TENANCY AT WILL: Definition and How It Works

Tenancy at Will

In most circumstances, a renter is required by law to pay rent in advance, once a month. Tenancies will differ depending on state law. In general, however, they do not comprise a formal lease or a payment agreement. They normally do not specify how long a renter can stay at a property.
Tenancies at will are sometimes known as month-to-month tenancies or estate-at-will tenancies. We’ll go through how this form of agreement works, how it differs from other types of tenancy, and the benefits and drawbacks of getting into one of these agreements. With this information, you should be able to determine whether tenancy at will is a good fit for you.

What is a Tenancy at Will?

A tenancy at will is an agreement in which the tenant has not signed a lease or contract specifying the end date of their tenancy. Instead, either the renter or the landlord has the right to terminate the agreement at any moment.

Instead of a written contract, the renter and landlord usually reach an agreement verbally. However, a written tenancy agreement may still exist to specify the rent or other criteria that must be satisfied. Simply put, the contract does not define a rental time for the tenant.

There are normally local rules that define how many days’ notice tenants and landlords must offer when there isn’t an agreement outlining how much notice is required before the tenant can or must (in the case of eviction) leave the unit. The most usual time frame is 30 days.

A tenancy at will is sometimes known as an estate at will or a month-to-month agreement.

How Tenancy-at-Will Works?

Tenants with authorization from their landlords but no leases typically have a tenancy-at-will. Because there is no formal contract indicating the amount of time the tenancy would last, these tenancies are commonly referred to as “month-to-month” or “at-will” agreements.

When precise stipulations, such as those contained in a lease agreement, are not present, are defective in nature, or have expired, a tenancy-at-will defines the relationship between the landlord and tenant. At the start of the landlord-tenant relationship, a tenancy-at-will agreement may also be drafted.

Tenancies-at-will is effective if the two parties enter into an oral agreement rather than a written one if a written agreement states that the tenancy is on a month-to-month basis or that there is no specified timeline, or if the tenancy is continued after the original lease expires without signing a new one. Tenancies at will typically involve persons who are acquainted with one another. They may occur between family members in various instances.

How Is Tenancy at Will Created?

A stated or inferred agreement between the landlord and tenant can result in a tenancy at will. As a result, tenancy at will is most commonly found in the following situations:

  • An oral lease to rent for a set or unspecified period of time;
  • A written lease with no definite term – that is, the lease does not specify when the tenancy will end;
  • A formal lease for a “month-to-month” tenancy is required.
  • A renter stays after a lease expires, and the landlord agrees by continuing to receive rent;
  • A landlord gives a lawful notice to quit terminating a tenant’s tenancy, but then allows the renter to continue without signing a new lease.

What are the responsibilities of a tenant under a tenancy at will?

Landlords, like tenants, are entitled to certain rights even if there is no written rental agreement in effect. Tenant duties are an example of this. So, you will be bound to specific expectations as a tenant in an estate-at-will arrangement, including:

  • You will be expected to make on-time rent payments.
  • You will be required not to cause any damage to the property that goes beyond regular wear and tear.
  • Before moving out, you will be expected to give the landlord notice.

Again, these agreements are often governed by state and municipal legislation, so check those to see how much notice you’re needed to give and whether there are any additional restrictions to which you may be obligated.

The Value of Creating a Tenancy at Will

It is critical to carefully construct a tenancy at will in order to avoid it being considered as a periodic tenancy.

A real-life example is the case of Javad v Aquil [1991] 1 WLR 1007, which might be quoted to demonstrate this concept. The plaintiff (landlord) had let the defendant (tenant) occupy a specific property while negotiating a ten-year formal lease. The tenant stayed at the property for a few months and paid rent quarterly three times. Negotiations between the landlord and the tenant, however, ultimately failed, and the latter was requested to depart the premises. In the subsequent court processes, the landlord contended that their agreement was that of a tenancy at will, and so the tenant was obligated to quit upon request.

The defendant, on the other hand, said that because he had previously made three quarterly payments to the plaintiff, the agreement should be regarded as a periodic tenancy. The court eventually ruled in favour of the plaintiff after years of legal proceedings. The judge ruled that the agreement between the landlord and the tenant could not be called a periodic tenancy because there were no additional relevant factors pointing to such a tenancy agreement, as well as various ongoing conflicts between the two parties. It is commonly agreed that two elements contributed to such an unusual case:

  • the tenant’s length of rent-paying occupancy
  • the absence of demand on a formal lease agreement.

Advantages, Disadvantages, and Protections of Tenancy at Will

A tenancy at will helps both renters and property owners. However, there are some significant negatives to the living condition.

Advantages of tenancy at will

Tenancy at will is extremely adaptable. Most state laws permit either party to terminate the lease with little or no notice. This is a good choice for renters who move frequently and with little notice.

  • A rental property owner may also be considering selling their property. A tenancy at will allows them to continue earning money while the property is on the market.
  • Tenancies at will are devoid of the formality of a standard rental agreement. This is especially true when it comes to leaving the property.
  • Tenancies at will are frequently oral. Landlords frequently don’t have to bother about move-out inspections or security deposits with this form of agreement.
  • It also helps landlords who wish to streamline the procedure. This is advantageous for tenants who may not be able to afford additional move-out expenses.

