The 20-day Notice to Vacate/Terminate

It is standard in the industry for a tenant to give notice to the landlord of their intention to vacate.  In Washington state, 20 days is the minimum, and 30 days (or more!) is a nice courtesy many of our tenants give us.  But what about when the landlord wants to terminate the agreement with the tenant?

First of all, if it is a term lease then neither party gets to terminate the vacancy until the end of the term or unless mutually agreed upon.  We will often allow a bad tenant to terminate early to get rid of the tenant.  “Often’ doesn’t come around very often because we pick and choose our tenants very carefully.  But when a bad apple sneaks through then we offer early termination very ‘often’!

But on a month-to-month lease either party can give notice. On a term lease with a set expiration, no notice is required (though a courtesy notice might be a good idea!).  Our leases are 12-month leases that roll over to month-to-month.   So giving and receiving notices is a common activity.  Our tenants must give notice no later than the 10th of each month, and it MUST be in writing.  Verbals won’t cut it here — we need it in writing.  We have the notice posted on our website where any and all of our tenants can have easy access to it.  Notice to Vacate.  If they miss that magic date then they are on the hook for an additional month unless we decide to let them off.

If they leave early and we re-rent the unit then we will refund part of the month to the old tenant.  Maybe we can legally keep those extra few days of “double rent”, I don’t know.  We just don’t think it is fair.  And our attitude towards are tenants is to treat them fairly and with respect in all matters.  Doing so allows us to expect the same from them.

It is rare when the Owner wishes to terminate with the Tenant.  We just had a situation where the Owner wishes to go in and do a remodel and so had us issue a 20-day Notice to Terminate.  It caught the Tenant by surprise, and understandably.  We will work with the Tenant to assist them as much as we can.  It doesn’t do anyone any good for either party to get ugly.  So we will cooperatively work together to help them get relocated.

The 20-day notice is really a 21-day notice because (in WA state, at least) the last day is not counted.  In addition to that, the notice must be for the end of a rental period — typically the end of the month.   So a landlord cannot issue a 20-day notice on June 15th and expect the Tenant to leave July 6.  That notice would have to show a vacancy date of July 31 (and not Aug. 1).

Writing and posting notices is an art in itself.  Even as a professional we occasionally get tripped up.  So proofread your notices carefully and make sure you understand and follow the laws of your particular state.  Because one little undotted ‘i’ or uncrossed ‘t’ could send you all the way back to square one and start the process all over again.   For more tips on good management practices, visit our website at

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