Estate for years

When lease agreements are used to convey a leasehold estate, the specific leasehold category is normally an estate for years.

The estate for years is a leasehold estate set for a definite period of time. Contrary to its name, the leasehold estate does not require a term of one or more years. An estate for years can have a term of three months, six months, one year, 40 years, etc. The key here is the term or definite period of time. Neither party can arbitrarily terminate the leasehold agreement without cause.

If the tenant continues to occupy or keep possession of the rental property after the end of the lease agreement and no provisions have been made, the estate becomes a tenancy at sufferance. The law usually does not consider the tenant to be a trespasser, because the tenant's original entry, occupancy and/or possession was legal. The tenant is now subject to eviction. The landlord must take care not to accept any rental payments during this period, as the tenant's possession becomes re-legalized and converts into a periodic estate, or periodic tenancy.

Note that a one-year lease can turn into a year-to-year periodic tenancy (see below) if the lease has expired and the landlord continues to receive rental payments without indicating the type of tenancy now in effect. This means that the one-year lease is automatically renewed for another year. However, this also goes both ways; if the tenant remains after the one-year lease has expired, the landlord may be able to hold him or her responsible for another full year. Fortunately, most lease agreements have provisions for such holdover tenancy, normally converting it into a month-to-month tenancy.

If the tenant dies during the term, the leasehold estate continues; it merely passes on to one of the tenant's heirs, who assume the lessee role. By the same token, if the landlord dies during the term of the lease, the landlord's responsibilities passes on to his or her heirs, estate or executor.

All states have passed statutes regulating the relationship between the landlord and tenant. When there is no written lease agreement, as in the case of the periodic estate (below), the relationship is assumed to follow all state and, often, local requirements. However, if there is a lease agreement, as with an estate for years, the lease agreement may actually amend such state and local statutes, if allowed by law.

For example, some states give the tenant full exclusive use of the rental unit. The landlord may not enter the property without the expressed consent of the tenant. However, many written leases often give the landlord the right to enter the tenant's property without notice for specific situations, such as emergency or to show the property to prospective tenants or buyers.

The maximum term for leasehold estates and agreements is set by each state. Historically, the maximum term for a lease had been recognized as 99 years, the same term that was used for Britain's lease with China for Hong Kong and Portugal's lease with China for Macao.

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