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Legal Definition of Tenant at Will

When a property owner allows someone to remain on the owner's property, and pay rent in return, a tenancy is created. The types of tenancies differ. State laws vary in terms of the rights and responsibilities of the parties based on the type of tenancy created. One largely informal type of tenancy is a tenancy-at-will.

Definition of Tenancy-at-Will

A tenancy-at-will is informal because there is no lease agreement between the landlord or the tenant. According to, a tenancy-at-will is "simply [an] arrangement where the landlord has agreed to allow the tenant to stay at the property without a valid lease." Because there is no lease, the payment of rent may be more lax and the types of obligations between the parties may also be more informal.

Terminating Tenancy-at-Will

At-will tenancies may be terminated at any time and for any reason. As mentioned, there is often no written agreement between the parties and therefore no formal set of rules that governs the reasons for why the tenancy can be ended. In a traditional tenancy setting, in contrast, the landlord must have proper grounds to evict a tenant ---often, nonpayment of rent. With a tenancy-at-will, the tenancy can be ended at the whim of either party, but special notice rules apply.

State Notice Laws Vary

According to, "applicable statutory requirements of notice" must be met to successfully terminate a tenancy and these provisions vary by state. At the heart of the matter, however, is the fact that, while either party can end the lease at will, proper notice must be given to the other party. In Wisconsin, a 28-day notice must be given. Massachusetts requires a 30-day notice. Special rules may come into play if the property is foreclosed on and the new owner seeks to evict at-will tenants. In Georgia, for example, the new owner must allow the at-will tenants a 60-day notice to terminate the tenancy; the tenant can terminate the tenancy with a 30-day notice.

Common Situations for Tenancy-at-Will

Tenancies-at-will do not arise often. According to "Property: Examples and Explanations," if a John allows Mary to stay at his house "for as long as wishes" provided that Mary pays some form of rent, a court might find that a tenancy-at-will has been created. Because of the informal nature of these tenancies, it is common for them to arise between friends and family members. The key, however, is permission to remain on the property with the expectation that some form of rent will be paid to the owner.