1) Give your landlord at least 20 days written notice.
The law requires that month-to-month tenants give landlords at least 20 days written notice before vacating their units. If you are unsure about what kind of rental agreement you have, see more details in Rental Agreements. The landlord must receive written notice of your move-out date 20 days before the end of the rental period. For example, if your rent is due on the first of the month, and you plan to vacate by 30th, then the landlord must receive your written notice by the 10th of the month. Be sure to get proof that you sent your notice to vacate by sending it certified mail and regular first class mail and keeping a copy for your records. If you do not give your landlord proper 20 days written notice, or if you stay longer than the date you gave notice for, your landlord can charge you for the following month’s rent.
If your rental agreement states that your rent is due on an irregular day of the month, such as the 15th, just count 20 days backward from that date to determine that day of the month that your notice must be received by the landlord. The 20-day period is calculated from the day that your rent is due, not including any grace period you may be allowed before your rent is considered late.
Tenants on fixed term leases, such as a 6-month or one year lease, are committed to living in the unit for the full lease period. Look to your rental agreement to see what the notice terms are. If there are no specific notice terms dictated there, RCW 59.18.220 states that the tenancy ends when the lease ends. It is still a best practice to always give your landlord some notice before you move out to let them know what your plans are. Read detailed information on breaking your lease at Rental Agreements. The landlord may claim that you are still in possession of the property if you still hold the keys after the termination date, and may charge you for the following month’s rent.
Be sure and get your landlord’s permission in writing if you need to stay longer than the day you gave notice for. If you stay past the day that you give notice to vacate, even for a day, your landlord can charge you rent for the entire following month. Some landlords may agree to prorate the rent if you want to stay a few extra days, or if you want to move out sometime in the middle of the month, but they are not obligated to do so. There is no law requiring that landlords prorate the rent for days or partial months that tenants only occupy the unit, though many landlords agree to do so when tenants move into units. If you do need to stay past your notice date, it’s a good idea to get a written agreement with your landlord stating the number of days you’ll be staying, and agreeing upon the amount you’ll be charged for those days.
Be sure to provide a valid forwarding address to your landlord to send your deposit accounting and refund. Also be sure to notify the post office of your forwarding address. If you don’t have a secure new address, or do not wish to disclose your new address, you can provide the address of a reliable friend or relative. Your landlord is obligated under RCW 59.18.280 to send your deposit statement within 14 days to your last known address. If you do not provide them with a new address for you, they may end up sending it to the unit you just vacated, and will not reach you unless you have your mail forwarded. See an example at Sample Letter: Notice to Vacate.
2) If you paid last month’s rent, ask your landlord to apply it.
Landlords will often collect first and last month’s rent upon move-in. This money can only be used for rent and is not considered a deposit. If the rental agreement does not specifically state how tenants should apply their last month’s rent, then it is up to tenants to communicate with their landlord about it. It is a good idea to send a letter the month you vacate asking your landlord to apply your last month’s rent, or include it in your notice to vacate. Keep in mind, however, that rent may be due by the 1st of the month, and tenants aren’t required to give notice to vacate until at least 20 days before the end of the rental period. In cases where the tenant has already paid rent for the month in which they gave notice to vacate, they can ask their landlord for a refund of the last month’s rent payment. If the landlord does not comply, a tenant can write a demand letter for their money, or pursue Small Claims Court or other remedies for the return of the money.
Last month’s rent payments do appreciate in value over time, and the landlord does have the right to collect the difference. Let’s say you moved into a unit 10 years ago and paid $500 for your last month’s rent. If the rent had been raised over time to be $650 a month by the time you moved out, your landlord could charge you the difference in the last month you live in the unit.
3) Leave the unit in the condition you found it in, minus normal wear and tear.
Tenants in Washington State are responsible for returning the unit to the condition it was in at the beginning of their tenancy, minus normal wear and tear. The Landlord-Tenant Act does not specifically define normal wear and tear. Tenants can argue that wear and tear will be greater over time, and that it includes all normal uses of the premises. For example, wear of carpeting in a unit where a tenant has lived for 6 years will most likely be greater than wear after only 6 months. Tenants are responsible for repairing or covering the cost of repairs for any damage they or their guests caused to the rented premises, but they are not responsible for normal wear and tear. For example, if a carpet is worn after months or years of normal walking, but there are no damages to it, it is just normal wear and tear. If the tenant spills something and stains the carpet, this can be considered damage. Because wear and tear is not specifically defined in the Landlord-Tenant Act, tenants can consult with an attorney if they think they are being charged for normal wear and tear or for damages they did not cause to the unit. There also may be some move out requirements outlined in your lease. For instance, the rental agreement may require that the tenant have the carpets or blinds professionally cleaned.
It’s a good idea to get proof of any and all steps you take to clean the unit or repair damages, including receipts and invoices for cleaning services, carpet shampooing or repair receipts. For more detailed information on how you can protect your deposit, see Deposits.
4) Document the condition of the unit before you vacate, and when you first move in.
It’s a good idea for you to obtain thorough documentation of the condition you leave the unit in when you vacate. This will be your proof in case the landlord charges you for extra cleaning or damages you did not cause. One way to do this is to take detailed photographs of the unit before you leave. Putting a copy of the day’s newspaper in each frame will prove the date it was taken (Small Claims Court judges may not accept camera or cell phone camera date stamps because they can be tampered with). You can also ask the landlord to do a walk-out inspection with you, though they are not legally required to do so. It’s a good idea to get proof of any steps you take to clean the unit or repair damages, including receipts and invoices for cleaning services, carpet shampooing or other documentation. It is also a good idea, if possible, to have anyone who helped you move in, come by to inspect the unit when you move out to confirm that you have fulfilled your duty of returning the unit in the condition you received it, ordinary wear and tear excluded.
Tenants are not responsible for pre-existing damage or damage caused by the landlord’s negligence. It is critical to document damages that you or your guests did not cause to the unit. Be sure to fully document the conditions of the unit when you first move-in to have proof that you did not damage the unit. If you don’t document the condition of the unit when you move you, you run the risk of receiving a bill for damages that you didn’t cause to the unit that you will have few options to contest.