Disadvantages of tenancies at will

Tenancy at will agreements may also have disadvantages for both parties. For one thing, the agreement provides tenants with a lack of stability.

A landlord may require the renter to evacuate the property with only a few days’ notice under this agreement. Similarly, landlords may not be able to rely on sufficient notice from tenants. The specifics of these cases are dictated by state and municipal laws.

Furthermore, rental property owners in this situation cannot rely on consistent rent payments or a consistent source of rental income. Without a documented agreement or a set lease period, either side may be in a tough situation.

Individuals who thrive on regularity and structure should avoid this form of agreement.

Landlords and tenants should seek a formal written lease agreement to ensure that their rights are protected by the law.

Formal written agreements should be considered by property owners. Among the lease agreements are:

  • The terms of the tenancy
  • The length of time that the lease is in effect.
  • The agreement’s expiration date
  • The number of days’ notice required by each party before terminating the lease.

If the renter fails to comply with the terms, the eviction procedure will be followed.

Protections for tenancy at will

Even though these agreements are informal, tenants are protected by state and local regulations.

In general, the law grants renters the legal right to exclusive possession. This means that once they’ve signed the lease, they can live on the property as they like (within reasonable boundaries). Tenants also have the right to inhabit a property that complies with safety requirements.

Furthermore, landlords are usually required by law to warn renters before entering the property. Furthermore, most state laws require the landlord to give the renter some notice before asking them to depart the unit.

Even in the absence of a documented lease agreement, property owners are protected by state and local regulations. Tenant responsibility regulations oblige those who rent out their homes to meet specific standards.

Tenants are required to:

  • They pay their rent on time.
  • Avoid inflicting severe property damage.
  • Before leaving the property, they must give their landlord notice.

What distinguishes tenancy at will from other types of tenancy?

There are four primary forms of tenancies in residential real estate rental, one of which is a tenancy at will. The other three options are explained briefly below, so you can understand how they differ from tenancy at will.

#1. Periodic Tenancy

The most similar to a tenancy at will is a periodic tenancy. The renter agrees to rent the home for a set period of time, usually from a week to a week or month to month, under a periodic-tenancy arrangement. The terms of the agreement are written down in a lease, but there is no set date for when the agreement will finish.

#2. Estate for years

There is a written lease with an estate that has been in place for many years. The lease provides the rent amount as well as the start and end dates. There is no requirement in this situation for how much notice the renter must give to depart the property because it is assumed that he or she will be expected to move out at the conclusion of the lease period.

#3. Tenancy at Sufferance

A tenancy at sufferance happens when a renter does not vacate their apartment after their lease expires. In this instance, the tenant is still bound by the conditions of the original lease and must vacate when the landlord requests.

Eviction from a Tenancy at Will

In most cases, a tenancy at will does not require the tenant to provide formal notice of his decision to depart the property. However, both the renter and the landlord are obligated to follow local laws surrounding landlord-tenant agreements. Typically, both the renter intending to evacuate the property and the landlord seeking to have his property vacated offer a 30-day notice in writing. It should be emphasised that neither the landlord nor the tenant is legally required to state the basis for the request to quit. The only exceptions to this 30-day eviction notice law are situations in which the tenant has caused severe damage to the rented property or has been a nuisance to other residents in the neighbourhood. In such cases, the landlord may evict the tenant on a seven-day notice.


There’s no getting around the fact that tenancy-at-will renting arrangements aren’t for everyone. However, if you’re a tenant searching for a more flexible living situation or a landlord wanting more flexibility with a rental property, tenancy at will might be far more beneficial than being bound by a typical lease. Still, before you agree to anything, make sure you do your research.

This page should serve as a guide for what to expect from tenancy-at-will scenarios. Then, spend some time researching your state and local legislation. If you are the renter, ask your landlord any particular questions you may have so that you are aware of what is expected of you. Above all, before moving into any new living situation, you should ensure that you are familiar with your rights and duties.

Tenancy at Will FAQs

How long can a tenancy at will last?

A tenancy at will permits a tenant to inhabit a property indefinitely, with both the landlord and the tenant free to terminate the agreement at any time by providing instant notice. It is typically utilised as a temporary or interim solution for commercial property occupation.

What rights do tenants have without a contract?

A tenant who does not have a written contract retains all of the statutory rights that a regular tenant with a contract does, such as water, heating, a safe environment, and so on. Similarly, the tenant is still responsible for paying rent on time and taking reasonable care of the property.

Can you evict a tenant without a tenancy agreement?

A tenant cannot be served with a section 21 eviction notice if there is no tenancy agreement. A landlord must instead use a Section 8 notice (with a ground for eviction). In the absence of a documented tenancy agreement, a landlord must apply to the courts for a possession order in order to evict a tenant.

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A tenant who does not have a written contract retains all of the statutory rights that a regular tenant with a contract does, such as water, heating, a safe environment, and so on. Similarly, the tenant is still responsible for paying rent on time and taking reasonable care of the property.

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A tenant cannot be served with a section 21 eviction notice if there is no tenancy agreement. A landlord must instead use a Section 8 notice (with a ground for eviction). In the absence of a documented tenancy agreement, a landlord must apply to the courts for a possession order in order to evict a tenant.

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