Is it time to move out of your rental? Maybe you’re graduating college and moving elsewhere, maybe you need more space, or maybe it’s time to buy a home. Regardless of why you’re moving,?you have a lot of things on your mind: finding a new place, packing, the actual move, and so on.

It’s an exciting, but stressful?time. You don’t want your landlord to say?you can’t leave just yet, or demand that you fix or pay for things, or threaten to keep your security deposit.

To help your?move go smoothly and protect your security deposit, you need to follow a few simple steps:

  • Let your landlord know you’re moving
  • Check the premises for damages
  • Know what can be deducted from your security deposit

Give Your Landlord Notice

Your lease probably spells out exactly how much advance notice you have to give your landlord about your decision to move. If your lease is for a specific term or period of time (like a year) and it’s expiring, you usually don’t have to tell him or her that you’re leaving. It’s a good idea to give notice anyway, that way your landlord?can get ready to?refund your security deposit and schedule appointments for new prospective tenants around your schedule.

Sometimes, a lease term will expire, but a tenant will “hold-over” and continue to pay scheduled rent, and the landlord continues to accept that rent. This is usually called a “month-to-month” or “periodic” lease. If your original lease does not tell you how much notice you have to give, the landlord-tenant laws in your area should tell you how many days’ notice you must give. Typical notice can range from 15 to 30 days, so waiting until the last minute could mean paying an extra month’s rent.

For example, say that your lease ended on September 30, 2008, but you paid and the landlord accepted rent for October, 2008. Two weeks later, you get a job offer and have to move. In most states, you’ll have to give the landlord 20-30 days notice before leaving, otherwise you’ll have to pay rent for November.

Your notice to the landlord should be in writing, and it should be delivered either personally by you or sent by certified mail.

If you don’t give the proper notice, most states make you liable to the landlord for at least 1 months’ rent.

What if you want to leave before the lease expires? First, try to negotiate with your landlord, especially if illness, a roommate moving out unexpectedly, or some other uncontrollable event forces your move. Your landlord might let you leave early without paying for the whole lease term.

Another option is to ask your landlord to allow you to rent the space to someone else, which is called “subletting” or a “subleasing.” The new tenant would pay you rent, and then you’d pay the landlord. Some leases don’t allow subleasing, so be sure to check your lease.

If neither of these options work, keep in mind that your landlord has the responsibility to do what lawyers call “mitigating the damages” by trying to find another renter to take your place as soon as possible after you move out.

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Clean-Up and Fix-Up

Spending a little time thoroughly cleaning your apartment once your stuff is out can make it easier to get your security deposit back. Most leases require renters to leave the place clean?at the?end of the lease. At a minimum, the place should be as clean as when you moved in, except for “normal wear and tear” which is expected and acceptable. Many leases specify things like:

  • Cleaning interior walls
  • Repairing holes in walls
  • Cleaning floors and shampooing carpets

If the lease calls for you to do these things and you don’t, your landlord can deduct the costs of doing them from your security deposit.

Similarly, it’s a good idea to fix any damages yourself. If, for example, you broke a window or somehow caused a large hole in wall, it’s probably cheaper for you to repair it rather than leaving it broken and having the landlord charge your deposit.

When everything is clean and repaired, take photos to prove the cleanliness and good condition of the place. If possible, ask the landlord to walk through the home and check for damages against the list (or pictures) of pre-existing damages that hopefully you made before you moved in.

In some states, the landlord has a certain number of days in which to inspect the premises, and in some states he or she has to notify you of the inspection date and advise you of your right to be at the inspection.

If you can’t arrange a walk through or be at the inspection, then lock up, put the keys in an envelope with a dated note to the landlord that you’ve vacated, including your forwarding address, and deliver it to the landlord. And don’t forget to keep a copy of the note.

Getting Your Security Deposit Back

Within a certain period under your state’s law- usually two to three weeks of when you moved out- your landlord must either return your security deposit or explain in writing why it’s not being returned. Your landlord can deduct reasonable expenses for cleaning and repairing damaged items and for any unpaid utility bills. So, make sure these things are taken care of before you leave.

If you believe your landlord has unreasonably withheld some of your security deposit, you can take him or her to small claims court to try to get your money back. Sometimes a letter from an attorney will bring immediate action.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • My lease doesn’t say I can’t sublease, but my landlord won’t let me, and I need to get out of my lease early. Is there anything I can do?
  • My ex-landlord won’t let me back into my old apartment to get some things I left behind. He says he’s keeping it because my security deposit didn’t cover all of the damages I allegedly caused to the apartment. What should I do?
  • A landlord refused to rent to me because my ex-landlord told him that I was always late on rent, which is not true. Is there anything I can do?