect to the property he occupies, rather relationship of the tenant continues with the new owner as if the property was not sold,” he stated.

In his explanation, Mr. Godwin Alenkhe, President Estate, Rent & Commission Agents Association of Nigeria (ERCAAN) noted that “the tenant has a tenancy right if the rent has not expired when the house was sold. It is normal for the landlord to sell his property. But when tenancy of the occupiers has not expired, the tenants can take legal actions if they realised that the owner has sold the house after collecting rents from them.”

However, Mr. Adeniyi Adeyemi, ERCAAN Head Online Media, said: “The landlord has not committed any sin nor broken any law for selling his property without the consent of the tenant.””

Speaking on the side of tenants, Mrs. Obijole Oguns, a tenant of Jakande Estate in Ejigbo noted that, “If payment has been accepted for rent (and/or a written or oral lease exists), a renter has inherent rights under landlord tenant law. These rights vary by state but always include the tenant’s right to a habitable premises, due process before an eviction and more.

Landlords also have certain rights, such as the right to timely rent payments and for reimbursement of costs for property damage beyond normal wear and tear. Remember that these rights exist regardless of a rental agreement stating otherwise,” she stated.

However, there are other aspects of ejecting a tenant from his occupied apartment other than the ones noted above. These aspects include;

Retaliatory eviction

This type of eviction happens when the landlord takes an action against a tenant for acting as a tenant activist. If the landlord seeks to evict the tenant for informing government agencies of code violations, or for requesting that the landlord make repairs and maintain the rental property in fit and habitable condition, a retaliatory eviction claim may be a valid defence to an eviction action.

Constructive eviction

Constructive eviction occurs when residential rental property is in an uninhabitable condition. When rental property is uninhabitable, it is said to create circumstances under which the tenant has been deprived of the full use and possession of the rental property, and has therefore been “evicted.”

The theory of constructive eviction is that since the tenant did not receive what was contracted for, the tenant is not obligated to continue paying rent to the landlord. In order for such a claim to be effective, the tenant should give the landlord written notice of reasons for the constructive eviction and provide the landlord with a reasonable amount of time to correct the problems. If the landlord does not fix the problems within a reasonable amount of time, the tenant may leave the rental property and not be responsible for payment of rent which would have otherwise been due.

Fair housing

In 1968, the American government passed the Fair Housing Act which has since been modified and adopted by states and various localities. The Fair Housing Act as amended prohibits discrimination in housing and related transactions on the basis of race, colour, national origin, sex, religion, disability, and familial status (the presence or anticipated presence of children under 18 in a home). The Act covers discrimination in all types of housing-related transactions, including rentals and leases.

An attorney can help you understand legal defences to eviction

If you fail to pay rent or violate your lease agreement in other ways, your landlord may start the eviction process. But there may be instances where you can successfully defend against such action. Learn more by meeting with a local landlord-tenant law attorney