Moving Out of a Rental*
This Expert Adulting Module Will:
Help you navigate all the steps required in moving out of a rental
Give you ideas on how to spread the tasks out a little so it’s not quite as stressful
Help you understand the things that could trip you up or get you ripped off
Help you keep the cost as low as possible
*Note: This module includes steps that apply specifically to moving out of a place you have rented but most of the information applies to any move.
Most Important Things To Understand
Following the steps below will help you navigate your move successfully, understand the things that could trip you up or get you ripped off, and prevent you from having to pay any unnecessary costs.
3 months before you’d like to move is the ideal time to start this process. You will need this much time to: 1) find a place to move 2) plan & prepare so your move costs you as little as possible 3) find a moving company that won’t break your budget or scam you.
It’s EXTREMELY important to follow the move-out requirements written in your rental lease or provided by your landlord. If you don’t, it can cost you money now and possibly prevent you from qualifying for another rented apartment / house in the future.
Questions For You to Answer
(see info below for how)
By what specific date should I be starting this process so I have plenty of time to find a new place I will enjoy as well as keep my moving costs as low as possible?
What does my rental agreement / lease say about moving out?
Jump To A Section
Moving out of a rental is a complicated process with lots of details to keep track of. The information below will hopefully make it easier.
A Few Months BEFORE Your Expected Move (5 Steps)
STEP 1: Figure Out Where You’re Going to Move To
Look for your new place AT LEAST 3 MONTHS BEFORE you want or need to move. Definitely know where you are moving before you notify your landlord that you will be moving out. Once you tell them, they can rent your place to a new tenant even if you end up with no place to go.
Finding a place that you like and financially qualify for will take time – more time than people seem to expect. If you don’t give yourself enough time, you may end up living in a place that you don’t especially like for the next year (the usual length of a rental lease). Or you may end up having to move in with friends / family or into a motel and then having to move back out again. Neither will be much fun.
TIP: Renting Stage #1 and Renting Stage #2 can help you successfully find a new place to rent if that is what you are looking for.
A Real-Life Story
I advised a young man I know that it would probably take several months to find a new apartment. His response? ‘I don’t have time to look right now.’ At that point his lease expired in 3 months and I knew he definitely didn’t want to stay where he was for another year.
About 6 weeks later he turned in his move-out notice to the property manager and started looking for a new place. Shortly after that he started to panic! He quickly learned that 1) the “good” apartment complexes and property management companies had waiting lists that were several months long and 2) the rentals still available to rent weren’t worth renting!
Now he was stuck. He couldn’t stay where he was, even for another month, since he gave his notice and he couldn’t get into any of the places he might actually enjoy living in before his move date. What to do now?!?
In the end, he and his roommate moved all their stuff into his parent’s garage and lived with his parent for 3 weeks and then moved all their stuff (again) into an apartment when it became available. That’s a lot of stress and work that he could have prevented if he had just given himself enough time to begin with.
I spoke with him again recently – a couple months before his new lease is due to expire – and, even though he wanted to move again, he still said he didn’t ‘have time’ to look 3 months beforehand. The difference this time was – he didn’t turn in his move-out notice until he knew for sure where he was going to move. This time when he again ran into waiting lists plus sky-high rental rates, he could choose to stay where he was for another year – which is what he did. He’s becoming an Expert Adult!
STEP 2: Re-Read Your Current Rental Agreement / Lease
It’s time to re-read your current lease because most leases have sections describing what needs to happen when you want to move out. Since there are penalties if you don’t follow the "rules" of your lease exactly, reminding yourself what they are and when they have to be done will help.
If you do not follow the terms of the lease exactly, the landlord / rental agency could keep your refundable deposit. They could also give you a bad rating in the rental database they use which could hurt you if you try to qualify for another rental.
Look specifically for at least these things:
When does your lease expire? What is the exact date?
WHEN do you need to notify the landlord / property manager that you will be moving out? For example, could say ‘tenant must give at least 30 days’ notice before end of lease if they intend to move out.’
HOW do you need to notify them that you will be moving out? Do you need to fill out a form? Notify them in writing at a certain address? Go to the rental office?
What other things will you need to do? Some common examples:
a. Clean – What specifically is required? (I once had a landlord that required that I have HIS chosen carpet cleaning company clean the carpet before the final walkthrough.)
b. Fix up yard e.g., trim bushes, cut grass
c. Return keys / garage door openers
d. Schedule a move out ‘walkthrough’ with the landlord / property manager
STEP 3: Research Your Choices for HOW to MOVE
You have an almost overwhelming number of ways you can get your stuff from your current place to your new place. Now is the time to reduce it down to your best method of moving (see below) and then to whittle it down to 2 or 3 companies that you will choose between once you have a timeframe for your move and can get actual pricing.
