Can our landlord kick us out so a family member can move in?

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Question:

The landlord has asked my parents to move out of our apartment so that her family member can live here. There are six other tenants in our building she could have asked. Can she single us out like this? We've been here for 20 years! I'm also wondering if it's legal for her to evict us just so that a family member can move in.

Answer:

The truth is, you may never know why your landlord chose your family as the one to go -- and it won't do you much good to know, unless her reason was based on discriminatory reasons such as your race, ethnicity, or religion. In that case, kicking you out would have been illegal. Similarly, in most states it is illegal for a landlord to terminate your rental as retaliation for your standing up for your legal rights -- like if you had complained to a housing inspector about substandard conditions.

If there's no evidence of such discrimination or retaliation, your rights depend on the type of rental you have. If your family rents on a month-to-month basis, your landlord may ask you to move, for any reason, as long as she gives you the required amount of notice -- 30 days in most states.

If you have a fixed-term lease, the landlord must honor the lease for the length of the lease term, but can refuse to renew it when it expires, which will mean you have to leave at that time.

Unfortunately for you, if your landlord wants your apartment for a relative, it's an okay reason for terminating your rental -- except in rent control cities, where the rules are very different. For instance, in San Francisco, the ability of the landlord to evict a tenant to move in a relative has been drastically cut back. However, cities in only five states -- California, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York -- have rent control ordinances. Contact your local rent board to find out your community's rules on "owner move-in" evictions.

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