From the Forum – Terminating a lease in the District

by Prince Of Petworth August 3, 2015 at 2:10 pm 30 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mike Maguire

Terminating a lease in the District

“First-time DC renter here, moved from another city (where I rented and owned) so I’m trying to get some clarity.

We started a lease in late December 2013. That term ended on December 31, 2014. Our landlord emailed us to tell us that the lease was now month-to-month and we needed to give 30 days’ notice.

We’ve rented another place. We want to move out on August 15. On July 1, we sent a letter to our landlord telling them we were ending the lease. Landlord responded about two weeks later saying that we couldn’t end the lease in the middle of the month, and that we had to stay until the end of the month. The lease is silent on this point.

DC Tenant Survival Guide and DC Code seem to say all we have to do is give 30 days’ notice; we gave way more than that.

Am I missing something? What remedies do we have?”

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  • Duponter

    The landlord is likely right. If your lease originally started on the first of the month, lasted the requisite year and then went month-to-month, your lease effectively renews each month on the first of the month for one month until you give notice.

    The landlord absolutely has the right to say that you cannot “renew” the lease again on August 1st for just two weeks. You either renew it for the month or you don’t.

  • Sylvia

    Under landlord tenant law, your lease immediately transferred to a month to month lease which began Jan 1, 2015. In order to cancel a lease, you need to give your landlord 30 day notice before the beginning of the next lease term (which in this case is August 1). So if you didn’t want the lease to automatically renew for 30 days beginning August 1, you had to give your landlord notice at July 1. Your lease doesn’t end mid month – it ends at the end of a month. You are obligated under that lease until the end of August.

    Of course, you could get someone else to take over your lease mid month (assuming your landlord isn’t going to paint and do all that other stuff between tenants).

  • shaw

    You’re in the right, here, but the landlord will bill you anyway. Suing a landlord is pricey and time consuming. The landlord’s concern is most likely just not losing a half month’s rent from now to eternity with twelve month leases moving forward that end mid-month. Post the apartment on craigslist yourself. Hold an open house. Collect names of interested people who will do either an 11.5 or 12.5 month lease to get your landlord back on a first-of-the-month schedule. Send the list to your landlord. Taking two hours to post the ad and hold an open house on your own will alleviate months of headache trying to get the landlord to give you back your full deposit.

    • anon

      OP, ignore this person and look at the first two posts. this person is wrong. 30 days means 30 days notice before the lease renews (which it does at the 1st of every month). the landlord is correct. perhaps if you found someone to sign a 12.5 month lease the landlord wouldn’t care.

  • JoDa

    Rather than looking at termination provisions of your lease, examine it for lease term provisions. It may spell out that the “term” of the lease under month-to-month renewal provisions is a calendar month, which would eliminate the possibility of a mid-month termination as a matter of course (just give notice and move whenever so long as the notice is adequate).
    Question, though, why are you just asking this now? Three weeks ago, I would have told you to talk to your landlord and ask if you can see if someone would be willing to lease it starting on the 16th. Help out with showings and advertising (keep the place neat and be flexible (within reason) about entry; word of mouth, post it on your facebook/twitter, got a list-serv for a group where people might be interested?). Basically, make it possible for him to not have vacancy (mid-month rentals are harder to fill…people seem to believe that they should be allowed to move in early without paying extra, and then stop paying the minute their feet are out the door, even if that’s also the middle of the month). I also would have said, simultaneously, get yourself to a LL-tenant clinic so they can look over your actual lease and actual notice and let you know what your rights and options are. Now, with 12 days left? Good luck.

    • anonymous

      So when is the person supposed to have given adequate notice? A full 60 days before he was scheduled to leave? I’m wondering because I may be in the same place, having entered my apartment in the middle of the month. I tend to think these agreements are ridiculously confusing and slanted to the landlord’s advantage. Giving his landlord six weeks seems fair, when “30 days” was supposed to be the requirement. I’m confused. Hypothetical: if I began renting on May 15, 2010, when do I give notice that would satisfy this OP’s landlord?

