What Is A Tenant Estoppel Certificate, and Should I Fill It Out? 

If a landlord wishes to sell an occupied property, they may, and should, provide the tenant with what is known as an “estoppel certificate.”  This document may be titled something else, like “tenant questionnaire,” or “estoppel agreement,” but the general contents and purpose should be clear.  The document will ask questions about the tenant, and their tenancy that should be disclosed to potential buyers.  In deciding how and if to answer the questions provided, there are some considerations a tenant should keep in mind. 

First of all, many lease agreements include a term that requires tenants to complete estoppel certificates when provided.  Checking to see if this is the case might avoid the landlord having an easy way to force tenants into giving up possession.  Failing to comply may lead to the landlord using the lack of cooperation as a basis for initiating an eviction attempt.  Obviously, in this case some level of cooperation would be a good idea. 

Another reason to fill out the certificate would be to document informal or spoken agreements between the landlord and tenant that have changed the terms of the tenancy that that the new owner was aware of this situation when they decided to buy the property. 

Sometimes, the tenant will also receive documentation asking if anyone who occupies the home is elderly, disabled, or part of another group provided with extra protections under a local rent ordinance.  For instance, children enrolled in the San Francisco School District and their guardians, and teachers are protected from certain no-fault evictions during the school year.  Notifying the landlord of this protected status as soon as possible is important to avoid losing these protections. 

With all of that said, there might be situations where you feel uncomfortable responding to the questions provided.  In that case, talking with an attorney might help clarify the situation or find ways to resolve your concerns.