Sometimes you have to change apartments because of unexpected circumstances and need to give notice earlier than planned. Other times, you just don’t know how to break the news to a landlord or management company.
There’s a right way to give notice . . . and a wrong way. You want to leave with your deposit and reputation intact, not leave in a way that will lead to bad referrals from your landlord in the future.
As always, you should know what’s in your lease and check what it says. There will be a section outlining how you should give notice, how much notice is required, and the penalties associated with leaving early. In some cases, you may owe your security deposit, a month’s rent or more. As a good rule, you should give more than the minimum required notice – though it’s not necessary, it shows courtesy and good faith, which will help with references in the future.
Keep in mind that the notice usually must coincide with the rental period, which runs in 30-day cycles and usually (but not always) begins on the first day of the month. If you moved in on the 1st, you’ll need to give notice before the 1st of the month before you plan to move out.
Tip: Put the day you need to give notice on your calendar with an alert. Missing this date could cost you money.
You really don’t want to give notice without having your next move already lined up. You don’t need to have already signed the lease and hired movers, but you don’t want to be caught having given notice, then realizing you have no clue where you’re going. Start with the date you have to give notice, then work backward to get a timeline for where you should be and when.
A written letter and follow-up phone call is generally best, but check your lease for details. Your letter will need to include your address and unit number, the name of your landlord/management company, the date of the letter, your intention to leave, the date you intend to move, if that concludes your lease or if you are arranging for another tenant until it ends, and a request for knowing about your deposit.
Be sure to have all roommates on the lease sign the letter, and provide a forwarding address for each of you, as well as an address to send the security deposit to.
Keep a copy of your letter and send it certified mail or get delivery confirmation. You can also deliver it in person, but if you do so, ask for confirmation of its receipt. Email is another option; be sure to request a confirmation reply that it was received and read.
If you attach your letter to an email, you might want to send a second email to alert management that a letter with an attachment is your notice of intent to vacate (in case the attachment throws your email into a spam folder). The simplest way, by far, is to simply mail the letter with delivery confirmation.
If you’ve been a good tenant – following the rules and paying your rent on time – then, by all means, ask your apartment manager to give you a good referral in the future. This recommendation can help you secure the apartment of your dreams and possibly beat out any competition in a tight market in the future. While you might think they’re not willing to give a recommendation to someone who’s leaving before the lease is over, if you followed the procedure in the lease and acted professionally and courteously, there’s no reason they wouldn’t give you a good referral.
Doing the above should protect you from withholding your deposit and legal action, assuming the apartment is in the same condition it was in when you moved out. There’s always the possibility of a dispute, and you need to know how to handle it if anything comes up.
If there’s any legal action, the first thing you should do is get a lawyer to assist you. Know your rights and be sure to have documented any problems with the landlord or other tenants during your stay. Each state and many cities have their own tenant organizations, many of which can be found at HUD.gov. You want to get ahead of any possible problems, rather than having this hang over your rental history, like getting fired from a job or declaring bankruptcy would hang over your work or credit history.
We don’t always have control of when we move, but there are ways to exit your lease properly. Know the terms of your agreement and give as much notice as you can. If you follow the right steps, you won’t have to worry about what your landlord says about you when you’re gone.
Tip: Use your ‘vacate date’ when you call utilities, turn in your change of address form at the post office, or transfer any regular deliveries or subscriptions to a new address.