People who are stressed and overloaded tend to make poor business & money decisions. They tend to be willing to sign practically anything and pay whatever is demanded just to get through. Some companies in the moving industry use this to their advantage and your detriment.
MONEY SAVING TIP: PROTECT YOUR MOVE & YOUR MONEY by taking the time NOW to do your research, read the contracts, and make as many decisions as possible while you are still as unstressed, calm, and rational as you’re going to be between now and when you finally get settled at your new place.
METHODS OF MOVING:
CAUTION: With any moving method:
Make sure to read the reviews of the companies you are considering.
Be sure you understand your TOTAL COST. What you read on their website or what they tell you in the sales pitch may not be the whole story. Read the contract beforehand to understand ALL the fees & what your TOTAL price will be.
Understand the details of the contract before signing it.
a) Hiring a Moving Company
Finding a good moving company and protecting yourself & your property during your move is so complicated that it warranted an Expert Adulting module of its own: Choosing a Moving Company.
If you know you will be using a moving company, you should probably start searching for one at about the same time you start looking for where you are going to live. Good, ethical, affordable moving companies keep busy and it may be hard to get on their schedule. If a moving company is available at the last minute, it’s probably for a reason - and probably not a good one.
TIP: By doing your research and selecting a few potential moving companies beforehand, you will be able to immediately contact them once you know where you will be moving and when. At that point you can get written estimates / quotes and get on one of their schedules instead of just starting your search.
There are a lot of scams / unethical behaviors in the moving industry. They prey on people who don’t know what to look for or how to protect themselves. Unfortunately, once the moving company has all your stuff in their possession, you are essentially at their mercy if you want your stuff delivered. That’s why it’s SO important to do your research first. Learn more: Choosing a Moving Company.
b) Renting a Truck / Vehicle
Renting a truck could be the answer if you want to do the move on your own but don’t have a vehicle large enough. Do a web search for “rent a moving truck” to see your local choices. In most locations you will have many companies to choose from as well as multiple size trucks / vehicles that can be rented.
Save Money - DON'T FALL FOR THE MARKETING
Rental truck companies (like many other companies) are getting more ‘creative’ in how they make their profits. They advertise prices that look low and then add on all sorts of fees that make it a LOT more expensive. Make sure you read through the contract & total up ALL the fees & costs before making your choice.
If you obtain and read a copy of the rental contract ahead of time, you have the option to choose another company if there is something you don’t like in the contract and/or you find additional costs you didn’t know about (there usually are). If you wait until you’re standing there waiting to rent the truck, you are more likely to sign the contract no matter what it says which could be very bad for your wallet immediately and, if something goes wrong, your future.
To make sure you understand just how much you will be PAYING IN TOTAL, look for these common ‘add-on’ costs:
charging you for each mile driven in addition to the truck rental fee (& charging more per mile during popular times than during unpopular times)
pushing you to purchase their insurance coverage in case any part of their vehicle is damaged during your move (the last time I was there they told me there was a minimum of a $600 charge if there was even a scratch on the truck or chip in the windshield unless I bought their insurance)
additional fees if you don’t return the truck with a full tank of gas
TIP: For local moves you may be able to make more than 1 trip between your old and new place. You may want to compare the cost & convenience of a larger vehicle & one trip vs. a smaller vehicle & multiple trips.
c) Renting a Moving / Storage Container
Multiple companies now offer moving containers. Moving containers are like moving trucks without wheels. The container is delivered to your current place where you pack it at your own speed and then the company picks it back up and delivers it to the address you provide (most can also hold it for you for a period of time before delivering it).
In the moving container industry fees may include: container fees, delivery fees, re-delivery fees, transit fees, transportation, monthly rental, taxes, insurance coverage (2 types! one for their container & a second covering your stuff!) & more.
For more information on how to compare moving container companies, do a web search for “what to consider when using a moving storage container company.” Read a couple different articles to learn what matters (in addition to overall cost) when choosing a moving container company.
d) Borrowing from Someone You Know
If you can borrow the truck, SUV, cargo van, or other large vehicle of someone you know, the vehicle could be used either instead of having to rent a truck / hire a moving company OR to move the items you’ve chosen to move yourself.
STEP 4: Look for Coupons & Discounts You Can Use
Save money by looking for any coupons or discounts you can use. Places to look: online, local realtors, the Chamber of Commerce for both where you are moving from and moving to.
Save Money - DON'T FALL FOR THE MARKETING
Companies with little experience or poor reviews often use coupons and discounts to attract customers. If you choose companies with good reviews and THEN look for coupons and discounts for those specific companies, you are more likely to have a good moving experience.
STEP 5: Prepare to Move
Moving is always expensive and time consuming but there are things you can do to make it less expensive and easier. See Preparing to Move for lots of hints & tips!
