Q: If I move out of my apartment before the first of the month, is my landlord required to prorate my rent? If not, how can I get him to?

A: The first thing to know is that generally the tenant is legally required to provide the landlord with a notice of intent to vacate the unit, and the landlord is entitled to rent until that notice period expires.  Oftentimes – but not always – the notice period will expire at the same time the rent is due.  If that is the case, then no question as to “proration” should arise.

To determine how much notice is required, the tenant should be aware of relevant lease clauses as well as relevant District law.  Many leases require 30 days’ notice, particularly if the tenant plans to move out during a “month-to-month” tenancy (a “month-to-month” tenancy is established by operation of law after the initial lease term expires, assuming no renewal lease has been executed). Some leases require a longer notice period, particularly if the tenant plans to vacate upon the expiration of the initial lease term.

Some leases fail to specify any notice period at all, and sometimes there is no written lease.  In these instances, there is a long-standing District statute that permits the tenant to terminate a “month-to-month” tenancy upon 30 days’ notice. Under this statute, however, the 30-day notice cannot expire prior to the tenancy “anniversary” date – that is, the day of the month on which the tenancy started.  This means that if the tenancy began on the 15th day of the month, the tenant must provide notice prior to the 15th day of the month.  If the tenant fails to do so, he or she could be obligated to pay rent for an additional month.

If the notice period does expire before the first of the month, and if the tenant has timely vacated the unit, then the landlord should prorate the rent.  This is not dictated by a District statute or regulation, rather this is a matter of good business practices as well as basic contract law. Under a principle of contract law known as the “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing,” the landlord has a general contractual duty not to charge more rent than the agreement and the law allow and to refund overpayments.

Otherwise, a tenant could file an action to recoup any overpayment in small claims court.  It should be noted also that the tenant could make a final rental payment only in the prorated amount even without the landlord’s consent. But it may not be worth it to the tenant to risk complicating security deposit repayment and other possible landlord reactions. The best course of action is for the tenant to discuss the matter with the landlord ahead of time.

 About the Advocate

The D.C. Office of the Tenant Advocate is an independent agency of the District government providing legal assistance, policy advocacy and education and outreach services to District renters. Learn more and contact the agency at Ota.dc.gov or 202- 719-6560. The office says it is the first tenant advocacy voice within any state or city government in the U.S.