Leaving house vacant for a year to avoid becoming landlord

I'm helping make a decision whether the risks and costs associated with becoming a landlord in Berkeley are worth it as opposed to leaving a house empty for a year.  The place will only be empty for a year and the owners will absolutely need to move back then.  I heard scary horror stories about people's experiences being landlords in Berkeley and that getting tenants out after a lease is often tough and very expensive if they don't want to move at end of lease and that evictions take forever etc.  Many recommended avoiding becoming landlords at all costs!  It seems like a waste (and expensive, due to lost rental income) to just leave the place empty for a year, but if the horror stories are true it seems that any income will potentially be eaten up by damage and attorney fees and costs to rent alternative housing while dealing with evictions, etc.  Anyone who was away from home for about a year or slightly more made the decision to not rent out the home and instead leave it vacant to avoid these issues?    

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I had a similar situation in San Francisco. I chose to do short term rentals. Although in retrospect I think that I’d try to find slightly longer term renters such as a professor coming for a sabbatical, short term corporate housing, or a family doing a house remodel. I’d probably leave a buffer of 1-2 months between the last renter’s last day and your return day. 

hey there --

we didn't know this at the time (only found out after our former tenants sued us for evicting them to return back to our house as owner-move-in, and had to talk to a lawyer, etc.) -- but there is a clause in leases that specifically states that owners have previously occupied home and will have right of return. I don't remember the exact language. Ironically, we had asked the property manager if we should disclose that we might (it was uncertain) return to our home, and she advised us against it as she thought would impede rental. But, if you find a short term tenant (some people are looking for low commitment leases) -- you could have this explicit in your lease. Leaving a house empty sounds unfortunate and risky. Sorry don't know how that clause/option is worded, but sure that you can google/do some research to clarify.

I also want to know the answers.

Two ideas: rent to a family who is renovating their own home. They'll be ready to move out when their home is ready. Rent to university-associated people who will only be in town for one year.

First, I highly recommend consulting with a landlord attorney ASAP.

Second, I would suggest you familiarize yourself with Berkeley Municipal Code 13.76.130.A.10 (which describes one particular "just cause" eviction, reproduced below), as well as the new statewide rent control rules coming into force in 2020.

I don't believe there is a way to guarantee that tenants won't fight hard against an eviction or cause damage, but there does seem to be some landlord rights available. Again, speak to a local landlord attorney ASAP (I am not one).

13.76.130.A.10.    A landlord or lessor seeks in good faith to recover possession of the rental unit for his/her occupancy as a principal residence, where the landlord or lessor has previously occupied the rental unit as his/her principal residence and has the right to recover possession of the unit for his/her occupancy as a principal residence under an existing rental agreement with the current tenants.


Yes, we left a house vacant in Berkeley for over a year for the exact reasons you describe. For just one year, I don’t think the risks of renting outweigh the benefit of rental income in your situation. Unfortunately. 

Under California law, even Berkeley rent control,  homeowner can rent out a room in their room to a "Lodger".As long as the owner shares common areas with the lodger, the lodger is not an legal  tenant. The owner may select the age and sex of the lodger, and can make the lodger move out at the end of lease, or even just with proper notice.

This might be an option for your friend, since no good cause for eviction is required if the lodger doesn't want to leave.

Your friend is prudent to be careful.

Rent it out to a professor on sabbatical or some graduate students who will need//want to leave.   Go through Cal Rentals or SabbaticalHome.com or the like.

I don't have advice on renting versus leaving vacant - but if you do consider renting and are concerned about ensuring tenants are only staying for one year, consider posting at sabbaticalhomes.com. These are viewed by academics across the world who are only planning on staying a set period of time.

In my experience, if you are very clear with prospective tenants that the house is available for rental for only one year, that the lease is not offered for renewal, and that the owner intends to reoccupy as their primary residence at the end of the lease term, your risk is very small.  I put this language in my lease, so that there is a written proof that both parties agreed to these terms.  It's never been challenged and I've never had a tenant abuse our agreement.  

You could list on sabbatical homes and only take a visiting professor or better yet a person with an iron clad visa who will have to leave.  You can make it work. I think the risk would be greater to leave it empty. Various sovereign citizen factions have been known to squat in vacant houses and do all the paperwork to transfer property over to their corporate identity or a trust .  These folks are smart and do outrageous things-and get away with it.

