Tenant’s Guide to Vacate an Apartment

Vacant Apartment

I receive quiet a few calls and inquiries from tenants asking about their rights or potential issues when they are leaving an apartment. If you don’t cross your T’s and dot your I’s, you might be losing money, if not more, to an unscrupulous landlord. By following this Tenant’s Guide to Vacate an Apartment, you can be better assured that you’re protecting yourself when moving.

When getting ready to move out of an apartment, there are lots of things that a tenant has to think about. Packing, timing the move, finding moving help, mail forwarding. Often lost in this task list is shoring up any loose ends with a landlord to try and streamline turnover of the apartment. If you’re thinking about moving, it would be prudent to think about these issues as early in the process as possible.

1. Review the Apartment Lease

I can’t really point to anything other than just missing the obvious, but I get plenty of phone calls from tenants asking ‘what if’ questions concerning moving out. These ‘what if’ questions are often answered in the same place – the lease. The first place to look for any answers concerning a tenancy will be the lease, if any. If a valid and enforceable lease exists, it will often include provisions that address requisite notice, timing of move-outs, any applicable fees, etc. Thus, one of the easiest and best measures you can take when you first think about moving out is to pull out and review your entire lease.

2. Contact the Landlord about Vacating

In many transactions, I’ve found that issues and disputes can be resolved by reaching out to the other party and talking to them. The same applies to the landlord-tenant relationship. Especially in a case where there is a valid lease that you’re trying to break early, reach out to the landlord as early as possible.

Think about it this way. A lease is a contract that assured you of a place to live for a definite period of time (as long as you paid your rent), and assured the landlord of a steady and definite stream of income. If you as a tenant are seeking to breach that lease, it makes sense to give the landlord as much time as possible, not just to mitigate damages, but also for you to gauge any potential disputes that may arise.

If you’re in the early stages of moving out of your current apartment, it is prudent to contact your landlord and advise them that you’re planning on moving out as soon as possible. The more notice you provide, the more time you’ll both have to address any issues or disputes that arise.

3. Confirm conversations in writing

It’s in assumptions where problems occur. Usually those problems involve a tenant losing their security deposit or being charged additional monies. If you have a telephone or in-person conversation with your landlord where you agreed to certain things, send a confirmation email or letter memorializing the conversation. If the conversation included things such as ‘consent’ to breach a lease early without penalty, you will definitely want that in writing.

Moreover, the clearer you are in these writings, the better. If a date and time was agreed to for a walkthrough, memorialize that in a writing and request explicit confirmation. If the landlord agreed to allow you to break the lease early without any penalty, memorialize that in a writing and request explicit confirmation. While we may tend to use shorthand texts and emojis to communicate with friends and family, it’s not wise to do so in documents you may have to rely on in court.

4. Plan the Walkthrough

Generally speaking, a security deposit is supposed to be held by a landlord to compensate for any damages to a space. If there are no damages beyond reasonable wear and tear, the landlord is supposed to return your security deposit. A landlord cannot unilaterally convert the deposit to offset any outstanding rent without tenant consent.

To avoid any issues with return of the deposit, a tenant can be proactive about it:

  • First, confirm the date and time of the walkthrough in writing with the landlord.
  • Second, create a room-by-room checklist to make note of any conditions that both you and the landlord can sign to confirm the space is vacant and free of damages.
  • Third, you may want to take pictures or video during the walkthrough, as well as have a third-party observe the walkthrough in case you end up in court over the deposit.
  • Finally, before the walkthrough takes place, ask the landlord if they can bring a check to the walkthrough to return the deposit, or in the alternative, clear instructions as to when and where you can pick up the return of your security deposit.

5. Exchange Updated Contact Information

This may be a little counter-intuitive. Some people may not want to provide a landlord their updated contact info upon leaving a space because they don’t want to be sued or otherwise disturbed by the old landlord. Here’s why I think it’s a good idea. First, in case any mail doesn’t get redirect to your forwarding address, the landlord at least has your information to contact you about that. Second, if the old landlord decides to sue your for some reason, with the updated contact info, they can’t say they served you at some random address. In some cases, a landlord will serve an old address from an old license, and obtain a default judgment in that manner.


When leaving an apartment or commercial space, there’s always some tension between landlord and tenant. Whether it relates to agreement to break a lease early, or whether a deposit will be returned in full, it’s rarely cut and dry. Notwithstanding, if you are a tenant leaving an apartment, following this guide will help to make your exit smoother and less tense.

If you would like to know more about landlord-tenant matters, contact the Law Office of Richard Kistnen, (718) 738-2324, or email [email protected]

Share This!

Looking to evict a tenant?  Sign up to get access to a Holdover Template Package