Once You Know Your Timeframe (9 Steps)
STEP 1: Choose WHEN You Are Going to Move
You may have some choice in when you move. You may want to move (or at least start moving) before the final move-out date. Planning your move during a less popular moving time could save you money and hassle.
Most people move on weekends and at the end/beginning of the month. If you can schedule your move Monday-Thursday and/or during the middle of the month, you will likely pay lower rates for moving companies or moving vans (e.g., as of 2/2/2023, U-Haul charged $0.79 / mile Monday-Thursday and $0.99 / mile Friday, Saturday, & Sunday in my area – a 25% increase on the weekend just because it is a weekend!). It's also easier to get on a moving company’s schedule during less popular times. Moving during the fall or winter could reduce your costs even more.
TIP: If you are moving locally, you may want to have some overlap on your move-out and move-in dates. If you can start moving into your new place before you have to be out of your old place, you can move your stuff over gradually, may save yourself the expense of a U-Haul, extra boxes, etc. and it can be less stressful. However, you probably will have to pay rent on both places for the overlap period.
STEP 2: Give Your Landlord Notice
Don’t give them any reason to not return your refundable deposit* or give you a negative review in a renters database because you didn’t give them enough notice or didn’t give your notice the way they asked. It’s time to get that lease / rental agreement back out and follow it to the letter.
TIP: Give your landlord a few extra days’ notice if you can. Early notice doesn’t hurt but late notice can get very expensive!
*Most people have to pay deposit money in addition to the first month’s rent when they sign a rental agreement. A Refundable Deposit will be returned to you after you move out IF you’ve followed the terms of your lease.
STEP 3: Choose & Reserve Your Moving Help / Method
It’s time to actually choose which moving method you are going to use based on your previous research and make sure your move dates and times get on their schedule also.
a) Contact the 3-4 Moving Companies you’ve chosen based on your earlier research
Now that you have an actual timeframe for your move, it’s time to: 1) contact the moving companies you liked best to get final estimates / quotes as well as the moving companies’ schedule availability (some may already be fully booked for the day you need them so be sure to ask) 2) choose the one that best meets your needs and 3) reserve a spot on their schedule! (See Choosing a Moving Company for more details.)
b) Reserve the Moving Truck / Vehicle
Reserve the right size truck from the company you’ve chosen based on the research you did before.
c) Schedule the delivery (to your current place), pickup, & re-delivery (new place) of your Moving Pod.
d) Get on the calendar of anyone who is loaning you a vehicle &/or helping you move.
STEP 4: Return Your Apartment / House to Rentable Condition
Most leases / rental agreements require you to do certain cleaning and/or maintenance before you move out so the place is in reasonably good shape for the next renter. Do everything required by your lease in order to get your refundable deposit back.
Requirements often include: cleaning so it looks appealing to a potential tenant (remember the stove & refrigerator!), patching any nail holes you made, returning any walls you were allowed to paint to their original color, having carpets cleaned and doing basic yard maintenance if you have a yard.
STEP 5: Cancel / Transfer Utilities & Services
Once you know your move-out date, contact EACH of the utility & service companies you pay and let them know what day you are moving. For utilities, ask for a "FINAL read" to make sure that you aren’t charged for someone else’s service after you move out. This is also a good time to arrange return / pick-up dates for any rented items.
Internet / Cable TV
Insurance companies for rental, flood, &/or specialty insurance policies
Rented appliances / furniture / water systems
Be sure to give them your new address to send the final bill or any refund to. You’d be surprised how many people get dings to their Credit Score because a final utility or service bill never found its way to them.
If you are moving out but your roommates are staying you STILL NEED TO CANCEL YOUR UTILITY ACCOUNTS & GET A FINAL READ if your name is on the bill. Whoever is staying will then need to set up their own account in their own name.
It might seem easier to just leave the utilities in your name (your roommates will probably think so) BUT, to protect yourself, make the change. By doing this 1) your Credit Score isn’t affected if they don’t pay the bill 2) you can get back any deposit money you made when setting up the account and 3) you can establish utilities in your name at your next place. (See Story below.)
A Real-Life Story
A young woman I know used to share a house with 2 roommates she barely knew. She had moved in first so the internet / cable TV bill was in her name. When she moved out, she didn’t cancel the service – she just got her roommates’ agreement that they would pay the bill.
Fast forward to 12 months later:
The woman looks up her Credit Score because she is thinking about moving again and it is only in the ‘Fair’ range. What the heck? That’s not what she had been expecting – she thought it would be much higher.
She pulls her Credit Reports and, lo and behold, she learns that her former roommates DID NOT pay the bill after she left. 3 months of service had been billed before the account was disconnected and that outstanding charge was eventually sent to a collection agency and reported on this woman’s credit reports!
