Lesson preview: This lesson focuses on three main topics: What you can do if you want or need to move out before your lease ends, what your options are when your lease comes to an end, and when you have the right to end a lease early.
Normal End of a Rental Lease Agreement
Your Options When Your Lease Comes to the End
- Renew the Lease, extending it with the same terms
- Renew the Lease, extending it with modified terms
- Negotiate a new lease
- Convert to a monthly rental agreement
- or, just move out and on to a new home
- Please give your landlord notice of your intentions about 1 month earlier to avoid any confusion
Renew your lease with the same terms:
Before your lease agreement ends, you should advise your landlord that you intend to renew your lease, and you’re requesting the same terms be continued. If your landlord agrees, the landlord will prepare the documentation and both of you can sign the extension. This may be by a letter referring to the initial lease, stating that the terms remain the same but setting out the new lease period. If the lease is extended with the same terms, then the property condition at the start of your first lease remains the basis against which any future damage will be measured. Most often, the security and all other deposits will not be refunded at the time of this renewal and will not increase until you move out at the end of this second
Renew your lease with modified terms:
Before your lease agreement ends, you should advise your landlord that you intend to renew your lease, but you’re requesting some modifications to your original lease. State very specifically what changes you want made. On the other hand, it may be the landlord who wishes to modify the terms. Either way, your original lease document stays intact, but new documents are added to reflect the modifications. Review the modifications carefully, and do not sign the documents unless you’re willing to abide by the new terms. Once both parties are in agreement, both of you can sign the modified extension. The property condition at the start of your first lease remains the basis against which any future damage will be measured. Most often, the security and all other deposits will not be refunded at the time of this renewal with modifications and will not increase until you move out at the end of this second or with future leases.
Negotiate a new lease:
Before your lease agreement ends, you should advise your landlord that you want to continue living in the rental property but you’d like a new lease. You and your landlord can negotiate any or all of the terms for the period set out in the new lease. You may want to take this chance to adjust your rent, ask for repairs to be made, or adjust your deposit/s. If both parties are happy to continue, the landlord will prepare a brand new lease agreement, and both parties sign the new lease. This new lease completely replaces the previous lease. You should request that a new property condition report be prepared to serve as the basis against which future damage will be measured. You and your landlord should review the property condition together, and the landlord should make any required repairs. The tenant may be responsible for some damages at this time, and you can agree with the landlord when these repairs should be done.
Convert to a monthly rental agreement:
It might be in your best interest to convert your expiring lease agreement to a monthly rental agreement. This would be in your best interest if you need just a few more months in your current rental property. For instance, you might be relocating to a new city in a couple of months, so you can’t sign a 12-month lease, but you need to live somewhere, and you’d rather not move to a new property where you’ll live a short time before moving again. Or you might know you want to move elsewhere in the city you’re currently living in (you want to change neighborhoods or be closer to a new job in town) but you haven’t secured a new place yet.
If both parties agree to convert to a monthly rental agreement, ask the landlord for a letter confirming that your lease will convert to a month-to-month. From that point on, the terms of the monthly agreement carry over monthly and become the terms for the next month. With this agreement, the landlord can give notice (generally 28 days for a monthly rental) to make changes to the rental conditions. This allows the tenant to negotiate or decide to end the agreement. Generally, the landlord will keep the last deposit held for the tenant until the tenant vacates the property and only then will the repairs be made and the deposit refunded (as per all the terms we’ve reviewed in this course). Terminating a rental agreement in Washington State requires a 20-day notice period from either party.
Early End of a Rental Lease Agreement
When You Need to Move Out before Your Lease Ends
It may so happen that you will want or need to move out of your rental property before your lease comes to an end. There are any number of reasons why this might become true for you. This is something you will need to communicate with your landlord as soon as possible. Do so in writing (best if by email for electronic documentation) and follow up with a phone call as needed. There is one thing in your favor. Your landlord is obligated to find a new tenant. Certainly, you can help your landlord in this search, since getting a new tenant into the property your renting is in your best interest above all. The bottom line is that you will continue to owe the rent each month up until your lease ends, until a new tenant is able to move in.
A Landlord’s Duty to Find a New Tenant in Washington State:
In Washington State, if a tenant notifies a landlord that they need to move and therefore terminate the lease early, the landlord must make reasonable efforts to find a new tenant and re-rent the unit—no matter the reason for tenant’s leaving—rather than charge the tenant for the remaining rent due under the lease.
Unusual Circumstances that May End a Lease Agreement Early
When You Have the Right to End Your Lease Early in Washington State
Under certain circumstances, you as the tenant may terminate your lease early, before the end of the agreed upon rental period, without being penalized for owing rent for the entire period. These are the appropriate circumstances:
- You’re starting active military duty
- You’ve endured domestic violence or stalking
- Your landlord has done something to breach your rental
- Starting Active Military Duty:
You can terminate the lease early and no longer be legally obligated to its term early if you enter active military service after signing a lease and are deployed out of the area. (Refer to federal law – War and National Defense Service members Civil Relief Act, 50 App. U.S.C.A. §§ 501.) For this to be possible, you must be part of the “uniformed services,” which includes the armed forces, commissioned corps of the national Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), commissioned corps of the Public Health Service, and activated National Guard personnel. You are obligated to give your landlord written notice stating military reasons for breaking the lease. Once notice is given, the tenancy will end 30 days after the date the rent is next due.
