Leaving Your Rental: Everybody Goes

Steps you can take to protect yourself from legal hassles when you and your whole crew move out of your rental...

Disclaimer: This procedure will vary depending on whether you have a lease or a month-to-month agreement,
and whether one roommate is moving out, or the entire household.

If the Entire Household is Moving Out...

1. Notify the Landlord

You must notify the landlord in writing of your intention to vacate. Check the terms of your lease/ rental agreement for the specifics of notice of vacancy. Typically, notice is given 30 days prior to the day you plan to move. Giving notice in writing is important, in order to protect you from unfair rental-related security deposit deductions. You can give notice on any day of the month. If the household paid last month’s rent in advance upon move-in, ask that it now be applied. (Note: a deposit is different from a last month’s rent paid in advance. You cannot legally use a deposit as last month’s rent, unless your landlord agrees to it.) Make a copy of the letter of vacancy notification for your files and send the original to the landlord. You may wish to hand deliver the notice, or deliver it by certified/registered mail so you have proof of the date it was received. 

Example Notice:

May 15, 2050

Larry Landlord 

123 Some St. 

Somecity, CA 90000

Dear Mr. Landlord:

This is to formally notify you that (insert names of tenants) will be terminating our lease/rental agreement at 1234 Mission St. on June 15, 20XX.

We plan to leave the house (apartment/condo) in move-in condition. We will contact you next week to discuss the return of our security deposit and set up a time to do an initial move-out inspection, two weeks prior to our vacancy. We would also like to set up a time to do our final walk through and move-out inspection on June 15.


Jo Tenant

2. Clean the Rental Thoroughly

What is Clean? Here's a rough idea...


  • Clean the bathtub and shower, including the tile, grout, shower curtain, walls & faucets
  • Clean the toilet – inside & out
  • Clean the sink, faucets, medicine cabinet, drawers & vanity
  • Scrub the floor, walls & baseboards


  • Empty and clean cabinets, drawers, surfaces – inside & out
  • Clean out refrigerator: wipe out & defrost both fridge & freezer
  • Clean the stove, oven, broiler, oven door & backsplash above burners
  • Scrub the floor, walls, windows & lights

In Other Rooms:

  • Vacuum floors thoroughly, clean, mop or wax floors
  • Wipe down doors, doorjambs & walls
  • Take down posters & pictures; neatly fill nail-holes
  • Clean all glass & wood surfaces
  • Wash windows & dust ledges
  • Remove belongings & trash
  • Air out/deodorize rooms

Before the move-out date arrives, ask the landlord to give you a preliminary cleaning check, then you will have time to complete the work before the termination of your rental agreement. The final inspection should be completed in the company of both landlord and tenant(s). Indicate conditions on the Inventory Checklist, or get results in writing. If landlord is not available, take a few photographs and have a neighbor look over the rental. Keep all receipts for rented rug cleaners and cleaning materials. These measures will help you prove that you cleaned the place, in case there is a disagreement.

3. If You're Breaking the Lease Before it Expires...

Help find replacement tenants!

Because you have signed a lease, you are legally bound to meet its provisions, including paying the rent for the entire term of the contract, whether or not you are actually living at the rental. If the landlord doesn’t receive the rent that you agreed to pay in your lease agreement, you can be sued for it. Fortunately for you, the law and good sense require the landlord to do all he can to keep his financial damages to a minimum. It’s in your best interest to actively help the landlord find new tenants.

4. Discuss the Return of Your Security Deposit with Your Landlord

Submit your forwarding address to your landlord, so that your security deposit can be mailed to you upon vacancy. Keep in mind that your landlord can legally make deductions from your deposit only for cleaning, repairing damages, or unpaid rent you owe. In the state of CA, landlords are required to return your security deposit within 3 weeks.

5. Terminate Utilities

Most services require at least 24-48 hours notice.

6. Conduct Final Walk Through with Landlord

Note all findings on Inventory Checklist, compare with move-in condition (you did this when you moved in, right?!?)

7. Return the Keys to Manager, Landlord, or Agent

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