Q: I allowed a friend of a friend, Sheryl, to move into my house, with a free room and utilities, in exchange for housekeeping and helping me organize my belongings. Now, Sheryl claims she was never told that housekeeping was part of the deal. There is no written lease covering the agreement we made.
I recently told Sheryl she has 30 days to find a new place, but she hasn’t been successful. She is now leaving for Europe on Dec. 23 to visit a relative. I also have a flight scheduled Dec. 30, to spend several months with my daughter. Sheryl will not be returning from Europe until after I leave on my trip. I do not know what my rights are, or her rights, so I’d like your help.
A: Even though there is no written lease agreement between you and Sheryl, you have entered into an oral lease or verbal agreement with her. Oral leases are legal in most cases, unless the building has 12 or more units or the oral lease is intended to last longer than a year, which then requires the lease to be in writing, or the landlord could be guilty of a petty misdemeanor.
Since you own your home and didn’t say whether your oral lease would extend to one year or more, it appears you haven’t violated any laws. If you and Sheryl discussed a length of term for the oral lease, then it could be a fixed-term or periodic lease, depending on what you discussed.
If you didn’t discuss the length of term, then your oral lease is a tenancy-at-will, or sometimes called month-to-month. On a month-to-month lease, you need to give a notice period of at least as long as the time between rental payments. In most situations this means you would need to give Sheryl one month’s written notice, because rent is typically paid monthly on the first of the month. Since you’re receiving services and not rent money from Sheryl, it still qualifies as a form of payment, and you should give Sheryl a 30-day written notice to move out.
As you’ve probably discovered by now, the biggest problem with an oral lease is that when there is a conflict between the parties, it’s difficult to prove what the parties agreed upon. Sheryl is still your tenant, and you are still her landlord, even though she’s not paying rent. Rent can be paid with labor, such as goods or services.
Since Sheryl isn’t keeping up her end of your oral agreement by not doing the housework, it sounds like you’d like to terminate the oral lease as soon as possible. You should handwrite or type a notice to Sheryl, keeping a copy for yourself, by or on Dec. 31, letting her know that you are terminating the oral lease and giving her one month from the end of December, which is Jan. 31, 2017, to move out, or you will be forced to evict her.
When there is a written lease, the landlord may terminate the lease immediately if the tenant breaks the terms of the lease. However, in your situation, since there is an oral lease, it’s more difficult to prove that Sheryl violated the terms of your lease agreement by failing to do housework, because she doesn’t agree that those were the terms of your oral lease. Make sure to give Sheryl the notice to move out by or on Dec. 31, so she has one full month’s notice.
If Sheryl agrees to leave on or before the time she is supposed to depart for her trip, you can change the locks before you leave town. However, if you do so, make sure you have the agreement in writing that Sheryl will leave the premises, so there is no confusion. If she doesn’t agree to that, then you will have to bring an eviction action upon your return, if Sheryl is still living in your home.
Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship with Klein. Do not rely on advice in this column for legal opinions. Consult an attorney regarding your particular issues. E-mail renting questions to email@example.com, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.