Leases are generally for a fixed term, such as one year. After that fixed term, it is common for leases to automatically renew for the same fixed term (e.g., another single year), or for the lease to renew to a month-to-month tenancy. Tenants need to be aware of what they have to do if they do not wish for their lease to automatically renew. Leases often contain an intent-to-vacate clause that requires the tenant to provide written notice of the intent to not renew the lease. This notice often must be provided to the landlord by a certain time (e.g., within 30 days of the end of the lease term).
Q: What, exactly, is an “intent to vacate” clause?
A: These are clauses (usually found near the end of the lease agreement) that deal with what will happen to the lease agreement at the end of the lease term. They usually require the tenant to give the landlord advance written notice of the tenant’s intent to leave the property at the end of the lease term. Such clauses let landlords know when they will need to find new tenants, but they may act as traps for unwary tenants who may not realize they must give written notice of their intention to leave.
Q: I didn’t realize my lease agreement contained an intent-to-vacate clause, and I figured my lease was up at the end of the year. I told my landlord I was leaving, but I didn’t give him written notice. Will I be stuck with a renewed lease?
A: Maybe not. Giving timely written notice of non-renewal is the safest way to ensure that your lease is not renewed, but several Ohio courts have found that, where a tenant provided a landlord with timely oral notice, but not written notice, the tenant did enough to comply with the notice requirement. If the landlord agrees that the tenant gave timely oral notice or the tenant has witnesses or other evidence of the oral notice of non-renewal, then a court would be even more likely to find that the tenant complied with the notice requirement.
Q: How can I prove that I gave my landlord notice?
A: Send your landlord a letter saying you will not be renewing your lease agreement. Put your address and your landlord’s address on the letter. Sign and date the letter and keep a photocopy of it for your records. Take the letter to the post office and ask the postal clerk for a “certificate of mailing.” This costs about $1.30. Write the name and address of the landlord on the certificate of mailing and the clerk will stamp it. The photocopy of the letter and the certificate of mailing should be good proof that you mailed the letter. You can also send the letter by certified mail, but that is more expensive and there can be delivery problems if the post office cannot find someone to sign for the letter. If the lease allows for oral notice of non-renewal, have someone else be present for the conversation with your landlord so that person can verify you provided oral notice, if necessary.
This “Law You Can Use” consumer legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was originally prepared by Columbus attorney Eric E. Willison, and updated by attorney Benjamin D. Horne of the Legal Aid Society of Columbus.