      • pjl35

        No. If you need to give 30-days notice, you could do so 30 days before you move out. In the OP’s case, that would mean that they could have moved out on August 1. Basically, you can’t use a portion of a lease term when you give notice (here, the OP is using 1.5 months–you usually need to use 1 month or 2 months).

        Check your lease since you started yours in the middle of the month. If your lease term renewed on a month-to-month basis on the 15th, then you could potentially give 30-days notice on the 15th of the month, and move out 30 days later.

      • The OP Anon

        “I’m wondering because I may be in the same place, having entered my apartment in the middle of the month.”
        You’ll need to look at the official start date of the lease. In our case, we paid pro-rated for July 15-30 but the lease is not officially “dated” to start until Aug 1, 2015 and runs until July 30, 2016. I would assume that, if we leave, we will need to provide the notice in writing by June 30, 2016 at the very latest.
        PS – an email qualifies as “in writing.”

        • anonymous

          Thanks, The Op Anon and pjl35. This helps.

        • The OP Anon

          Sorry, that should be “July 31” in the case of my lease.

      • JoDa

        It depends on what your lease says. My leases specify continuing lease terms as comprising a calendar month. If I start a lease mid-month, I make it for 11.5 or 12.5 months and specify the partial month and also full month periods I’m referring to. I require 30 day’s notice by the first of the month prior to termination…so, July 1 to terminate July 31, on and on.
        If the lease really says nothing about term or termination that speaks to monthly terms, then a flat 30 days seems to be the default of the law, except as quoted below, it would have to be given by the first of the month that gives 30 days. Note that the GCAAR lease, as printed, does not mandate a termination on the final day of the month (though one could argue their use of the term “monthly tenancy” means that holdover terms must be in multiples of one month, which is a commonly understood term).

        • JoDa

          Read below, too. I wasn’t aware that DC’s provisions actually spelled out the term as a calendar month. So, basically, your lease runs for calendar months unless it explicitly says otherwise. I guess I got my LL-tenant edumication in a place with far fewer rules (and quite a few abuses on both sides, so I’m not going to say it was better), so we just spelled everything out in the lease. Here, there are defaults on that topic. Either way, OP likely is on the hook for the whole month.
          One item I would note, the landlord cannot double-dip. You might want to keep an eye on the place to make sure he doesn’t sign a lease with someone else and collect rent from both of you for the second half of the month.

  • Sylvia

    Woops I read that wrong.

    Like Duponter said, your lease ends end of month, not mid month. So you can give your landlord notice on July 1 that you don’t want to renew August 1, but not that you are leaving August 15. You have to stay for the month or not. There is no in between.

    Since August 1 has passed, and I’m assuming you haven’t moved out, you are on the hook for the whole month.

  • The OP Anon

    We were just talking about this in the RR&R thread today. The relevant section of the DC Code, 42-3202:
    “A tenancy from month to month, or from quarter to quarter, may be terminated by a 30 days notice in writing from the landlord to the tenant to quit, or by such a notice from the tenant to the landlord of his intention to quit, said notice to expire, in either case, on the day of the month from which such tenancy commenced to run.”
    So basically, you have to give 30 days notice in writing from whatever date in the month your lease starts. So if you wanted to be out by August 15, you would have had to given notice on July 1.

    • Duponter

      No, that is not what that means. Giving more than 30 days notice or even just 30 days notice doesn’t mean you can alter the start and end date of a lease. A month to month lease is effectively a one month lease starting on X day and ending on Y day. You don’t get to give 45 days and shift the Y day just because you want to.

      If the OP’s original lease started on June 1, 2014 for one year, it expired on May 31, 2015 and the “month-to-month” lease started June 1, 2015 and ends the last day of each month from there on out. The tenant can leave either July 31st or August 31st and must give 30 days notice prior to whichever date they choose to leave. They cannot arbitrarily decide August 15th and then give 45 days notice. That isn’t what the lease provides for. It isn’t 30 days. It’s 30 days before the beginning of the next lease term, which starts on the first of any given month.

