Renewal of Your Residential Lease by Landlord or Co-Tenant Without Your Knowledge or Consent

A lease is a contract—while there are some special rules that apply to residential leases (as compared to commercial leases) and which don’t apply to other contracts (primarily for the protection of tenants), leases are contracts and are fundamentally governed by the same law as most other contracts. In particular, that means that someone must have agreed to a contract—and typically no one else can contract for them or on their behalf. This means that no one else—especially not your landlord, not a co-tenant or not a subtenant (if you have one)—can renew your lease for you, without your knowledge or consent. Only youcan renew, or cause to be renewed, your residential lease.

In fact, the law is very strict about expecting all parties to a lease to act in good faith, and looks askance at attempts to bind parties through a change in the way the original lease was made. Courts expect the parties to be able to understand their rights and responsibilities.

That said, there are some things to be careful of:

  1. Some leases include an automatic renewal. Those leases will renew unless one of the parties (the landlord or the tenant) specifically and expressly chooses to notrenew the lease. If your lease includes a condition like this, be sure to give notice of non-renewal in the right way, within the proper time frame, to avoid being obligated for another lease term.
  2. It’s possible to renew a lease (or to have formed the lease in the first place) without ever signing something explicitly called a “lease” or a “renewal.” For example, say you have an existing lease. If you and the landlord exchange emails, in which you indicate that you want to renew the lease under the same terms, that could be enough to be considered a lease renewal—even though you did not sign a new renewal lease.

There also can arise “holdover” leases: when the original lease ends, the parties to the lease may continue as though nothing has changed. In fact, some courts will treat this conduct as a renewal of the lease. The term of a hold-over lease, however, is often changed by rule of law, to the shortest period possible.

Conclusion

There are situations where someone may be perceived as acting as our agent and can execute contracts on our behalf. That’s rare, however, and generally, the law will only create an agreement between parties to that agreement: the tenant and the landlord. The main situation where a tenant may be responsible for an alleged or purported agent’s actions is if the landlord can establish that the tenant took advantage of the situation or agreement. In that case, a court may use its “equity” powers to enforce the agreement.

The important lesson is to be clear about the nature of the rental (including who has authority to act on your behalf). This is done by reading the lease agreement carefully, noting when the lease ends, and always communicating in a clear, timely, unambiguous way with the landlord.