Tenancy agreements come in various forms, each with its own set of characteristics and legal implications. Tenancy-at-will and periodic tenancy are two types of tenancy agreements. While both are legally binding contracts, the primary distinctions are their fixed term and automatic renewal. 

Understanding these distinctions is critical for both landlords and tenants to make informed decisions about their real estate laws and rental arrangements.

What is Tenancy-at-Will?

A tenancy-at-will, also known as an estate-at-will, is a type of property tenure in which either the tenant or the owner/landlord has the right to terminate it at any time. It exists in the absence of a contract or lease and does not usually specify the length or method of payment of a tenant's rent. 

Because the landlord usually requires the tenant to pay rent once a month, the term "month-to-month tenancy" is also used. This type of agreement is ideal if you want the freedom to leave whenever you want.

As a tenant at will, you have the right to "lawful and exclusive possession" of the property you rent. This means that your landlord can only enter your apartment if you allow him to. If he/she doesn’t get your permission, he/she is trespassing. Many landlords believe that because they own the property, they have the right to enter an apartment at any time. Your landlord is only allowed to enter your apartment under certain conditions.

The agreement is governed by state law, and the terms may differ from state to state, though in cases of discrimination, federal law may apply.

Is Tenancy-at-Will legally binding?

A tenancy at will is legally binding as long as the landlord and tenant reach an agreement, whether oral or written. Even if there is no written agreement, both parties are given legal protections that govern the relationship. For example, the landlord is required by law to ensure that the property is decent and safe.

What is Tenancy-at-Sufferance

Tenancy at sufferance occurs when a tenant stays in a property after the lease has expired despite the landlord's objections. It can also happen if the tenant receives a notice terminating the lease because of nonpayment of rent.

If the tenant doesn't follow the rules, the landlord may go to court to evict the tenant. This tenancy is also known as "holdover tenancy."

Tenancy at Will vs. Periodic Tenancy

A periodic tenancy is a rental agreement in which the tenant occupies the property for a set period, such as a month or a year. Unless the landlord or the tenant gives notice to terminate the tenancy, the tenancy automatically renews at the end of the fixed period for another period of the same length. 

For example:

A tenant signs a one-year lease that expires on December 31. The lease automatically renews for another year on January 1, unless either the landlord or the tenant gives notice to terminate the tenancy before the end of the year. 

This is similar to tenancy-at-will, except that tenancy-at-will has no fixed term.

Vacating a Tenancy-at-Will

While there may be no written and agreed-upon requirements for notice of intent to leave in an at-will tenancy, terms are typically outlined in local landlord-tenant regulations.

A 30-day written notice is typically given to both the tenant and the landlord. If either the tenant or the landlord wishes to leave, the other party must be given 30 days' notice. Either party doesn't need to explain the reason for the request to vacate.


Knowing that a tenancy-at-will agreement is an option helps the landlord and tenant determine the best arrangement for the specific situation. Simultaneously, understanding how a tenancy-at-will agreement works allow them to ensure that all regulations are followed.