Home ImprovementsPivot May 29, 2019


When landlords decide to sell a residential rental property in California, tenants can sometimes be a bit of a wild card. Most sellers prefer to list properties vacant for a variety of reasons. Tenants have a lot of rights at law and it’s important to understand the local rules when helping to administer the end of a residential tenancy ahead of sale.

Lease Provisions

Obviously, valid leases must be honored. A tenant has the right to occupy the property for the period stated in the lease. If the property is sold during the lease term, the tenant still has the right to occupy the property subject to the terms and conditions of the lease until the lease expires. After the lease expires, the tenant can be required to vacate if eviction does not violate any state or local rent control ordinance. The bottom line here is that the sale of the property does not usually effect the tenant’s rights under the original lease.

Landlord Serving the Notice to Vacate

California law requires a landlord to serve a tenant who’s been in the property for less than a year a 30-day written notice to vacate ahead of ending a lease. If the tenant has been in the property for a year or more, the landlord is required to give a 60 day notice. There are some exceptions to this 30 or 60-day rule depending on the locality and its specific ordinances.

One way to serve the 30 or 60-day notice is to deliver certified or registered mail with a return receipt. The landlord can also serve it personally or leave the notice with the tenant at the tenant’s dwelling. The landlord can also serve the tenant’s place of employment if the tenant cannot be reached at his or her dwelling. In that case, the landlord would also need to mail a copy of the notice to the tenant’s home. If the tenant cannot be reached at his or her home and place of employment, sometimes the court will allow “nailing and mailing” service. If the tenant stays past the notice period unlawfully, the landlord will need to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit to evict. Under California law, landlords cannot “lock out” or remove the tenant themselves. Involuntary removal must be administered by law enforcement in accordance with a court order following a landlord’s successful unlawful detainer suit.

Reasonable Notice to Tenants before Showing a Property

According to California Civil Code Section 1954, the landlord or landlord’s agent can enter the property during normal business hours to exhibit it to prospective buyers after providing 24 hours’ notice. Landlords can deliver notice orally and informally, provided they have delivered written notice to the tenant within the last 120 days that the property is “for-sale.”

Cash for Keys

Landlords are free to approach tenants and ask that they voluntarily surrender possession of their tenancy in exchange for a lump sum buyout. These “Cash for Keys” agreements are relatively common and unregulated. In areas with strict rent control ordinances, or in situations where the lease term still has time remaining, Cash for Keys Agreements often prove the fastest, cleanest, and easiest method for making a rental property vacant.