How to Break a Rental Lease in Washington State

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Whether purchasing a new home or simply moving to a new rental unit, tenants may need to terminate a rental lease early. Month-to-month tenants pay rent with the understanding that 20 days of notice is sufficient prior to moving. Tenants under a longer lease, such as a year, may need to negotiate with the landlord to avoid having to pay the remainder of the year's rent. Knowing your rights as a tenant under Washington state law is important, but the terms of the lease agreement ultimately dictate the consequences of an early termination.

Early Termination of a Rental Agreement

Read the terms and fine print of your lease agreement carefully. Pay particular attention to the sections detailing the amount of notice required prior to moving out and any consequences for terminating the lease early.

Notify the landlord in writing as soon as possible; this will provide enough time to negotiate any terms for early termination and allow the landlord to find a new tenant.

Record the negotiated terms and intended move-out date on paper, once both parties agree, and request that the landlord sign the document. Confirm that you intend to return the rental unit in the same condition from the initial time of leasing, and that the landlord return the security deposit at that time.

Locate the original inventory detailing the condition of the rental unit at the time of your move-in. Use this as a final checklist before moving out to ensure a full refund of your security deposit. Return all door, mailbox and storage unit keys, as well as garage door openers to the landlord. You'll also need to forward your mail to your new address.


  • Most landlords expect tenants to move eventually, but appreciate ample notice before that time. If you always pay your rent on time and are a generally reliable tenant, your landlord may be more willing to negotiate the terms of an early lease termination.
  • According to the Revised Code of Washington, or RCW, month-to-month tenants must provide a minimum of 20 days notice prior to the end of the month of termination. Tenants under longer rental lease agreements, such as a year, are subject only to the terms of the agreement in terms of notice. The Revised Code of Washington does not support year leases, except to state that they must be in writing or print and not to exceed one year.
  • Some lease agreements require a tenant to pay the rent in full for the remaining months of the contract, unless the tenant secures a new occupant for the rental unit. Other lease agreements may require a specific number of days of notice be given to the landlord or a flat early termination fee. Landlords are prohibited from reprisals or retaliatory actions against a tenant, and may not increase the obligations of the tenant or increase the rent required when the tenant acts in good faith, according to the RCW.
  • The landlord has 14 days to either refund the deposit or send a detailed list of any deductions for repairs beyond normal wear and tear to the unit. In some states, landlords must refund the full security deposit if the tenant lives in the dwelling for more than 5 years, unless there is a significant amount of damage. Ensure the landlord has your new address before leaving the rental property.


About the Author

Michelle Hornaday lives in Edmonds, Washington and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Washington State University and a Master of Education from Northern Arizona University. She is currently a freelance writer for various websites.

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