Moving Out When Renting
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre, 2018.|
DO: give one month notice to end your month-to-month tenancy no later than the day before your rent is due. Failing to do so could result in you owing an extra month of rent.
DO NOT: use email, text messaging, or social media when providing your one-month notice to move out. The Residential Tenancy Act does not accept those forms of digital communication for such notice.
- 1 Giving notice to move out
- 2 Serving documents
- 3 Special service rules for certain documents
- 4 Illegally breaking a lease
- 5 Alternatives to breaking a lease
- 6 Cleaning responsibilities
- 7 Move-out condition inspection reports
- 8 Getting your deposit returned
Giving notice to move out
If you have a month-to-month agreement, you can end your tenancy by giving one-month notice no later than the day before your rent is due. For example, if you pay rent on the first day of the month and want to move out by May 31st, your notice must be received by your landlord no later than April 30th.
Your notice must be in writing, so avoid email, text messaging, and social media. Instead, give your landlord a signed and dated letter with your name, signature, address, and move-out date, as set out in section 52 of the RTA. Make sure to keep a copy in a safe place and take photos for added protection.
Fixed term tenancies
If you have a fixed term agreement, giving notice to end your tenancy is a little more complicated. Since you have entered into a legal contract for a fixed amount of time, you are generally not allowed to give notice to move out before the end of your term.
Most fixed term tenancies convert to month-to-month tenancies at the end of the term. However, if you plan to move out at the end of the term rather than have your tenancy continue, you must provide one-month notice in writing no later than the day before your rent is due – just like month-to-month agreements.
Vacate clauses: Vacate clauses can only be used in situations listed in section 13.1 of the Residential Tenancy Regulation. If your agreement has a vacate clause, you do not have to give proper notice before moving out, since you already agreed to your move-out date when signing your tenancy agreement.
Changing your mind
Unless you obtain your landlord’s permission in writing, you are not allowed to change your mind once you have provided proper written notice to end your tenancy. If your landlord suspects that you will not move out as planned, they can apply for an Order of Possession that will take effect on the date you are supposed to leave.
Sections 88-90 of the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) cover the rules about how tenants and landlords can give, or “serve”, forms and notices to each other. When it comes to serving your one month written notice, or any other type of form or notice, you should avoid email, text messaging, and social media, and instead use one of the following methods:
- In person: You can serve your written notice in person to your landlord, an adult who lives with your landlord, or an agent of your landlord. If possible, bring a witness so you have proof that your notice was served properly. Write the date, time, and location of the delivery on your copy of the notice and have your witness sign it. A notice delivered in person is considered received that same day.
- Post the notice: You can attach your written notice in a visible spot at your landlord’s home, or the place where they carry out business as a landlord. For example, you can tape the notice to your landlord’s door. If possible, bring a witness so you have proof that your notice was served properly. Write the date, time, and location of the delivery on your copy of the notice and have your witness sign it. Do not slide the notice under your landlord’s door. The RTA says that a posted notice is considered received on the third day after being posted.
- Mailbox or mail slot: You can put your written notice in the mailbox or mail slot at your landlord’s home, or the place where they carry out business as a landlord. If possible, bring a witness so you have proof that your notice was served properly. Write the date, time, and location of the delivery on your copy of the notice and have your witness sign it. The RTA says that a notice left in the mailbox or mail slot is considered received on the third day after being left.
- Fax: You can serve your written notice by fax, if your landlord has provided you with a fax number for serving documents. Keep the confirmation printout showing the date and time the fax was sent. The RTA says that a faxed notice is considered received on the third day after being faxed.
- Mail: You can serve your written notice using regular or registered mail. If you want proof that your landlord received the notice, send it by registered mail so that Canada Post can give you confirmation. The RTA says that a mailed notice is considered received on the fifth day after being mailed.
Proof of Service: It is important to always have proof that you served a document properly. To help with this, consider using the Small Claims Court form, “Certificate of Service”.
Rebuttable presumption: When determining the date a document is legally considered received, there is always a “rebuttable presumption”. This means that even though the RTA has rules about when documents are considered received, they may not apply if there is evidence of the document being received on a different date. For example, if you mail a notice to your landlord and get email confirmation that they received it three days later, an argument could be made that it was received after three days rather than five days.
Special service rules for certain documents
Most documents can be served in any of the ways listed above, but there are some exceptions. For tenants, there are two types of documents where special rules apply – an application for dispute resolution and a notice from an arbitrator to review a decision or order. These types of documents can only be served in a limited number of ways:
- by leaving a copy with the landlord;
- by leaving a copy with an agent of the landlord; or
- by sending a copy by registered mail to the address at which the landlord lives, or to the address at which the landlord carries on business as a landlord;
This is a complicated topic and there are additional special rules about serving documents. See section 89 of the Residential Tenancy Act and Residential Tenancy Branch Policy Guideline 12 for more information.
The Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) does not recognize email, text messaging, and social media as acceptable methods of service. This means that when an official Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) form must be served, or the RTA requires that something be done “in writing”, it is always safest to rely on hardcopy documents rather than email, text messaging, and social media. Landlords should never attach an eviction notice to an email, and tenants should never text their one-month notice to move out. If these issues ended up in dispute resolution, an arbitrator may rule that the documents were improperly served. That being said, if you receive a document that was not served properly, the safest option is to not ignore it. For example, if your landlord emails you an eviction notice, you should consider disputing it through the RTB so that an arbitrator can dismiss it and instruct your landlord to not illegally evict you.
While hardcopy documents should always be used when serving official RTB forms and notices that are legally required to be given “in writing”, email, text messaging, and social media may be acceptable when it comes to more general correspondence. For example, since there is no official RTB form for requesting repairs, a series of emails showing your landlord’s neglect for a repair request might be accepted as evidence at dispute resolution – as long as you can prove that your landlord received the emails. When it comes to email, text messaging, and social media evidence at dispute resolution, the arbitrator handling your case will always have the final say on whether or not to accept the evidence.
Illegally breaking a lease
If you move out before the end of your fixed term tenancy – often referred to as “breaking a lease” – your landlord may be entitled to some money, depending on how much rental income they lost and whether they made reasonable efforts to find a replacement tenant.
Consequences for breaking a lease
You may have to pay your landlord some money if you end your fixed term tenancy early, but it is not as simple as automatically owing the remaining months of rent. Once you have broken your lease, your landlord has a legal responsibility to minimize your loss, or “mitigate”, by trying to re-rent your unit at a fair price. See Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) Policy Guideline 5 for more information.
If your landlord is forced to re-rent your unit at a $25 discount to secure a replacement tenant, they could be entitled to $25 per month over the remaining term of your agreement. However, if your landlord can re-rent your unit for more than what you were paying, that additional money they will earn over the remaining months of your agreement can be applied to, or “set off” against, any other money you owe your landlord for unpaid rent or damages. See RTB Policy Guideline 3 for more information.
If your landlord applies for a monetary order against you but cannot prove that they made an honest attempt to re-rent your unit, you may not be required to pay for any of their lost rental income. This means that if your landlord refused to show your unit to potential tenants, never posted an advertisement, or had too high of an asking price, they may not be entitled to any monetary compensation.
Liquidated damages: If you break a lease that includes a “liquidated damages” clause, you could be held responsible for the costs associated with finding a replacement tenant. A liquidated damages clause cannot be unreasonably high, especially considering the number of free online advertising options that are available. Liquidated damages is supposed to be a reasonable pre-estimate of the cost of re-renting a unit – not a penalty for breaking a lease. See RTB Policy Guideline 4 for more information.
Alternatives to breaking a lease
If you must end your tenancy early, there are a few options to consider before packing up and leaving. Depending on your situation, you may be able to end your tenancy without having to illegally break your lease.
Mutual agreement to end tenancy
Your landlord may simply agree to end your tenancy early. To help convince them, offer to help find a new tenant by advertising your rental unit and making it accessible for regular viewings. The Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) offers a standard “Mutual Agreement to End Tenancy” form.
Sublet / assignment
You might be able to sublet or assign your tenancy agreement. A sublet occurs when a tenant temporarily moves out and rents their unit to a subtenant until they return, whereas an assignment occurs when a tenant permanently moves out and transfers their agreement to a new tenant. To sublet or assign your tenancy agreement, you must have your landlord’s written consent. However, according to section 34(2) of the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), if your fixed term tenancy agreement has at least six months remaining on it, your landlord cannot unreasonably withhold their consent. If you believe your landlord is unreasonably withholding consent, you have the right to apply for dispute resolution to ask for an order allowing you to sublet or assign your tenancy.
There are important differences between sublets and assignments. When you sublet a rental unit, you retain rights and responsibilities associated with that tenancy agreement. However, when you assign a rental unit, your rights and responsibilities are usually transferred to the person to whom you are assigning the agreement. See RTB Policy Guideline 19 for more information.
Exception: The sublet and assignment rules in the RTA do not apply to non-profit housing that falls under section 2 of the Residential Tenancy Regulation.
Landlord breach of a material term
According to section 45(3) of the RTA, you can consider ending your tenancy early if your landlord has breached a “material term” and failed to correct the situation within a reasonable period after receiving your written warning. According to RTB Policy Guideline 8, a material term is a term that is so important that even the simplest breach or violation may give you the right to end the tenancy. The RTA does not define “material term”, since the same term could be considered material in one tenancy but not another. If you end your tenancy due to breach of a material term, your landlord may apply for a monetary order against you, so be prepared to convince an arbitrator that there was no way your tenancy could have continued. Alternatively, you can apply for dispute resolution to request permission to end your tenancy early.
