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Holdover Tenant Laws in California

Tenants in California can stay in a rental past their lease end date. But a landlord doesn’t always have to allow these holdover tenants to stay.

Most tenants either move out at the end of their lease, or sign on for another year. But some tenants remain in their rental beyond the end of their lease and become what’s known as “holdover tenants.” When that happens, landlords can choose to either evict them or accept the rent and let them stay as a month-to-month tenant.

Tenants who stay past their lease end date can be evicted

If a tenant remains in their unit past the end date on their lease without their landlord's consent, they become a holdover tenant (also known as a "tenant at sufferance"). A landlord can file an eviction lawsuit (or, as it's known in California, an "unlawful detainer") against a holdover tenant without first serving a notice to quit, streamlining the process somewhat.

A holdover tenant can also be held liable for both rent and damages during the time they've overstayed their lease.1

Holdover tenants become month-to-month if a landlord accepts rent

If a tenant continues to pay rent even after their lease is up—and their landlord accepts it—then they are no longer a tenant at sufferance. Instead, they usually enter into a month-to-month tenancy. 2 If the original lease allowed rent to be paid every six months, for example, then the holdover tenant could still pay for the next six months upfront and they wouldn’t be entering into a month-to-month tenancy. This would create a fixed-term tenancy of six months.

A tenant just sending a rent check isn’t enough to create a new month-to-month tenancy—the landlord must actually accept the rent check.3

Only essential terms of the lease apply during this new tenancy

Although they've technically entered into a new, month-to-month tenancy, the tenant must still follow the terms of their original lease (unless the tenant and landlord mutually agree to change them, of course). Courts have ruled that only the essential terms of the original lease carry over, however, such as the amount of rent and when it’s due.4

Landlords can raise the rent for holdover tenants

A lease typically locks in the amount of rent a tenant needs to pay and accounts for any annual increases. When the lease ends, landlords can increase the rent on a holdover tenant. California courts have found commercial rent increases of 150% to be enforceable, since the tenant could choose to leave the unit instead of paying the increased rent.5

[1] Samuels v. Singer (1934) 1 Cal App 2d 545, 36 P2d 1098

[2] CCR §1945

[3] Kaufman v. Goldman (2011)

[4] Smyth v. Berman (2019)

[5] Constellation-F LLC v. World Trading 23 Inc. (2020)

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