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What happens if your tenant refuses to sign a renewal lease?

Published On: November 11th, 2015Categories: Landlord-Tenant
Notice to quit

Once a tenant’s lease expires, or if an oral month-to-month lease if it has been a year since the last rent increase, you may want to raise your tenant’s rent and/or make changes to the terms of the original lease. Most landlords will send their tenants a copy of a new lease, asking for their signature. But what if the tenant refuses to sign the new lease?

The proper way to raise a tenant’s rent and enforce a new lease is to send them a legal document known as a Notice to Quit. In this notice you must terminate their existing lease, and offer to continue renting them the apartment at the new rent and under the new lease terms (if any). To be enforceable, the notice must meet the statutory criteria for service and the notice time period (for example, it must have been served on each adult tenant by simultaneous certified mail return receipt requested and regular mail). The rent increase can’t be “unconscionable”, and any changes to the lease terms must be “reasonable”. As with any landlord-tenant notice, you must cross the t’s and dot the i’s so to speak. Any failure to adhere to the statutory and case-law requirements can cause a judge to throw it out some day.

Back to the question underlying this article: assuming the notice is done correctly, and the new lease was attached to the notice, what happens if a tenant refuses to sign the new lease? It depends. If the tenant pays the old rent amount but not the increased amount when due, you can then file for eviction for non-payment of rent. However if the tenant does pay the new increased rent amount when due, they have accepted the new rent amount regardless of whether they signed the new lease or not. They cannot later claim that the increase was unreasonable.

What if there are new terms in the renewal lease that the tenant does not accept, other than the increased rent amount? You can make the argument that by paying the new rent amount, they have impliedly accepted the other new terms of the lease. Two things to keep in mind however. First, to enforce these new terms you will still have to prove in Court that the changes in lease terms were reasonable. It will not just be assumed that tenant’s payment of the increased rent implies acceptance of all the other new terms in the renewal lease.

Second, you can almost never enforce an extension of the unsigned lease for a term of more than month to month. Any extension of the lease time-period beyond month-to-month will almost certainly not be enforceable if the tenant hasn’t signed the new lease. Gamble v. Connolly, 399 N.J. Super 130 (2007). In New Jersey, once a residential lease expires it converts to a month to month tenancy. Unless a new lease is entered into, all other terms of the original lease remain in effect. So for example, if your new lease is unsigned by the tenant but calls for a 1-year extension of the lease term, that extension would not be enforceable later if the tenant leaves the apartment after only three months.

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