You might want to try a trade instead. 

Yes, it can be a problem to get your home back. Is it a single-family home? Or is there a cottage in the backyard or other dwelling on the property? With a single-family, you do have more rights. 

If they do decide to rent, make sure the move-out date is in the lease. And state that the owners will move back in and use it as their primary residence on the next day. If the tenants sign this, they know they have to leave. In addition, the Rent Board is more likely to recognize the agreement if it is clearly stated. Then do not extend the lease for any reason!!!! Both parties need to stick to the agreement.

Make sure they have someone in town to manage the property. 

Have you used the UC Berkeley Housing listerv?  There are many visiting professors on a clear 1-year sabbatical.  While some can be extended, there are definitely folks who have commitments to return to, who are definitely here for a single year.  There are also situations like a family who is renovating their own home who need a 6-8 mo lease.  You CAN be picky about who you rent to, and ensure it's a situation where they will vacate as expected.  This also ensures the home stays clean and functional (not-great things can happen when heat, water, etc. aren't regularly run) and you reduce risk of vandalism, theft, or vagrants.  A home left vacant for 6 mo in our neighborhood had squatters break in - and getting them out and fixing the damage was crazy-expensive.

Why don’t you try to rent it to a professor on sabbatical?  You can get references verify their situation.  They will need to go back to wherever they usually live after the year is up.  Choose someone on leave from a permanent, ladder-rank job elsewhere, rather than a post-doc, say, who may not yet have plans for the following year. 

Call Berkeley Property Owners Association, 2041 Bancroft Way, Berkeley - 510.525=3666.  


We own a duplex in Berkeley and have attended their meetings to get info and also called the number to get some guidance.  

Good luck

We have had a negative experience ourselves that involved renting a room in a home shared with my then 75 year old mother, and yet I would probably still consider renting again. I would just take more precautions than I did the first time. We were completely naive, having faith in our own discernment about human character, and unfortunately in Berkeley, that's just not going to cut it. Despite this experience, I still believe that MOST renters are honest, want to take good care of the place in which they live, and all will benefit. 

You probably already know what you need to do: run a thorough rental and financial background check; know your rights as a landlord and your tenant rights; even make a visit to the Rent Control Board and ask questions about what some warning signs might be. I'm not sure if you can still private message someone, but I can tell you in more detail what we learned--at some financial expense and mental anguish--from the experience and consulting with a local real estate attorney. Best, former landlord (just sold our house this week!) 

I've heard horror stories too; the risks associated with renting one's house out for the year in Berkeley are indeed great. However, one of the ways you can mitigate the risks substantially is to rent the home to someone who is on sabbatical for the year - being careful to avoid a certain west coast man who is notorious for serially abusing this situation. You can look into what services UC Berkeley and LBNL offer to their visiting professors and scientists. There is also a sabbatical website where you can post or seek such tenants. Research the person/people carefully before signing anything. 

Another thing that I know people have done is to let trusted friends stay there for the year.

I left my home in Berkeley for 3-6 months/year for over 10 years and rented out my house using a short-term contract. My tenants lived in other states or countries and were here short-term. I had no problems.

While a year is perhaps different, it may line up beautifully with a sabbatical family. 

If you are clear about the dates, and have a contract, there should not be a problem. 

Cal has a housing network for sabbatical professors coming to Berkeley for a year. 

I used Craigslist exclusively but haven’t rented my house in over 10 years. 

You could also hire a local property manager to help with emergencies, maintenance, etc. They take a cut of the rent.

Good Luck!

The simplest solution to knowing that you only want to rent for one year in any city, is to specify in the lease that you are doing a 1-year TERM LEASE, that does not revert to "MONTH-TO-MONTH" when the 1 year is up.  This is different than a 1 year lease, which does revert to a month-to-month if you do not supply a new lease after the first year.  You have to be very clear with the tenant that this is what you are doing.  That they are going to move out in one year.  This is a little-known "loophole."

I understand the anxiety about a bad experience, but leaving a place vacant also carries risk and zero benefits to you or the wider community. We have a small in-law unit under our house and took our time to find an ideal tenant. 

