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Terminating your lease

BOLLING AFB, D.C. -- You just moved to the National Capital Region. You found an apartment to rent, signed a year's lease and moved in. However, a year later you decide to live in a different neighborhood. You find a new apartment, sign a new lease and pack your bags.

You hand your keys to your old landlord, say goodbye and think that's the last you'll ever see of him. But instead of wishing you well, your old landlord tells you that you were supposed to give 60-days' notice before moving out, and you are liable for another two months of rent. You inform the landlord you only signed a one-year lease and don't owe him anything. Who's right?

The lease you signed a year ago has the answer. Even though the lease may state the rental period ends one year from the date of signing, and may even specify the exact date the rental period ends, many leases have clauses stating the lease automatically renews on this end date. In other words, the lease will not terminate until you give written notice to your landlord that you intend to move out.

This may not seem fair, but you agreed to it when you signed the lease. The terms of the lease will specify what steps you need to take in order to terminate it, so read the lease carefully. Many leases will automatically renew on a month-to-month basis, but some will automatically renew for a six-month period or even an entire year. This means if you move out without notice, you could be held liable for a whole year's worth of rent.

The military clause contained in most leases requires written notice before you can move out. Even if you're deploying, you're required to give written notice to the landlord of your deployment and desire to terminate the lease early. Do not assume you can simply give your landlord a copy of your orders and move out the next day. If you do this, you can be held liable for 30-days' rent.

After you provide a written notice of termination and a copy of your orders, your landlord can't hold you liable for more than 30 days rent. If you know you want to terminate your lease, fax your notification letter with verified transmission or e-mail it with a read receipt copy. Do not assume that verbally telling your landlord that you have to permanently change stations or deploy will satisfy the notice requirement. Even if you previously told your landlord you were deploying or PCSing, make sure you immediately send written notice as well.

Also, do not rely on the military clause of your lease to get you out of your lease early unless you're deploying for the amount of days specified in the clause, you're PCSing out of the local area or you are being discharged from the service.

The availability of base housing does not qualify as orders allowing you to terminate your lease early, neither does PCSing within the local area. For example, Virginia state law requires the PCS be at least 35 miles or more from the location of your leased dwelling, and Bolling privatized housing requires a PCS beyond a 25-mile radius of Bolling.

If you live in a rental property, know the terms of your lease. Whether you PCS, deploy, want to live in a safer neighborhood or a larger property, you need to know how to terminate your lease before you move out. If you don't know the terms of your lease, re-read your lease today. Be prepared and know ahead of time what steps you must take to terminate your lease. Doing so could save you months of rent money and hassle.

If you have questions about the terms of your lease, please contact the legal office at (202) 767-5297 to schedule a legal assistance appointment. Remember to bring a copy of your lease.