With more than 43 million renters in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the reasons and ways in which a person rents a home can be the same as millions of others or a unique situation. As a result, it’s tricky to account for all those scenarios with the same standard lease nationwide.
A lease contract typically lasts 12 months, although anywhere from three months to two years is also possible. Leases contracted for more than one year often include more concessions or a break in rent in exchange for the longer period of guaranteed tenancy, while shorter leases include slightly more costs due to the faster scheduled move-out.
But what about when your immediate future is uncertain and you’re not sure when you’ll need to move? In that case, your best option may be a month-to-month lease.
[Read: 5 Reasons You’re Still Renting]
How Does a Month-to-Month Lease Work?
A month-to-month lease is a contract between the landlord and tenant that establishes tenancy with no scheduled end date. Instead, either the landlord or tenant may terminate the contract at will, as long as proper notice is given. Most state or local laws require either 30, 60 or 90 days’ notice, but the lease agreement will specify.
If you and your landlord can work amicably, a month-to-month lease may be a blessing to give you the necessary time to find the right housing. Of course, it can also backfire and cause headaches on both sides of the deal.
Reasons for a Month-to-Month Lease
Here are four reasons opting for a month-to-month lease may be in your best interest.
You might move soon. You’ll most likely see a month-to-month agreement when your yearlong lease comes to a close, as landlords commonly give tenants the option to renew their lease for a full year or switch to a month-to-month contract. If you’ve got any major life changes coming up in the next year – say you're transferring to a new city, getting married or planning to purchase a home – the month-to-month option gives you the flexibility you need for those situations. If you end up being able to stay, a month-to-month lease can also be converted to a long-term lease with relative ease.
Even if your landlord doesn’t offer a month-to-month option, there’s no harm in presenting your situation to the landlord – if you always pay rent on time and haven’t caused any damage to your apartment, there’s a chance the landlord will see the benefit of keeping a pleasant tenant without a specific end date. David Mele, president of real estate information site Homes.com, says renters shouldn’t be afraid to offer something outside the typical lease: “Sometimes renters don’t realize they can negotiate rent.”
You have roommates. Whether you found them on Craigslist or they’re your childhood best friends, roommates can be difficult to work with when it comes to planning out the next year. If one roommate is expecting to move out before a yearlong lease is up, rather than risking an illegal sublease or releasing the vacating roommate and amending your lease to bring on a newly vetted roommate, you can simply start a new month-to-month lease with the replacement – as long as the landlord agrees, of course.
There’s no penalty for breaking the lease. Uncertainty is a major stressor for renters, regardless of the type of lease contract they have in place. When you’re on a fixed-term lease and you need to move out prior to the end date, “There can be a cost to break that lease early,” Mele explains. There's a good chance you'll pay a couple of additional months of rent after moving out while your landlord preps and markets your apartment, and you might even end up having to pay rent for the duration of the lease if your landlord doesn’t find a new tenant.
If you might need to move within the next year, or you’re concerned about loss of income in the near future, a month-to-month lease allows you to end the rental agreement without additional fuss.
Your next home is under construction. Construction always adds a degree of chaos to planning your rental situation, and you need to be ready for a wrench to be thrown into the mix.
You may have commissioned your first home to be a new build, or you may be looking to relocate to a new apartment building downtown that’s not quite done, but either way you should anticipate delays by having leeway in your current lease, says Mary Gwyn, chief innovator of Apartment Dynamics, a property management firm that also trains other companies on property management practices. “That’s where the flexibility is really to your benefit,” she says.
Reasons Against a Month-to-Month Lease
Before you start negotiating your new month-to-month contract, consider these four downsides that may make the arrangement a less desirable option.
You’ll likely pay more. A month-to-month lease provides you with timeline flexibility, but it typically comes at a monthly financial cost. Because landlords have to offset the higher risk for a vacancy in the near future, they’ll charge higher rent. Often, the property’s lender will include additional fees for taking on a riskier month-to-month renter rather than signing on a long-term tenant, so the landlord will offset those fees by charging more in rent.
“At any of our communities, if someone opts to go month to month, they pay the freight for that,” Gwyn says. “Going month to month, fees can run $30 to $130 (per month)." In some major cities with competitive rental markets, the difference between a month-to-month lease and yearlong contract for the same apartment can be a few hundred dollars.
Your landlord can end the lease, too. Being able to move with a simple 30-day notice may be ideal for you, but keep in mind that your landlord has that same freedom. A month-to-month contract allows your landlord to give you notice that you need to find a new home for any reason.
If the landlord is advertising an apartment as a month-to-month lease, he or she may have construction plans in the near future. That’s the only scenario in which Gwyn has seen month-to-month leases marketed: “(The landlord) planned to either raze the property – as in raze it to the ground … or they were going to do a significant renovation and evict everybody, so it worked to the landlord’s advantage,” she says.
Landlords might say no. While plenty of landlords are opposed to month-to-month leases to avoid an unexpected increase in vacancy, some are simply unable to make such a deal. Depending on the loan the landlord currently has on the rental property, a lender has the ability to restrict month-to-month leases entirely. “We had one lender who even prohibited us from having us have any month-to-month lease, which is almost impossible,” Gwyn says.
You’ll lose out on concessions. New rental buildings are being constructed every month, particularly in major urban centers, and to remain competitive they’ll offer concessions like a free month of rent, waived amenities fees and even a free TV. But if you’re considering a month-to-month lease, read the fine print of any specials carefully – rent decreases or free months often require a long-term lease.
