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Ending a Lease or Rental Agreement FAQs

Ending a Lease or Rental Agreement FAQs

We've all moved out of an apartment, or considered doing so, at some point in our lives. What one person should expect as they prepare to end -- or think about ending -- a lease or rental agreement versus what another should expect can be very different depending on where you live. What one needs to do in ending a lease or rental agreement can depend on local, state, and/or federal laws.

Frequently Asked Questions

Many tenants and landlords will likely ask any or all of the following questions, as they prepare to end a lease or rental agreement:

Can a landlord ask a tenant to move out when a lease expires?

Yes. A landlord may choose to terminate a tenancy at the end of a lease. If a landlord would like to end a lease when its term expires, some states require the landlord to give notice to the tenant even though the lease already specifies the termination date. 60 days is usually a sufficient notice for a tenant to search for a new rental. However, each jurisdiction has different minimum requirements.

What happens if a tenant continues to pay rent after a lease agreement expires?

When a lease ends, a tenant may choose to move, continue to pay rent as a month-to-month tenant, or sign a new lease. If a tenant continues to pay rent after a lease ends, in most states the terms of the expired lease carry over into a month-to-month tenancy. The landlord may only alter the terms of the tenancy after giving proper notice to the tenant. However, most states require at least a 30-day notice to change the terms of a month-to-month rental agreement.

In a few states, if a tenant continues to pay rent after a lease expires and the landlord accepts the rent, the lease is automatically renewed. The new lease is for the same length as the old lease and contains the same provisions.

A landlord and a tenant may also agree to extend the tenancy by signing a new lease agreement. The landlord can change the terms of the lease and increase the rent. If the tenant agrees to the new terms, the new lease governs the tenancy.

What options does a landlord have when a tenant moves out before a lease expires?

A tenant may not legally end a lease before it expires unless a state or a federal law applies. There are a few other situations where this may also be the case.

Sometimes, for example, if more than a certain percentage of the premises is destroyed or is no longer livable for any reason, the parties may be able to re-negotiate the lease or terminate it early depending on the jurisdiction. In such a case, if the lease has an abatement or termination clause, it's particularly common for parties to re-negotiate the lease or end it. This can depend on the livability of the premises, which can be determined by the extent of any damage and the possibility and timing of repairs.

Every state has tenant-landlord regulations that determine the reason a tenant may legally break a lease. In some states, for example, a tenant may terminate a lease early to move to an elderly care facility. Federal law permits a tenant to break a lease when the tenant enlists in the military.

If an exception does not apply, most states require the landlord to mitigate the damages by re-renting the unit. The landlord is not required to rent to an unqualified tenant, but they must take reasonable steps to re-rent the property.

If the landlord incurs costs from the tenant's unlawful termination, the landlord may sue the tenant if the damages exceed the balance remaining after the security deposit has been used to make the repairs.

landlord should ideally sue the former tenant after re-renting the property. By waiting until the property has been re-rented, the landlord can accurately assess the loss. The landlord can sue for the cost to find a tenant, for the time the rental property remained vacant, for attorney fees if such a clause was included in the lease agreement, and for the difference between the rent paid by the new tenant and the old tenant's rent amount.

How much notice does a tenant have to give to terminate a month-to-month rental agreement?

In most states, a tenant must provide a landlord with a written 30-day notice of the intent to terminate the tenancy. In most cases, a tenant may give notice of termination at any time during the month. If the rental agreement specifies that a tenant may only give notice on a certain day of each month, however, then the tenant must wait until that day to give notice.

Does a landlord have to return a security deposit to the tenant?

A landlord may use a tenant's security deposit to pay a tenant's unpaid rent or to fix damage and clean the unit, when the condition exceeds normal wear and tear. Most states require the landlord to return the deposit and provide the tenant with an itemized list of deductions within 14 to 60 days from the date that the tenant moved out.

How can a landlord evict a tenant?

In order to evict a tenant, a landlord must serve the tenant with a written notice of termination. Every state has different guidelines for notification requirements. A landlord may evict the tenant for violating a rental contract. Where local rent control laws do not apply, a landlord may also terminate a tenancy without cause to end a lease or month-to-month tenancy provided proper advance notice has been given. There are three types of terminations for cause: pay rent or quit, cure or quit, or an unconditional quit. In most states, when termination is without cause, a landlord must give the tenant either a 30-day or 60-day termination notice. If the tenant refuses to move out or corrects the violation after receiving a termination notice, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit.

Consider Getting Legal Help Ending a Lease or Rental Agreement

Real estate laws are complicated. When landlord/tenant issues arise, it can be difficult to determine what to do. When life events make it necessary for you to end a lease or rental agreement earlier than planned, it helps to have the law on your side. Get in touch with a local landlord-tenant law attorney to learn more.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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