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California Landlord-Tenant: Tenant Move-Out Process

The past few unlawful detainer articles posted have addressed landlords’ efforts in removing tenants from a property, but what happens when a tenant wants to move out on his or her own accord?

The first thing a tenant should be aware of is the lease term, which is binding. If the lease has a fixed end date--for example, the lease term is specifically defined as January 1, 2010 to December 31st, 2010--then by signing the lease the tenant is generally legally obligated to pay rent for the entire lease term. If for some reason the tenant decides he or she needs to move out before the lease term expires, they may first want to try and negotiate with the landlord. The lease may even have a provision regarding how to break the lease early (this probably involves paying a certain amount of money to cancel the lease). If any agreement is successfully made, the tenant should make sure to get the agreement terms in writing and signed by the landlord. If unsuccessful, a tenant should not try to move out and abandon the property because the landlord could file a lawsuit for breach of contract to collect on all the rent due to the end of the lease term, among other claims and charges.

  • If the fixed lease term is coming to an end, either the landlord or the tenant must provide notice to each other regarding termination of tenancy (pursuant to the specific terms of the subject lease agreement), or the lease terms will remain in effect on a month-to-month tenancy basis.
  • If the landlord provides notice, he or she is telling the tenant that they must move out of the property (click here for details on these notices).
  • If the tenant is providing notice, they are telling the landlord that they plan to terminate the tenancy and move out by a certain date. Even if the tenant plans on moving out on the date that the fixed lease term expires, they still must give the landlord 30 days notice of their intended move-out date, so long as the tenant pays rent monthly. The tenant may be able to give less notice if he or she pays rent weekly or on some other basis.

The rules are the same for the tenant who is renting on a month-to-month term. The tenant must give at least 30 days notice of their intent to terminate tenancy if they pay rent monthly.

It is common for a tenant to forget about giving notice when they plan on moving out at the end of a fixed lease period, or even be unaware that they are required to do so. A kind landlord will start asking the tenant if he or she plans to move out upon the lease term expiration and remind the tenant that they are required to give notice, but the landlord does not have to do this.

It is important to note that the lease may contain a provision specifying some other terms for how the tenant is required to give notice of termination of tenancy. The tenant should look into this carefully by reviewing the signed lease, and act in accordance with such lease provisions.

It is recommended you consult with a real estate attorney about your landlord-tenant questions. For more information, please contact Richardson “Red” Griswold of Griswold Law at (858) 481-1300 or rgriswold@griswoldlawsandiego.com.

For further reading on this topic, be sure to check out the complete list of related articles here.

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