Tenancy at Will

What is 'Tenancy at Will'

Tenancy at will, also known as estate at will, is a property tenure — without a lease or written agreement — that can be terminated at any time by either the tenant or the owner (landlord). It exists without a contract or lease and usually does not specify length of a tenant's duration or the exchange of payment. A tenancy at will arrangement is desirable to tenants and owners wishing to have the flexibility to change rental situations easily and without breaking a contract.

BREAKING DOWN 'Tenancy at Will'

Tenancy at will defines the relationship between the landlord and tenant when strict terms, such as those contained within a lease agreement, are not present, are defective in nature or have expired. A tenancy at will agreement can also be created at the beginning of the landlord-tenant relationship. Contracts can even specify an at-will agreement, sometimes called a month-to-month agreement.

A tenancy at will requires no original contract and thus differs from a periodic tenancy, which is typically an extension of a fixed-term agreement that has expired but still stipulates terms that apply to both tenant and landlord, see holdover tenant.

Protections Under Tenancy at Will

Even in the absence of a written agreement, both parties are afforded legal protections governing the relationship. For example, the landlord must provide a safe environment as required by law. Additionally, the landlord must provide notice prior to entering the tenant occupied property as governed by local statutes.

The tenant is responsible for any rent payments and must adhere to any rules agreed upon by the landlord and tenant. The tenant is also responsible for any damages beyond normal wear and tear on the property. Both parties must follow local regulations in regards to an intention to vacate or have the property vacated.

Notice of Intention to Vacate

While a tenancy at will arrangement may not have written and agreed-upon requirements regarding notification of intention to vacate, terms are generally spelled out within local landlord-tenant regulations. It is not uncommon for a 30-day notice to apply to both the tenant and the landlord. This means that should the tenant intend to vacate, or should the landlord wish for the tenant to vacate, 30 days’ notice must be supplied to the other party. A reason for the request to vacate is not required to be cited by either party. Traditionally, said notice is provided in writing. 

In Maine, for example, landlords in an at-will arrangement can evict tenants without giving a reason, but they must give a 30-day written notice of the intended eviction. With a few exceptions that include serious damage or being a nuisance to neighbors, a landlord must still give a tenant a seven-day notice to vacate for tenancy at will agreements in the state of Maine.