Tenancy at Will Definition
Tenancy at will, also known as an estate at will, is a property tenure that does not involve a lease or any other form of formal or written agreements, and is only subject to the will of the landlord and the tenant. A tenancy at will does not specify any fixed terms regarding duration of the tenant’s stay or the exchange of payment; as such, it is beneficial for tenants and landlords looking for the flexibility to alter the terms of the tenancy as required without having to prepare a new contract. A tenancy at will also provides for a termination at any time by either the tenant or the landlord. Such an arrangement has a pronounced downside: one of the parties may terminate the agreement at any time it considers favorable — this may cause inconvenience to the other party, which may not find it convenient to exit the arrangement at that particular point of time.
A Little More on Tenancy at Will
Tenancy at will is an arrangement between a landlord and a tenant that either eschews the strict terms and conditions typically present in a conventional lease agreement, or serves as an interim permit for the tenant to occupy the property during negotiations with the landlord, before a formal lease is issued. In instances where a tenancy at will is intended to serve as an interim arrangement, the formal lease will automatically supersede any previous tenancy at will arrangements, once it is finalised and completed. A tenancy at will agreement can also be made during instances where the lease terms have expired or are considered defective by mutual agreement.
A defining characteristic of a tenancy at will is the absence of an original contract. In fact, this particular attribute differentiates tenancy at will from a typical periodic tenancy — the latter simply being an extension of an otherwise expired fixed-term agreement, and that is used to continue to stipulate terms that apply to both the tenant and the landlord. However, in many jurisdictions across the United States, tenancies at will are subject to statutory regulations especially regarding the time of the notice to terminate — this essentially renders them similar to periodic tenancies.
The Importance of Drafting a Tenancy at Will
It is crucial to draft a tenancy at will correctly so as to prevent it from being treated as a periodic tenancy. The case of Javad v Aquil  1 WLR 1007 can be cited as a real-life example to illustrate this point. The plaintiff (landlord) had allowed the defendant (tenant) occupation of a certain property while still negotiating for a ten-year formal lease. The tenant spent a few months at the property and also paid rent on a quarterly basis on three occasions. However, negotiations between the landlord and the tenant ultimately failed, and the latter was asked to vacate the property. In the legal proceedings that followed, the landlord maintained that their agreement was that of a tenancy at will and hence the tenant was liable to vacate upon request. On the other hand, the defendant argued that since he had already made three quarterly payments to the plaintiff, the agreement should be considered a periodic tenancy. After years of legal proceedings, the court finally decided in favor of the plaintiff. The judge held that the agreement between the landlord and the tenant could not be considered a periodic tenancy due to the absence of any other material factors that hinted towards such a tenancy agreement, and also due to the fact that several outstanding differences existed between the two parties. It is widely agreed that two factors led to such a peculiar case — (1) the duration of rent-paying occupation of the tenant and (2) the lack of insistence on a formal lease agreement.
Protections Offered by a Tenancy at Will
Notwithstanding the absence of a formal, written contract agreement, a tenancy at will still offers certain legal protections to both parties involved in the arrangement. The landlord, on his part, is obligated by law to provide a safe environment to the tenant. In the event of repossession of the property from the tenant by the landlord, the landlord must provide prior notice to the tenant as mandated by local statutory legislation. The landlord must also provide reasonable time to the tenant to retrieve any goods from the property.
Similarly, the tenant is responsible for the regular payment of rent to the landlord, besides following any terms and conditions mutually agreed upon by the landlord and the tenant. The tenant is also liable to repair or compensate the landlord (as applicable) for any damages to the property beyond normal wear and tear. As a general rule, both the landlord as well as the tenant are required to abide by local statutory legislations when vacating the property or having the property vacated.
Tenant’s Notice of Intention to Vacate
Typically, a tenancy at will arrangement does not necessitate the furnishing of a written notification on the part of the tenant regarding his intention to vacate the property. However, both the tenant as well as the landlord are required to comply with local regulations regarding landlord-tenant agreements. Usually, a 30-day notice is provided in writing by both the tenant intending to vacate the property or the landlord intending to have his property vacated. It should be noted here that neither the landlord, nor the tenant issuing such a notice is legally bound to provide the reason for the request to vacate. The only exceptions to this 30-day eviction notice rule are instances where the tenant has caused serious damage to the rented property or has been a nuisance to other residents in the neighborhood — in such situations, it is acceptable for the landlord to evict the tenant on a seven-day notice.