Landlording & Rental Properties

What to Do as Soon as Your Tenant Gives Notice to Vacate

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After you have received written notice that your tenant is vacating, you'll need to pull out their lease and review the terms of their contract. There are a few things you'll want to look for when your tenant gives their notice to vacate.

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Did They Give Sufficient Notice?

Each state is different regarding how much notice the tenant is required to give their landlord, but some common requirements are 20 or 30 days' written notice before the end of the rental period (you'll want to check with your state to find out what applies to you and your tenants). Whatever minimum notice your state requires needs to be in your rental contract.

For month-to-month rental agreements (an agreement for an indefinite amount of time) in the State of Washington, tenants are required to give at least 20 days’ written notice before the end of the month (or rental period) that they are moving. Our rental period runs from the first day of every month through the last day of every month.

So, if one of our tenants gives their written notice on the 2nd that they will be moving on the 31st, they are golden. If they give their written notice on the 24th with plans to move on the 31st of the same month, that 20-day notice goes into the following month, meaning their rental agreement legally ends the last day of the following month. In this situation, the tenant is responsible to carry out the terms of their rental agreement through the fulfillment of the lease (the following month), including paying rent.

Related: 7 Advanced Tenant Screening Tips (So You’re Not Fooled by Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing)

When a tenant doesn’t give us adequate notice that they will be moving, we give them two options:

  1. They can stay the extra month, or
  2. They can continue with their plans to move before the end of the current month, but they will be held to their obligations.

If they choose option 2, we let them know they will still need to pay rent when it is due on the 1st, but we will market the unit as normal, and if we approve a new tenant, they will receive a prorated rent refund from the day the new tenant moves in.

Are They Breaking Their Lease?

When your tenant gives their notice that they are moving, find out when their lease expires. It will be important for you to know if they are moving out in the middle of their lease so you can make sure they understand what their obligations are. So, what are their obligations exactly?

A term lease, or a lease with a specific start and end date, has its benefits, one of which is that, as long as everyone stays in compliance, the tenant is guaranteed a home, and the landlord is guaranteed rent for the entire term of the lease.

So, when your tenant surprises you with the news that they are moving halfway through the lease, it doesn’t have to be bad news. Even though the tenant is moving, they are still responsible to carry out the terms of their lease through the end date listed on the lease, most importantly paying rent until you can get the unit re-rented.

One common exception of the notice to vacate rule: If your tenant is in the military and they get reassignment or deployment orders, they may be allowed to break their rental lease without repercussions. It’s a small price for us to pay for those serving in our US Military.

Renting to tenants with pets

How Much is Their Deposit?

It’s good to know how much your vacating tenant’s deposit is for so you can be prepared to personally cover any overages (if there are any). Of course, you will still hold your tenant responsible for all charges associated with returning their unit to rent-ready condition, but let’s be honest, it’ll be a while before (or even if) your tenant pays for any overages above and beyond their
deposit. We’ll discuss later on in this chapter what to do if your tenant owes you more than what their deposit will cover.

Related: 6 Tips for Raising the Rent Painlessly (Without Losing a Single Tenant!)

Using the Deposit as Last Month’s Rent

Lastly, when a tenant gives you their notice that they will be moving, the subject of using their deposit as their last month of rent will sometimes come up. While it’s understandable why a tenant would want to do this (they are most likely saving up for their next place), never allow a tenant to use their deposit as the last month’s rent. Make sure your lease has a clause that states that the deposit may not be applied toward rent at any time.

The deposit is held by the landlord to encourage positive behavior by the tenant during their tenancy and to ensure they return the home to its original move-in condition when they move. If you get lazy and let them apply it towards rent, what happens when they move out and you have damages to fix, cleaning to get the unit rent-ready for the next tenant, and a garbage bill to pay? Or even worse, what if they don’t move out at the end of that month and don’t pay rent the following month? Now you have no rent, no deposit, and hefty eviction costs on your hands. This is important, so we’ll repeat ourselves here: Never allow your tenant to use their deposit for rent at any time.

Anything else you do when you get notice your tenant plans to vacate?

Comment below!

Brandon Turner is an active real estate investor, entrepreneur, writer, and co-host of the BiggerPockets Podcast. He is a nationally recognized leader in the real estate education space and has tau...
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    Dave Rav from Summerville, SC
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Good post. I have very strong terms in my lease regarding breaking the lease and notice to vacate. One thing I’ve found is most tenants fail to provide *written advance notice. They settle for a text or phone call. And often, they dont meet the timeline notification. So, in essence they fail to follow protocol. In my lease, they then are on the hook for several months rent payment for breach of lease. Failure of tenant to follow protocol can be where they make mistakes. This is worth noting.
    Bernie Neyer Investor from Chanute, Kansas
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    We take care of the notice period by requiring a calendar month’s written notice to vacate the premises. We also have in our contract that the deposit may not be used as rent by the tenant, informing them that Kansas law states if they attempt to use their deposit as rent, they forfiet the deposit. We sum it all up by stating in the contract that the deposit is held as bond against them failing to perform all of the covenants within the contract and that by failing in to do so they forfiet the deposit. We’ve prevailed in court with our contract.
    Jenna Zebrowski
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Great post! When I draft, I like to make sure that written notice is required. Also, if the tenant is beyond the lease term, I put it into a monthly tenancy, not a tenancy at sufferance. That way, I charge a premium for the holdover, so they’re encouraged to sign a new lease or get out, and then I can give them 30 days notice at any time and ask them to leave, when they are beyond the lease, if I don’t want to renew it or have them stay there.
    John Barnette Investor from San Francisco, California
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    I collect a security deposit and last month tenant at lease signing. So often ends up being 3x the monthly rent. Not always easy. Do case by case. If they have expected return of deposit for old place I will take that into account. If Section 8..I don’t do a last month. If the applicant has good credit and landlord history, income, etc..I will collect deposit and first month at lease signing, last month and month number two at the beginning of second month. Has worked very well for me.
    Kelly Arthur from Scotch Plains, New Jersey
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Early last month Federal Marshals showed up at my property to arrest my tenant on a warrant from back in August. They tracked him down at my property, brought him in and he remained in jail until a couple of days ago. This is all while I was getting out a bad breakup with my management company. They were horrible and this just added to the mess (Tip: In the Philadelphia area, STAY AWAY FROM N PROPERTY MANAGEMENT GROUP!!!!). Anyway, he has agreed to terminate the lease and vacate the property. My new management company (that I’m very happy with :-), SlateHouse Group recommended by Matt Faircloth by way of Darren Sager) indicated that I could keep the security deposit and the last month’s rent which will cover the November and December rent. Glad to move on from the tenant and the management company. Now, we gotta get this place rented out!!!!!
    Bryan Chao
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    My tenant notified me that they bought a house and looking to move 6 months before the lease ends. They have agreed to be flexible to show the property. They notified me by phone. What should I ask them for in writing? Thank you