- A Tenant’s Safety is at Stake:
Tenants whose safety would be jeopardized for continuing to live in that rental property may be able to terminate a lease early without ongoing obligation of the lease. This is true of people who are victims of domestic violence, unlawful harassment, or stalking, provided certain conditions are met (refer to Washington State laws, RCW 59.18.575). Check the state laws where you live, as housing standards differ from state to state.
- When a Landlord Breaches a Rental Agreement
The term “breach” means “an act of breaking or failing to observe a law, agreement, or code of conduct.” In terms of our focus, a breach of a rental agreement means there was a failure or violation of some agreed-upon term in the lease. When a landlord breeches a rental agreement, the tenant may have the right to terminate the lease early, if certain conditions are met.
Before you consider any of the options below, check the terms of your lease, check with the tenant’s association in your city to confirm your rights in your situation, what notice you are required to give and the amounts you will owe before taking this action. Check the state laws where you live, as housing standards differ from state to state. (In WA state, refer to Washington State laws, RCW’s 59.18.100, .110, .115, .150 for the specific requirements for the procedures to follow before moving out.)
- A breach of “Warranty of Habitability”: Federal law dictates that all residential rental properties must adhere to a “warranty of habitability.” This is an obligation by the landlord to keep the premises in a safe, sanitary, and livable condition. In general, this means that the landlord is required to meet minimum standards in all of the following:
- Keep the home structurally safe and sound: repair holes in the roof and broken floor boards, for examples.
- Ensure adequate heat, water, hot water, and power (electricity and gas) are available at the property.
- Ensure that the premises are reasonably free from infestations of rodents, insects, and other household pests. (Note that the tenant also has some responsibilities to controlling pests.)
If your landlord does not meet these required standards of habitability, you may have no further responsibility for the rent.
2. A breach of the tenant’s right to privacy: All states have laws in place that guarantee a tenant’s right to privacy. Earlier in this course, we reviewed the laws a landlord must follow about giving a tenant advanced notice of their need to enter the property However, if a landlord repeatedly violates this tenant’s right to privacy, a tenant may be considered “constructively evicted,” and may be able to terminate the lease early without any further rent obligation. Some of these actions may be illegal.
- A breach of a tenant’s right to exclusive and “quiet enjoyment” of the property: In exchange for payment of rent, the tenant has the exclusive right to use and enjoy the premises without interference by anyone else, including the landlord. This is also known as the “covenant of quiet enjoyment.” Except as specified in the lease, the landlord is not allowed to enter the apartment or house without the tenant’s permission. Additionally, a landlord cannot harass a tenant for any reason. For example, let’s say you’re late on paying the rent. A landlord cannot try to force you to do so by changing the locks, turning off utilities, barring the tenant from parking, or restricting the tenant in any way from their right to “quiet enjoyment” of the property. The landlord would be breaking the law.
What Happens if a Tenant Dies, is Incarcerated, or is Committed?
- Death of tenant: The lease or rental agreement continues to operate if the tenant dies and members of the family are living at the property. The tenant’s estate (through a person appointed by the court to act as Executor of the estate) takes over all rights and obligations for the lease. The formal court appointment may take a few weeks. In the meantime, the landlord would be notified of the death, and advised that the tenancy will continue until an Executor is appointed. All communication about the rental property should be redirected first to the Executor. If the tenant’s estate does not meet the obligations of the rental agreement, such as paying rent, the landlord may issue a notice to terminate the tenancy and ask the family to vacate. The landlord should consult a local attorney before giving access to the executor (to ensure the executor is authorized). The landlord may keep the former tenant’s possessions for the specified time and then dispose of the remaining possessions and deposit according to the local law.
- Incarceration of tenant: The tenant is responsible for paying rent and satisfying all other lease terms during the period of the agreement, whether or not the tenant occupy the property. If the tenant defaults on rent, the landlord may issue a pay-or-vacate notice and an eviction order. If the tenant is in jail and continues to pay the rent the tenant will keep the property.
- Committal to Institution of tenant: The tenant is responsible for paying rent and satisfying all other lease terms during the period of the agreement, whether or not the tenant occupies the property. If the tenant defaults on rent the landlord will issue a pay-or-vacate notice and an eviction order. If the tenant is in an institution and the tenant continues to pay the rent to keep the property.
What Happens if a Landlord Dies, is Incarcerated or is Committed?
- Death of the Landlord: The lease or rental agreement continues to operate after the landlord dies. The landlord’s estate (through a person appointed by the court, to act as Executor of the estate) takes over all rights and obligations. A formal court appointment often takes a few weeks. In the meantime, the tenant would be notified of the death, and advised that the tenancy will continue until the Executor is appointed. All questions should be directed to a new agent. Rent and other payments should be redirected to the agent, or to the Executor.
- Landlord Incarcerated: The tenant is responsible for paying rent and satisfying all other lease terms while continuing to occupy the property. If the tenant defaults on rent, the landlord’s agent will issue a pay-or-vacate notice and an eviction order.
- Landlord Committed to an Institution: The tenant may be notified of the event, and the rental agreement may continue. The lease should continue as before unless the tenant is advised differently. The tenant is responsible for paying rent and satisfying all other lease terms for the duration of the lease. If the tenant defaults on rent, he or she can be evicted for nonpayment.