If your landlord tells you she's sold your home, don't assume you have to move out tomorrow. Even if the new owner wants you gone, you still have the same tenant's rights — the right of possession — you did before the sale. Specific rights vary from state to state, but the general principles are the same.
If you have a long-term lease, the new owner is stuck with you. Even though she didn't sign the lease, she can't make you move until it terminates. The only exception would be if the lease has a clause in it requiring you to move after a sale. If you rent month-to-month, the news isn't so good: In most states, the new owner only has to give you 30 days notice. A few areas, such as Washington state, give you a longer time to find a home.
Don't let your security deposit get lost in the ownership shuffle. You're entitled to get the deposit back, less deductions for damage, no matter who owns the house or when you have to leave. Your state law spells out the details: In Illinois, for example, the new owner has to refund your deposit, even if the former landlord never gave him the money. In Texas, your former landlord has to pay you unless he gets a signed statement from the new owner assuming responsibility. The new owner cannot force you to add to your deposit.
If either the former or the new owner wants you to move out early, she may fight dirty. Harassment includes entering the rental without your consent, shutting off electricity or water or cutting off your use of a swimming pool or other amenities. The owner may file in court to have you evicted, even though you're entitled to stay. Rather than harass you, your landlord may neglect you, figuring there's no need to make repairs when you're about to become someone else's problem.
If either the new or former owner violates your rights, contact him in writing and assert yourself. State the problem clearly and request he fix it. If nothing happens, take your case to small claims court: The fees are low and you don't need a lawyer to sue. Small claims is also the place to go if you don't get your security deposit back or your landlord deducts from the deposit for routine cleaning rather than serious damage.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.