What Is Tenancy at Sufferance?

Tenancy at Sufferance Explained in Less Than 4 Minutes

Definition
Tenancy at sufferance is when a tenant who has legally entered into a property does not leave after the lease has expired.
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Tenancy at sufferance happens when a tenant who has legally entered into a property does not leave after the lease has expired. Different states have different requirements when it comes to defining a tenancy at sufferance but, in general, a tenant at sufferance is one who maintains residency at a property past the end of a lease, whether they continue paying rent or not.

Let’s take a look at tenancy at sufferance, how it works, and what it means for you.

Definition and Examples of Tenancy at Sufferance

Landlords and their tenants typically have a specified lease that dictates the period for tenancy. Time ranges vary from six months to multiple years; the important thing is that these leases give the tenant the legal right to occupy the property.

Once the lease has expired, however, the tenant is required to either sign a new lease or leave the property unless the two parties agree to a month-to-month arrangement, known as “tenancy at will.” If the tenant continues living at the property without a lease or an agreement, the situation becomes a tenancy at sufferance. This can occur whether the landlord has issued a valid notice to vacate or not.

Those living under tenancy at sufferance may not have the same legal rights as other types of tenants, although this will depend on your state. In some locations, tenants at sufferance can be evicted without any notice.

Some states will define a tenant at sufferance as one who maintains the legal obligations of the lease, such as paying rent and maintaining the property. Other states, such as Virginia, will not consider it a tenancy at sufferance unless the tenant refuses to pay rent.

  • Alternate names: holdover tenancy, sufferance tenancy, estate at sufferance

How Tenancy at Sufferance Works

Let's say you inherited a property after your grandmother passed away. She’s had a tenant there for the last nine months and has three months left until the lease expires. Because you’re not interested in being a landlord, you’ve decided to sell the property rather than continue to own it.

However, after consulting with a real estate agent, you decide to hold off on listing the property until you can make some improvements. You’re in a state that requires you give the tenant 60 days’ notice that you do not intend to renew the lease. At Month 10, you send out the notice.

Note

The amount of notice you’ll need to give to end a lease will vary depending on which state you’re in.

Two months later, the lease expires and you head out to the property to take stock of the situation. Rather than vacate, the tenant has opted to continue living in the property.

The lease has ended but the tenant continues to occupy the space, so this has become a tenancy at sufferance.

At this point, you have the ability to evict the tenant, also known as filing an unlawful detainer. The amount of time it takes for this process will be based on your individual state. It’s important to note that in the case of eviction, the tenant can be held liable for damages, including missing rent payments and attorney’s fees.

What Does a Tenancy at Sufferance Mean for You?

Tenancy at sufferance will mean very different things to you if you’re the tenant rather than the landlord, and vice versa. As a tenant, tenancy at sufferance may be a situation you end up in unknowingly; if your lease expires but you continue to live in the property without word from your landlord, you may end up becoming a de facto tenant at sufferance.

Note

It’s possible to convert a tenancy at sufferance to another type of tenancy. For example, a tenancy at will occurs once your landlord accepts payment of rent for another month—even if your lease has expired. A new lease will also result in a tenancy at will.

As a landlord, tenancy at sufferance may be a frustrating situation, especially if you planned on selling the property or even occupying it yourself. However, because tenants at sufferance entered into the property legally, they still may maintain some rights when it comes to their eviction.

In the case of a particularly stubborn tenant, you may have to follow through with the process of filing an unlawful detainer action.

Key Takeaways

  • Tenancy at sufferance occurs when an originally lawful tenant continues to occupy a property past lease expiration.
  • As a landlord, you’re required to give notice to a tenant when you aren’t renewing their lease. The amount of notice required will depend on your state.
  • Tenants at sufferance may still have some rights, although this will vary based on where you live.
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Sources
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  1. HG.org Legal Resources. “What Does a Sufferance Tenancy Mean?” Accessed Jan. 25, 2022.

  2. Legal Aid Works. “Know Your Rights: Evictions.” Page 1. Accessed Jan. 25, 2022.

  3. Pacific Legacy Property Management. “Do Landlords Need To Give Notice When Ending a One-Year Lease?” Accessed Jan. 25, 2022.

  4. Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute. "Unlawful Detainer." Accessed Jan. 25, 2022.

  5. Community Action Partnership. “Holdover Tenants.” Accessed Jan. 25, 2022.

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