      This assumes of course that the OP’s lease, like most leases, starts on the first of the month.

      • The OP Anon

        Gotcha, thanks for clarification.

    • ChrisB

      Except that section also states that the term is from the beginning of the month to the end of the month, so, unless your landlord is feeling generous, you can’t end it in the middle. It’s just like you can’t end your twelve month lease after six months, no matter how much notice you give.

      • pjl35

        Right. It’s the same concept as the example you gave. Basically if you start using a term in the lease, you’re stuck with all of it. Here, it is a month-to-month, so if you start using a month (August), you’re stuck with the lease until the end of the term (August 31).

  • Steve F

    This happened to me when I bought my house and moved out of a rental. I was able to find someone to start a new year long lease when I moved out, so I never had to deal with the landlord complaining too much. It seems to me though that 6 weeks notice is plenty, given how easy it is to fill vacancies in this market.

  • AG

    Have you told the landlord that you’ve looked at the lease and it doesn’t specify that you can’t move out in the middle of the month? You could try just giving him half month’s rent on August 1st, but then you risk him keeping your security deposit. If I were you, I’d offer to help find a replacement and stress that you gave him more than 30 days.

  • Accountering

    This is correct, new month lease on the first of every month. Thirty days notice to terminate, and then it terminates the following first of the month. You are out of luck, and he is in the right.

  • LoganRes

    Based on my own experience in dealing with a lease termination, the landlord is in the right here. The 30 day notice has to align with when your rent is due, which in your case is the 1st of the month and since you remained in the rental beyond August 1st you are obligated to pay for the entire month’s rent.

  • anonymous

    As others have mentioned, your landlord is correct. I am a bit surprised that they were not willing to work ith you a little bit though. The landlord is required to paint and re-carpet (if there is carpet), so you would be doing them a favor by moving out mid-month because they could get the work done and have move-in ready by Sept. 1. Two weeks may be too much, but I would tell them you want to leave early and are willing to turn in the keys a week early for a pro-rate on the rent. Don’t give up the keys until the last day, otherwise (even after you moved out). If they don’t want to do you a favor, don’t do them one.

    • guest1

      paint and re-carpet? Ummm… no. not required.

  • textdoc

    As a landlord, my main concern is having 30 days’ (or more) notice so I can start advertising the unit, showing it, etc. The OP’s landlord sounds like a jerk for not wanting to let him/her move in the middle of the month, especially given that the OP gave notice 45 days before the intended move date.

    • Anon Spock

      I tend to agree even though the landlord is technically right. It also took 2 weeks for a response that makes it much harder for them to find someone to make it easier on the landlord.

  • The OP Anon

    Here’s another question for the housing lawyers. DC Code 42-3201 seems to throw under-the-bus this idea that leases go month-to-month after one year, so long as the lease has a “fixed term”. Don’t most leases have start and end dates in DC?
    “§ 42–3201. Notice to quit – Unnecessary with lease for certain term; landlord’s right to immediate possession.
    When real estate is leased for a certain term no notice to quit shall be necessary, but the landlord shall be entitled to the possession, without such notice, immediately upon the expiration of the term.”

    • Duponter

      Except here the lessee agreed to the notice in the lease. It isn’t necessary for there to be a notice requirement, but once the parties agree to one, the lessee must abide by it.

  • anonymous

    Is the issue that the tenant wants prorated rent for August? If not just pay the months rent and move out the 15th.

  • smn-dc

    OK–here again is another landlord’s perspective….Yes it is possible to find a new tenant that may want to move in mid-month, but most people are looking for the 1st. Since MOST/normal leases start on the 1st of the month, the pool of potential tenants is much bigger if you have a place where the new tenant moves on the 1st–and not mid-month. I’ve had this issue of clarity and now moving fwd. I always state very clearly in the lease (addendum) that the move-out-date is the LAST day of the month–not mid-month. Once I’ve explained this to the tenants they understand.


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