Moving Out

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Giving and Receiving Proper Notice

To end a periodic rental agreement (for example, a month-to-month agreement), you must give your landlord proper written notice before you move.

You must give the landlord the same amount of notice as there are days between rent payments. This means that if you pay rent monthly, you must give the landlord written notice at least 30 days before you move. If you pay rent every week, you must give the landlord written notice at least seven days before you move. If your rental agreement specifies a different amount of notice (for example, 10 days), then you must give the landlord written notice as required by the agreement.

To avoid later disagreements, date the notice, state the date that you intend to move, and make a copy of the notice for yourself. It’s best to deliver the notice to the landlord or property manager in person, or mail it by certified mail with return receipt requested.

You can give the landlord notice any time during the rental period, but you must pay full rent during the period covered by the notice. For example, say you have a month-to-month rental agreement, and pay rent on the first day of each month. You could give notice any time during the month (for example, on the tenth). Then, you could leave 30 days later (on the tenth of the following month, or earlier if you chose to). But you would have to pay rent for the first 10 days of the next month whether you stay for those 10 days or move earlier. (Exception: You would not have to pay rent for the entire 10 days if you left earlier, and the landlord rented the unit to another tenant during the 10 days, and the new tenant paid rent for all or part of the 10 days.)

The rental agreement or lease must state the name and address of the person or entity to whom you must make rent payments. If this address does not accept personal deliveries, you can mail your notice to the owner  at the name and address stated in the lease or rental agreement. If you can show proof that you mailed the notice to the stated name and address (for example, a receipt for certified mail), the law assumes that the notice is receivable by the owner on the date of postmark.

Landlord’s Notice to End a Periodic Tenancy

A landlord can end a periodic tenancy (for example, a month-to-month tenancy) by giving the tenant proper advance written notice. The landlord must give the tenant 30 days’ advance written notice in the case of a month-to-month tenancy, seven days’ advance written notice for a week-to-week tenancy, or the amount of notice specified in the rental agreement (but never less than seven days).

The landlord usually isn’t required to state a reason for ending the tenancy in the 30-day notice (see “Thirty-Day Notice,”. The landlord can serve the 30-day notice by certified mail.

Note: In the circumstances described on, the landlord can give the tenant just three days’ advance written notice.

If you receive a 30-day notice, you must leave the rental unit by the end of the thirtieth day after the date on which the landlord served the notice. For example, if the landlord served a 30-day notice on July 16, you would begin counting the 30 days on July 17, and the 30-day period would end on August 15. If August 15 falls on a weekday, you would have to leave on or before that date. However, if the end of the 30-day period falls on a Saturday, you would not have to leave until the following Monday, because Saturdays and Sundays are legal holidays. Other legal holidays also extend the notice period.

If you don’t move by the end of the notice period, the landlord can file an unlawful detainer lawsuit to evict you.

What if you have received a 30-day notice, but you want to continue to rent the property, or you believe that you haven’t done anything to cause the landlord to give you a notice of termination? In this kind of situation, you can try to convince the landlord to withdraw the notice. Try to find out why the landlord gave you the notice. If it’s something within your control (for example, consistently late rent, or playing music too loud), assure the landlord that in the future, you will pay on time or keep the volume turned down. Then, keep your promise. If the landlord won’t withdraw the notice, you will have to move out at the end of the 30-day period, or be prepared for the landlord to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit to evict you.

Special rules may apply in cities with rent control. For example, in some communities with rent control ordinances, a periodic tenancy cannot be ended by the landlord without a good faith “just cause” or “good cause” reason to evict. In these communities, the landlord must state the reason for the termination, and the reason may be reviewed by local housing authorities.

Suppose that you are a tenant who participates in the Section 8 housing voucher program. While the lease is in effect, the landlord must have good cause to terminate (end) the tenancy. Examples of good cause include serious or repeated violations of the lease, or criminal activity that threatens the health or safety of other residents. The landlord must give the tenant a 3-day or 30-day notice of termination under California law, and both the landlord and the tenant must give the public housing agency a copy of the notice. What if the landlord simply decides not to renew the lease, or decides to terminate the HAP (housing assistance payment) contract? In this case, the landlord must give the tenant 90 days’ advance written notice of the termination date. If the tenant doesn’t move out by the end of the 90 days, the landlord must follow California law to evict the tenant.

