Q: Our landlady just told us she wants our apartment and asked us to move out next month. What are our rights? Are we entitled to any compensation?

A: Tenant rights across the country have been increasing as the issue of landlords wanting possession of their property has become more regulated and complex, especially in rent-control areas. Compensation is also growing, as housing and moving costs rise.

First off, if you still have a lease in force, it will remain in place until expiration. If a lease has expired, or is a month-to month type, other factors jump in.

Move-out requests cannot be oral–they must always be made in writing and delivered to the tenant with proper warning time to move out. What’s proper warning time? Depends on many factors. Some cities in California, such as Los Angeles and Santa Monica, have highly detailed laws when it comes to notice required for owners to tenants, depending on tenant age, infirmity, plus family or marital status. If no city law exists, California state law prevails, which can be found at www.dca.ca.gov/legal/landlordbook. New York residents are subject to a complicated series of laws, depending on whether the property is under rent control. Details can be found at http://www.housingnyc.com/resources/faq/conversion.html.

In Washington, Seattle residents are given 90 days’ notice by law, as long as a relocation packet has been provided to the tenant. Compensation amount varies by tenant needs, in some cases up to $2,000. Details can be found at www.tenantsunion.org/relocation.html

Tenants that must move as a result of demolition, rehabilitation or acquisition for a project in which Federal funds are used are subject to a special set of rules. Payments to tenants may include reasonable costs for packing, moving and even disconnecting/reconnecting telephone and cable service, among other items. Details can be found at http://www.hud.gov/offices/cpd/affordablehousing/library/tenadisp.pdf.

Q: What if the owner wants to “buy me out” in a separate agreement?

A: Side agreements are often legal, as long as you are not giving up any rights the law provides for, such as relocation monies. Consult an attorney or tenant advisor for details.

Q: What if I don’t want to move? Can I fight an owner’s eviction request?

Be careful. Some years ago, a friend was asked to move out so the owner could append the property. Instead of moving, the tenant tried to fight the owner’s request, ending up with a legal eviction on his record that was alleged for “nuisance.” Sometimes it’s better to settle and depart–after all, the landlord does own the place. Consult an eviction attorney or expert in rental law before making any moves that may detrimental to your credit and eviction report.

Q: What if the place I am renting is sold? Do I have to move?

A: Depends on your lease agreement. If you signed a rental agreement that is still in force, you may have the right to the property until the lease ends–no matter who owns the place. If your lease has expired and turned into a month-to month (as many do), then mere notice to the tenant may mean the end of your tenancy.

Q: Our building is being torn down, and the owner has asked us to move out. He also wants us to give 30 days’ written notice of our “intent” to move, even though it wasn’t our idea. Is that a good idea?

Absolutely not. Check with a local attorney, but tenants giving notice to the owner usually give up right to the property with no recourse. If relocation is part of the local or state law, you’ll give up the right to that money if you give notice. The owner should be providing you with written notice–not the other way around.

Q: What happens to my deposit when the building is sold?

A; It should be transferred intact to the new owner and remain as a credit to your account. Many income-property escrows now involve a document called an estoppel agreement, which tenants fill out for the record, and detail original deposit and monies owed to the tenant. Some estoppel forms also provide fill-in space to write in any promises made by the current owner, such as new blinds or a replacement stove. Parking and storage assignments should be noted, too. If you become aware that the place is being sold, ask the manager or landlord when you can fill out the estoppel for escrow. Be sure to keep a copy with your lease for future reference, especially at eventual move-out time.

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