Penalties for Giving Short Notice to Vacate

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Penalties for Giving Short Notice to Vacate

Lisa Wright · Jun 30, 2022
Tenant seals moving boxes with tape as she prepares to vacate her current unit.

As all apartment dwellers (hopefully) know, a lease is so much more than just a piece of paper — it’s a binding legal commitment between tenant and landlord or rental company. A commitment to not only to paying your rent and abiding by certain rules, but also to staying in your chosen apartment for a fixed amount of time.

But sometimes renters just need a change — regardless of the reason. So what exactly is your responsibility as a renter when it comes to vacating your lease, and what are the penalties for vacating before the agreement is up?

What is a Notice to Vacate?

A notice to vacate is a relatively simple concept that amounts to a time frame that you, the renter, provide your landlord with when you decide you will be moving. This protects the landlord and ensures that they have the following: appropriate and required notice of your departure, and the opportunity to find another renter to occupy the apartment in a timely fashion, thus ensuring that no income is lost in the transition.

Sounds simple, right?

The answer is yes, and no. Often, requirements regarding a notice to vacate are built in to the lease. Like the terms of your lease, this can vary by landlord and state, but it’s generally anywhere from 30 to 90 days. A good tip is to make sure these terms are clear before signing your lease. If they aren’t, be sure you ask your landlord for clarification.

Both you and your landlord can vacate a lease — and there are rules for when both can legally break it. As a tenant, if you decide you want to move, you have an obligation to notify your landlord in the window of time outlined in the lease. Not doing so could result in certain penalties, many of which are listed below.

Tip: To learn more about rental laws by state, visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Penalties for Improper Notice to Vacate

Tenant reads letter informing him of fines as a result of his giving short notice to vacate.

By providing less notice than is required by your lease, you may incur penalties ranging from potential fines to the loss of your security deposit and, in some cases, legal action.

Loss of Security Deposit

A common penalty for giving inadequate notice to vacate is the loss of your security deposit. A condition of your lease, a security deposit is meant to protect the landlord and their investment against a variety of events, including improper notice to vacate. Therefore, a landlord may legally retain your security deposit if you give short notice to vacate. Some states will even consider it a failure to pay rent — another violation of the rental agreement.

Penalty Fines and Their Consequences

Some states may also allow landlords to charge separate penalty fees when tenants fail to give proper notice to vacate, and these can get expensive. Failure to pay the fines could also have long-term financial consequences besides a blow to your bank account. They could also impact your credit score and potentially affect your ability to secure a rental in the future.

Payment of Remainder of Lease

Another common penalty for failure to give proper notice is a payment of the remainder of your lease, which would be due as soon as you vacated the premises. In some cases, this payment could be refundable, providing your landlord finds a new lessee prior to the end of your lease term. However, this does depend on your landlord finding another tenant within the agreed upon time frame.

A lease is a binding agreement meant to protect both landlord and tenant. While leases do vary by landlord, the majority of them will have built-in clauses when it comes to a tenant’s notice to vacate. This means that you, as the renter, have the responsibility to notify your landlord within a certain time frame of your intentions to leave. And while not every situation is the same, there are usually similar penalties for refusing to do so. If you’re unsure of your lease’s terms regarding a notice to vacate, it’s important to do the following:

Maintain open communication with your landlord, and ask them for clarification of the rental terms when necessary, including requesting a copy of your lease.

Always be sure to document your notice to vacate in writing, even if your landlord only requires verbal notice. This way, you will have a record of your notice to protect your rights.

Know your rights as a tenant, which often vary by landlord, state, and even city.

If you must provide short notice, be prepared for the consequences, both monetary and possibly legal.

A notice to vacate is a standard part of most leases — but life doesn’t always go as planned. In the event you need to vacate your lease on short notice, it’s important to be prepared for possible consequences, know your rights, and maintain good communication with your landlord to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible.

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