It took her years to get those charges off her credit reports. Even though she could prove to the internet company that she didn’t live there during those times, the account was still in her name and they wanted their money. She had to submit discrepancy reports to all 3 credit agencies multiple times (because every time she thought it was fixed it ended up back on one of her credit reports and then would end up on all 3 again).
By being ‘nice’ to her roommates and not getting the account out of her name:
she ended up spending MANY hours disputing the charges with the internet company and the 3 credit reporting agencies
she had to explain the situation to every organization that pulled her credit score or report and try to convince them to not put as much decision-making weight on her lower score as they normally would have
she ended up paying more than she should have for things like car insurance and credit card interest rates for the years it took to sort this all out. (Many organizations use your credit score to decide how ‘risky’ you are and how much they will charge you – the lower your score, the higher your rate. See the Credit Score page to learn more about all the things your Credit Score affects.)
STEP 6: Schedule Your Final Walkthrough / Move Out Inspection
Check your rental agreement / lease to see if a final walkthrough with your landlord or a move out inspection is required and, if it is, get it scheduled. The sooner you get it on their calendar, the more likely you can do it when it’s as convenient for you as possible.
TIP: Even if a walkthrough is not required, you may want to request one. By walking through the rental together, you can discuss anything they see that might affect how much of your refundable deposit you will get back or things they might report in a renters database that will harm your future rental prospects.
During the Walkthrough
As the landlord / property manager is looking things over, ask if they see any issues.
If yes, are they things that you can fix now? If so, ask how much you would lose from your deposit if you don’t fix them, compare that to how much it would cost you in time and money to fix them now and make your best choice.
If no, congratulations!
Getting a final written report, signed by the landlord / property manager, is always a good idea. That way, if anything comes up later, you’ll have it as proof of what you discussed.
STEP 7: Get Any Parking Permits
Your move is going to take a lot longer if the movers (professional ones or your friends & family) have to park down the block and around the corner. Ask about parking and any other ‘moving rules’ at BOTH YOUR CURRENT PLACE and YOUR NEW PLACE. You may be able to get permission for the movers to park in a loading zone, management parking space, or in a “permit required” street area while they carry your stuff out or in.
STEP 8: Reserve the Freight Elevator
If you live in, or are moving to, a place on an upper floor and there is a freight elevator that is available and reservable, you can save yourself a lot of time and hassle (as well as the risk of damaging the normal elevator) by reserving it for your move.
STEP 9: Gather All the Keys
Collect the keys from everyone who lived with you, and anyone else you may have given them to, so they can be turned in. Be sure to gather any special keys like those for mailboxes, utility sheds, or garages. Gather garage door openers also if you have them.
Remember to follow the ‘key return’ instructions in your lease or move-out guide on your final trip out of your rental so you are not charged for not returning them / not returning them on time.
After You Move (3 Steps)
STEP 1: Update Your Address
Within about a week of moving into your new place, you will need to update your address with all the organizations that use it. Here is a list of the most common ones to get you started:
U.S. Postal Service (USPS.gov) - so all your physical mail gets re-routed to your new address (you can also update your voter registration here!)
Your banks – some charge fees if they are not notified within a month
Your credit card companies – update them all so you don’t have to remember which zip code to put in for the credit card verification at the gas station 😊
Delivery services – weekly meal delivery, pet food delivery, on-demand food delivery, etc.
Your employer – your tax rates may change depending on the cities, counties, &/or school districts you are moving from or to
The companies that hold any retirement accounts you have (401K, 403B, IRA, Roth, pension, etc.).
Your cell phone company
Your car insurance company
STEP 2: Make Sure to Get Your Refundable Deposit Back
Make sure your previous landlord has your new address so they can mail you your deposit refund check if it is not going to be direct-deposited into your bank account.
Within a month of moving out is a reasonable time to expect your refundable deposit back from your previous landlord / rental company. If it’s been more than a month, it’s time to follow up.
Deposits are typically the amount of a month’s rent so they’re worth chasing down. If you get back less than you expected, it’s important to learn why. If they say that you damaged something or didn’t follow a procedure correctly or whatever, and you disagree, you can discuss it with them and potentially get more money back. Any written documents from your final walkthrough with your landlord / rental agent can be helpful during this discussion.
STEP 3: Save Your Moving Receipts
If you are moving because you took a job with an employer that is more than 50 miles from your current residence OR you are a member of the military, you may be able to deduct your moving expenses on your taxes. More information can be found by searching “IRS Form 3903”.
What To Do Now
Find your own answers to the Questions for You to Answer.
Review the Most Important Things to Understand.
If you are planning to rent a new place, check out the information in Renting.
Check out Preparing to Move and, if you'll be using one, Choosing a Moving Company.
Can you think of anyone who might want to know this? If so, please share!
Learn More (My Sources)
Moving (General) – Government Sources
Choosing a Moving Company
Reducing Moving Costs