In Berkeley I think there are some great places to find temporary lodgers - I know that the family housing for students (located in Albany) has a lot of students transitioning from finishing degrees to finding jobs who might be interested in a one-year rental since they can't live there after they graduate, but many have kids enrolled in schools nearby and want to minimize their transitions. Our cat-sitter when we lived in Oakland was a student at the Pacific School of Religion and stayed in our house while we were away one summer - she was exactly the kind of person you'd leave to care for your space for 3 months, extremely trustworthy and thoughtful.

Be clear with the time period the home is available for, advertise strategically to find people who would be a good fit, look for references or even look within your network - and give a good deal to anyone you think is truly the ideal renter, because it's worth it to make a little less than you could if you have peace of mind (we rent for about 2/3 market value to our current tenant). 

This is an excellent question! I know people move away and rent out their house for a year or so and then move back in successfully, so there must be a way to do this. I would be very careful about whom you select to rent your house... perhaps a visiting professor on sabbatical or someone from outside the US who is moving here temporarily for a job. If you rent to a family with school age children, there could be problems evicting them during the school year. I also would consult with a very good real estate attorney, who can probably write a lease in such a way as to minimize any problems. AirBnB could also be a good option. Rent control laws have made it difficult for small time landlords to operate, and this is one of the reasons many owners are taking rental units off the market (which decreases the housing stock and drives up rents) and turning to short term rentals such as AirBnB. It's too risky and potentially expensive to have to pay tenants to leave. Good luck! I hope you find a way to make this work. 

I encourage you to rent the home.  But... carefully.  Get a lawyer.  Get a Berkeley specific contract.  Vet your tenants, and make sure they are structurally unlikely to stay, but stick within the bounds of the non-discrimination laws (you are aware the City is working on a plan to prohibit owners from making background checks on tenants, right?  This seems to be an initiative of the Mayor and Councilmember Davila primarily).  Be careful, as you can be sued for discrimination, and there are sting operations where workers poised as tenants will approach you based on postings. Keep in mind that tenants over age 65 have even greater protections, should you try to enforce a lease term.

I know many others choose not to get into the danger game and leave property empty.  But there are downsides there too for the health of the house, the neighborhood, and the housing market.  Consider that by offering housing, you're helping to lower the housing pressure, and thus to lower costs for new entrants to the market.  Remember that existing tenants are not affected: in Berkeley rent increases are caped at 65% of the cost of living increase.


My family was heavily impacted by an overstaying tenant.  What was supposed to be 3 months has turned into 23 years and counting.  My parents were unable to move into the accessible part of their own home, when that time came.  And now the tenant is a year and half behind on rent payments, and there's no end in sight.  Remember that tenants get a free legal team, paid for by housing providers, but as a housing provider you get to pay all your own costs, and can't even recover costs if you win.

If you develop a new Accessory Dwelling Unit you have some legal protection from Measure Q -- but watch out.  You'll need to ensure as you get older that whoever is caring for the estate evicts the tenants before you yourself need to move to assisted living.  If you die, or move for any reason, the rent board swoops in and controls the unit, and you won't be able to get the tenant out for love or money.  Be sure to start the eviction procedure well in advance of your death or move to assisted living, as it takes a while.  Allow 3-6 months, and budget $15-25,000.  That's less than a year's rent for most whole houses, so you should be fine.

Of course that's a fixed fee, in the case of my parents the tenant was paying $450/month at the time.  Just make sure your rent is high enough to pay for the potential legal costs.  Be extra wary of renting lower cost units, as the dangers are higher, but the rewards are much lower.  Except the social rewards: just chalk it up to good will, and provide housing for those who can't otherwise afford it.  If you can afford alternative housing, then why not contribute to society, by offering a place to a tenant who may have nowhere else to go?

Thank you so much for the responses.  I did not consider the risks of leaving the property vacant so really appreciate the posters who raised it as an issue.  We decided to not rent it out but let family members (and other few the owners trust completely) to use it as weekend/temporary place to have access to the bay area when needed for free in exchange for them watching out for the place, dealing with mail and any issues, etc. as it seemed like the best and safest solution.