Your lease is a legal contract that commits you to pay rent for the right to live in the landlord's apartment. Most leases and most jurisdictions require tenants to give notice to their landlords before they vacate the property. On the plus side, the obligation is mutual, which means that your landlord cannot order you to leave without notice. On the down side, if you forget to give notice, you could find yourself stuck with an unexpected rent bill.
Leaving at the End of a Tenancy
A written lease specifies the end date of the tenancy. Some leases simply come to an end on the end date, others do not. If you have a "self-extending lease," the lease renews itself for a second or further term unless the landlord or the tenant does something to bring the tenancy to an end. The difference is crucial. If your lease ends on the contractual end date, you do not have to give notice to quit. If your lease self-extends, you must give written notice to your landlord bringing the lease to an end. The lease will specify how much notice you need to give, typically 30 or 60 days.
Leaving Without Notice
If you do not give notice to end a self-extending lease, your lease automatically continues. Depending on the terms of your lease, the period of extension is either a full term, or month to month until someone brings the lease to an end. If you leave before the end of the renewed term, the landlord can pursue you for rent for the whole of the extended term, or until he finds a new tenant, whichever is the earlier. In some jurisdictions the landlord must use reasonable endeavors to find a new tenant. However, if the new tenant pays less rent than you did, the landlord can sue you for the difference.
If you do not have a written lease, you are a periodic or month-to-month tenant. A periodic tenancy continues until either party serves written notice bringing it to an end. You must give notice at least one full rental period before leaving, or 30 days if this is longer. For example, if you pay rent monthly on the first day of each month and want to leave the apartment on June 1, your notice must reach the landlord by April 30. A notice that reaches the landlord on May 1 will not end the tenancy on June 1, as it is does not give a clear rental period's notice. Your notice will not end the periodic tenancy until June 30, and you remain liable for rent until this date. If you vacate the premises without giving any notice at all, you are responsible for the lease rents until you do serve notice, or until the landlord re-lets the apartment.
Leaving Before the End of the Tenancy
If your landlord agrees, you can leave your apartment before the end of the tenancy; however, your landlord does not have to agree, and the chances are he will not, unless he has another tenant lined up and ready to take the lease. Leaving the apartment before the end of your tenancy without the landlord's permission is a seriously risky business. You will almost certainly lose your security deposit. The landlord is entitled to sue you for rent for the rest of the lease term, or until he finds another tenant. In some jurisdictions the landlord must try to find a new tenant, in others he has no such obligation. You also remain liable for damage to the property, cleaning fees and any other costs authorized by the lease.
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