While some landlords may not require an increase in rent to go month to month or may still include move-in specials, you’re typically trading the financial deal for the flexibility to move out. Consider your priorities carefully to avoid paying more than is necessary on your rent in the long run.
Pulling one over on your property manager won't work.
Your ability to communicate with your landlord or property manager as a renter is key to living happily and in peace. When you fail to notify your landlord of problems you encounter – or try to hide guests or other things that may not be permitted in your lease – the relationship is often compromised. Especially in instances when you’ve brought in an unauthorized pet or let a maintenance issue get worse due to not reporting it, you may find yourself having to pay your landlord extra, losing your security deposit or even getting evicted.Stay in touch.
Stay in touch.
Any good landlord will encourage tenants to be in communication often, which makes it easy to request maintenance or ask a question about what the lease allows. Property management companies often offer multiple forms of communication, from face-to-face conversation with a receptionist or leasing agent to contact via email or an online resident portal, says Lynn Edmondson, regional manager of Wendover Housing Partners, a property management company based in Altamonte Springs, Florida. Once you send a request, the property manager or landlord will then “communicate in writing about what’s going on and what needs to be done,” Edmondson says. Read on for seven things you shouldn’t – and likely won’t be able to – hide from your landlord.A new roommate
A new roommate
Living with a roommate is a great way to save on housing expenses, but your landlord has to know about said roommate – and approve. It may be a matter of simply revising the lease once you notify your landlord of the desired addition, but your landlord also has the right to run the potential roommate through the same vetting process as with every other tenant, which can include a credit check, employment confirmation and previous residence referrals. If you sneak a roommate in, your illegal co-tenant could be evicted. One exception is when you have a dependent, which can be a child, elderly parent or an adult relative you legally care for. Laws in certain states clarify that “you’re not allowed to ask an applicant if they have any dependents living in the unit with them,” says Nat Kunes, vice president of product at AppFolio, a full-suite property management software company. Check your state's landlord-tenant laws, which should be available online, for more information.A sublet
Just like a roommate, sneaking a sublet tenant into your rental will likely be found out by a landlord, and it can have devastating consequences. Always review your lease first for a subleasing policy. The landlord may not allow sublets at all or could require the subtenant to go through the same vetting process all residents go through when applying to live there. Also check your state laws on subleasing, which may give you more or less leeway depending on how detailed the law is. In South Carolina, for example, the law states a sublease agreement isn’t valid unless the landlord has signed off on it. An illegal sublet could result in your eviction for violating the lease, as well as the subtenant’s eviction for residing there illegally.A pet
A dog or cat won’t help you pay the rent, but millions of Americans love adding to the rental family by bringing a pet home. Again, however, your landlord has the right to establish a no-pets policy or place restrictions on the pets allowed, such as the type of animal, size and breed. “If the pet [is] qualified to live there, it’s just a minor thing of changing the lease to add that and collect the appropriate fee,” Edmondson says. If you get caught keeping a pet in your place when the landlord hasn’t approved it, you’ll likely have to fork over the fees anyway. But if the place doesn’t allow pets, you’ll likely either be asked to move out or rehome your pet.Pet damage
Outside of properly notifying your landlord or property manager of a new pet, Edmondson says damage to a rental caused by a pet is one of the more common issues she sees residents try to cover up. Whether you struggled to housetrain a puppy or your cat loves scaling the blinds, the best course of action is to own up to the damage before moving out. “I’ve had that happen several times, when [cleaners] go in to clean the carpet and they come back and say, ‘We can’t clean it, there’s too much pet damage,’” Edmondson says. You’ll have to pay for the repairs regardless, but it keeps a more positive interaction between you and the property manager if you’re honest. Trying to get away with damage could also lead to a negative report from the property manager if any future landlord calls to check on your residential history.Maintenance problems
Whether it’s a backed-up toilet, a leaky roof or fire damage in the kitchen, any problem should be reported to your landlord or property manager as soon as you become aware of it. “A lot of those types of maintenance issues that over time get much, much worse,” Kunes says, noting a leak can lead to extensive water damage and mold. Edmondson says there are tenants who simply don’t report such issues for fear of having to cover damage they caused: “They think after they move out they will not be responsible for those damages.” Of course, any damages outside normal wear and tear will come out of your security deposit, and you can additionally be billed for damages exceeding that amount.Broken appliances
If the fridge, dryer, garbage disposal or any other appliance stops working properly, you have the right to report it and expect it to be fixed. There’s a good chance the landlord will replace an older appliance at no charge to you. If the appliance is relatively new or was damaged from particularly hard use, the landlord may look to you to cover it. If you move out before notifying the landlord, it will be discovered, and you’ll be expected to pay it, Edmondson says.A pest problem
A pest problem
Pests can get into a rental property in a variety of ways: Rodents could be stirred up by construction next door, or maybe other tenants have a habit of leaving food uncovered on the counter or table. Either way, it’s imperative you notify your landlord immediately about a pest problem so it can be taken care of. Most large apartment complexes have standing relationships with pest control companies, which consistently work to keep pests from accessing any rental homes and limit the spread of those that do get inside. If you don’t start communicating with your property manager early on, the problem could become worse – and the blame may fall on you as a result. “That could be a tenant-caused issue that the tenant could be responsible for to pay,” Kunes says.Read More
Updated on July 24, 2020: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at email@example.com.