Rent Increases on an Oral Agreement

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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Even if you have an oral lease for a month-to-month tenancy, your landlord is under certain obligations to honor the terms of an oral agreement. For example, your landlord cannot raise your rent every two weeks if you have a month-to-month oral agreement. However many rent increase notices you get, each notice must be in place no later than the “rent day” before going into effect.

There is such a thing as a week-to-week tenancy, and in such cases it would be legal for the landlord to raise the rent every two weeks, although the rent increases would have to be “reasonable.” Even where there is no rent control, courts will often not allow completely arbitrary and outrageous rent increases.

Unlike other contracts for interest in real estate, a month-to-month lease is binding even if it is oral. A classic common law principle known as the Statute of Frauds allows courts to enforce any contract or agreement of up to one year in length without there being anything in writing. This prevents a landlord from contending that because there is no written lease, he or she can raise the rent indiscriminately.

In a month-to-month tenancy, any rent increase must have one full month’s notice before taking effect. The same is true for the tenant’s moving out – there must be a full month’s notice given by the tenant. That full month is known as the “rent month,” running from the exact day the rent is supposed to be due, whether that’s the first day of the calendar month (as it is in most cases), or any other day of the month that the landlord and tenant agree upon.

For example, if your rent is payable on the 15th of every month, a rent increase must be noticed to the tenant no later than the 15th of the month before the rent increase takes effect. In other words, more than 30 days’ notice must be given. In this example, calendar months changing are irrelevant: a rent increase notice that you get on July 1st would not go into effect until August 15th.

If you are in a dispute with your landlord over rent increases, there is help available. Contact an experienced landlord tenant lawyer in your state today. If you can’t afford a lawyer, you might be able to get help from a public or non-profit legal services office. The attorneys who work in those offices do a lot of landlord-tenant work, and many of them are very good at it.

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