Does the Landlord Need a Reason to Terminate the Lease at the Expiration of the Term?
Generally, a landlord may terminate a lease without reason at the expiration of the lease term. That means your landlord is under no obligation to renew your lease or allow you to stay in the property for additional time unless you are able to invoke an anti-retaliation law. Your landlord typically will give you an advance notice that your lease will not be renewed (usually 30 days), but tenants are generally responsible for making arrangements for lease extensions.
See Rental and Lease Agreements for additional articles related to the termination of a lease.
When Your Lease Term Ends
Cases based on landlord tenant law are handled at the state and local level, so laws may differ from state to state. Regardless, it is always best to be in clear communication with your landlord and not wait until the last minute to try and renew a lease. Generally, landlords must not accept rent or agree to new terms beyond the original lease term if they do not wish to renew the lease. Doing so could be interpreted by a court as a default extension of the lease, at least on a month-to-month basis.
Some leases include extension options, which must be exercised in a timely manner so the landlord can prepare for a new tenant. Some states require the landlord to send existing tenants who fail to exercise an extension option a written notice that their lease will come to an end on a given date.
In most cases, staying in a rental property beyond the end of your lease term is grounds for a landlord to file an "unlawful detainer" action and seek a tenant's eviction.
It may be extremely difficult to prove that a landlord acted in retaliation when he or she decided to terminate your lease without a reason, since the actual reason is the end of the term itself. But if you are able to prove that the landlord agreed to a lease extension and then rescinded the extension without notice, leaving you unprepared for an abrupt move, then you may have a valid claim.
See What Kinds of Conduct are Considered Landlord Retaliation? or speak with a landlord tenant attorney more details.