If you live in government-assisted housing or in an area with rent control, check with your local housing officials to see if any special rules apply in your situation.

Advance Payment of Last Month’s Rent

Many landlords require tenants to pay “last month’s rent” at the beginning of the tenancy as part of the security deposit or at the time the security deposit is paid. Whether the tenant can use this amount at the end of the tenancy to pay the last month’s rent depends on the language used in the rental agreement or lease.

Suppose that at the beginning of the tenancy, you gave the landlord a payment for the last month’s rent and for the security deposit, and that the lease or rental agreement labels part of this upfront payment “last month’s rent.” In this situation, you have paid the rent for your last month in the rental unit. However, sometimes landlords raise the rent before the last month’s rent becomes due. In this situation, can the landlord require you to pay the amount of the increase for the last month?

The law does not provide a clear answer to this question. If your lease or rental agreement labels part of your upfront payment “last month’s rent,” then you have a strong argument that you paid the last month’s rent when you moved in. In this situation, the landlord should not be able to require you to pay the amount of the increase for the last month. However, if your lease or rental agreement labels part of your upfront payment “security for last month’s rent,” then the landlord has a good argument that you have not actually paid the last month’s rent, but have only provided security for it. In this situation, the landlord could require you to pay the amount of the increase for the last month.

For example, say that your rental agreement labeled part of the total deposit that you paid when you moved in “security for last month’s rent,” or that “last month’s rent” is one of the items listed in your rental agreement under the heading “Security.” Suppose that your rent was $500 when you moved in and that you paid your landlord $500 as “security for the last month’s rent.” Suppose that you also paid your landlord an additional $500 as a security deposit. If the landlord properly raised your rent to $550 while you were living in the rental unit, you can expect to owe the landlord $50 for rent during the last month of your tenancy (that is, the current rent [$550] minus the prepaid amount [$500] equals $50 owed).

If your rental agreement calls your entire upfront payment a “security deposit” and does not label any part of it “last month’s rent,” or “security for last month’s rent,” then you will have to pay the last month’s rent when it comes due. In this situation, you cannot use part of your security deposit to pay the last month’s rent. However, you will be entitled to a refund of your security deposit, as explained in the next section.

Refund of Security Deposits: Common Problems and How to Avoid Them

The most common disagreement between landlords and tenants is over the refund of the tenant’s security deposit after the tenant has moved out of the rental unit. California law therefore specifies procedures that the landlord must follow for refunding, using, and accounting for tenants’ security deposits.

California law specifically allows the landlord to use a tenant’s security deposit for four purposes:

  • For unpaid rent;
  • For cleaning the rental unit when the tenant moves out, but only to make the unit as clean as it was when the tenant first moved in;
  • For repair of damages, other than normal wear and tear, caused by the tenant or the tenant’s guests; and
  • If the lease or rental agreement allows it, for the cost of restoring or replacing furniture, furnishings, or other items of personal property (including keys), other than because of normal wear and tear.

A landlord can withhold from the security deposit onlythose amounts that are reasonably necessary for these purposes. The security deposit cannot be used for repairing defects that existed in the unit before you moved in, for conditions caused by normal wear and tear during your tenancy or previous tenancies, or for cleaning a rental unit that is as clean as it was when you moved in. A rental agreement or lease can never state that a security deposit is “nonrefundable.”

Under California law, 21 calendar days or less after you move, your landlord must either:

  • Send you a full refund of your security deposit, or
  • Mail or personally deliver to you an itemized statement that lists the amounts of any deductions from your security deposit and the reasons for the deductions, together with a refund of any amounts not deducted.

The Inventory Checklist

You and the landlord or the landlord’s agent can use the inventory checklist if you request an initial inspection of the rental unit before you move out. You and the landlord or agent should agree on a mutually convenient date and time for the inspection about two weeks before the end of the tenancy or the lease term. You and the landlord or agent should walk through the rental unit at that time and complete the “Condition Upon Initial Inspection” portion of the checklist.

After you have moved out, the landlord can use the “Condition Upon Departure” portion of the checklist to conduct the final inspection. It’s a good idea for you to be present when the landlord conducts the final inspection, but the law does not require that you be present or that the landlord allow you to be present.

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