Q: Can a tenant legally remain in a property that is being sold?
I am in the process of buying a house. The house is currently occupied by tenants. The tenants were given notice of the home being sold by the sellers on April 1st, giving them 30 days to move out. The tenant refused to let our inspector inside the house due to COVID-19 risk, but agreed that the inspector could do the exterior inspection. 2 weeks later the tenant agreed to let the appraiser into the home, but still refused to allow the inspector to complete the home inspection. Today, the tenant tells my realtor that she does not want to move out until the stay at home order is lifted and still refuses to allow the inspector inside. The sellers were unaware that the tenant was creating these roadblocks. I know that the stay-at-home/state of emergency orders in place are making evictions illegal, but technically these tenants aren't being evicted. The property is being sold. Can the tenant legally refuse to leave the property? What can we do?
A: There are two intertwined questions in the scenario. First, can a tenant "legally" refuse to leave if their lease is up and they've been given proper notice? Assuming the appropriate notice has in fact been given, legally, "No."
That said, the second and related question deals with the practical realities of what action a landlord or owner can take during a state of an emergency. Ousting a tenant, even if because of a sale of the property, IS eviction. Can an aggrieved buyer or seller force a tenant unlawfully holding over to leave while a state of emergency exists? "No." Maryland law does not allow "self help" so one must turn to the courts to evict. If the courts are not processing any evictions during the emergency, an owner unfortunately will need to wait to pursue eviction.
While a tenant might think only short-term, a future eviction will not make it easy to rent in the future, so a tenant may be reminded that it would be in their best long-term interests to cooperate with a move-out on schedule. On the other side, a landlord might in light of the very unusual times and court freeze consider ways to incentivize cooperation.
This online post only gives general information and is not intended as legal advice. To answer "what can we do" in any specific situation you might seek legal advice. An attorney might suggest extending a contract or negotiating some other kind of solution.
A: First question: Where is the property located? Some jurisdictions require that you give the tenant a right of first refusal on the sale. They must have the chance to match your last offer. Second Question: has the lease expired? The tenant has rights pursuant to their lease. And my third point is not a question, but a point: The Maryland courts are not permitting residential evictions for the time being, by order of the Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals.
But nobody can give you a firm answer to how this all fits together in your situation unless you share the lease, and some facts about the sale and sale contract.
A: What you can do: (1) the seller cannot meet their contractual obligations to close on the sale and give you title free and clear of the tenants occupying it, so you can declare the contract breached, take your earnest money deposit back, terminate the contract and look for another house to buy; (2) you can go through with the sale and accept the tenants as your problem (not advised); (3) you can keep extending closing and allow the situation to play out until the seller can get the tenants out, which could be many months in the future if you're willing to wait that long and really want the property. You cannot legally do anything else. It's not your house and they are not your tenants. The sellers cannot take any legal action during the emergency court closings and while the administrative orders suspending all evictions are in place. The above three choices are your options. As far as breach of contract goes, the emergency orders will qualify as events beyond the control of the seller and buyer, "act of God" or governmental legal intervention, so neither is at fault.
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