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:
- They can stay the extra month, or
- 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.
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?