An attornment is a situation in which someone recognizes and accepts the transfer of legal rights. The classic situation in which attornments occur is when a property sells, and tenants of the property recognize the buyer as their new landlord. People can also recognize the rights of a court which normally has no jurisdiction over them by attorning. There are a number of ways in which someone can attorn, ranging from signing a formal agreement to staying in a rental property after the sale to indicate acceptance of a new landlord.
The roots of this concept lie in feudalism. When a lord wanted to sell or transfer property, the property rights could not be transferred without the consent of the tenants. This proceeding was designed to give tenants a chance to refuse a new lord if they wanted to. In the modern era, tenants cannot block the sale or transfer of property by refusing to attorn, but they can opt to leave without penalty, unless an attornment clause has been included in their lease.
If a lease agreement includes an attornment clause, it means that the tenant agrees to honor a new landlord if the property changes hands while the tenant's lease is still good. The new landlord, in turn, must agree to honor the terms of the lease. In situations where an attornment clause has not been added to a lease, tenants are informed when the property is sold and they have the option of staying and possibly signing a form to indicate that they recognize the new landlord, or leaving.
The attornment clause is one of the many reasons why tenants should always read their lease agreements carefully, and ask to have portions which they do not understand explained before they sign. For a long lease or a complex commercial lease, it is advisable to consult a lawyer to review the terms of the lease agreement and confirm that they are favorable and acceptable. It may be especially important to be aware of the presence or lack thereof of an attornment clause.
If a tenant's landlord does indicate that a property is being sold or repossessed by a bank, tenants should familiarize themselves with the options if an attornment clause is not part of the lease. Tenants may want to be aware that although they may be able to opt to attorn, the new owner may or may not honor the terms of the lease.