Family violence or long-term care
Tenants can end a fixed term tenancy early by providing one month written notice if they:
- need to leave their rental unit to protect themselves or their children from family violence;
- have been assessed as requiring long-term care; or
- have been accepted into a long-term care facility.
To legally end a tenancy in these circumstances, you must provide your landlord with a completed RTB form, “Ending Fixed Term Tenancy Confirmation Statement”, signed by an authorized third-party verifier.
When ending a tenancy early due to family violence, here are some common examples of third party verifiers:
- medical practitioner;
- nurse practitioner;
- social worker;
- police officer;
- practising lawyer; or
- victim court support caseworker;
When ending a tenancy early due to long-term care, here are some common examples of third party verifiers:
- medical practitioner;
- nurse practitioner;
- social worker;
- manager of a long-term care facility; or
- occupational therapist.
For more information on this topic, including a full list of all third-party verifiers, see Part 7 of the Residential Tenancy Regulation.
Residential Tenancy Branch Policy Guideline 1 provides an overview of your responsibility to clean your rental unit when moving out. Here are some examples of areas in your rental unit that you are expected to clean:
- the inside and outside of appliances, such as the stove, fridge, and dishwasher;
- behind and underneath the fridge and stove, if they are on rollers and can be pulled out;
- floors and wall vents;
- the insides of all your windows and doors;
- the outside of any sliding glass doors or balcony windows;
- blinds and window coverings;
- walls and baseboards;
- any fireplace you used, as well as its screen, vent, or fan; and
- if your tenancy was at least one year, or you smoked or had pets, the carpets should be steam cleaned or shampooed.
Move-out condition inspection reports
At the end of your tenancy, you and your landlord should walk through your rental unit and complete a move-out condition inspection report. This is a chance to fill out a checklist and document the condition of your home. Completing this report when you move in and move out will help determine how much damage, if any, has been caused during your tenancy.
There is a good chance your landlord will use the standard Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) Condition Inspection Report. However, if they choose to use their own custom form, it should still contain all the information required by section 20 of the Residential Tenancy Regulation (RTR) – just like the standard RTB form.
Scheduling an inspection
According to section 17 of the RTR, your landlord must offer you at least two opportunities – between 8am and 9pm – to complete the move-out condition inspection. If you do not accept their first offer, your landlord is required to serve you with the RTB form, “Notice of Final Opportunity to Schedule a Condition Inspection”. If you are still unavailable for the second opportunity, you can have someone else participate on your behalf. Even if you are able to participate in the inspection, you may want to consider bringing a friend or family member as a witness. Ideally, the move-out condition inspection report should be completed on the day your tenancy ends, once all your belongings have been removed from the rental unit. See section 35 of the Residential Tenancy Act for more information.
Participating in the inspection
It can be a good idea to take photos and videos during the inspection, especially if you disagree with your landlord about the condition of your rental unit. Once you have completed the condition inspection, make sure to sign and date the report. If you disagree with your landlord about any part of the inspection, there should be space on the form to list your concerns. If you do not sign the report because you disagree with it, it may be difficult to prove that you participated in the inspection. Your landlord must give you a copy of the completed report within 15 days of completing the inspection. Keep your copy in a safe place and take photos for added protection.
Getting your deposit returned
If you would like to have your deposit returned, the first step is to provide your landlord with a forwarding address in writing indicating where your deposit can be sent. Make sure to have evidence that you provided your forwarding address, such as a witness or registered mail confirmation. You should also have the option to list your forwarding address on the move-out condition inspection report.
Once you have provided your forwarding address in writing and your tenancy has officially ended, your landlord has 15 days to take one of the following three actions:
- return your deposit;
- get your written permission to keep some or all of your deposit; or
- apply for dispute resolution to keep some or all of your deposit.
Your landlord can return your deposit by delivering it in person, mailing it, leaving it in your mailbox or mail slot, or sending it electronically. If your landlord returns your deposit by electronic means, they are not allowed to charge a fee.
Your landlord cannot simply decide on their own to keep your deposit. If they want it, they need written permission from either you or the Residential Tenancy Branch. After 15 days, if your landlord has not returned your deposit, obtained your written consent, or applied for dispute resolution, section 38 of the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) gives you the right to go after your landlord through dispute resolution for double the amount of your deposit.
Condition inspection reports: If your landlord does not give you a chance to participate in a move-in or move-out condition inspection, or does not provide you with a copy of either report within the required timelines, they lose the right to claim against your security or pet damage deposit for damage to the rental unit. Conversely, if you fail to participate in an inspection after receiving two opportunities, you may lose the right to have your deposit(s) returned. See sections 24 and 36 of the RTA for more information.
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