When You Pay “Last Month’s Rent,” Have You Paid It All?

When tenants move in, landlords often collect a security deposit of one month’s rent, plus last month’s rent. Imagine the tenant who, three years and two rent hikes later, has given notice and has no intention of writing a check for last month’s rent. The landlord will insist that the tenant pay the difference between the current monthly rent and the amount the tenant  paid when he moved in. Who’s right?

Here’s an example of a fight that could have been easily avoided. When the landlord raised the rent, she could have asked for the increase for the last month’s rent, too. It was up to the landlord to take that step, and since she didn’t, the tenant could argue that she waived her right to top off the last month’s rent.

Unfortunately for the tenant, it’s going to be very easy for the landlord to get that money anyway—she’ll deduct it from the  security deposit, and the tenant will have to challenge that deduction in small claims court to get it back. Expect the landlord to argue that “last month’s rent” should be understood as standing for the rent at the end of the tenancy, whatever that is. But if that’s so, it’s up to the landlord to make sure that the last month’s rent is current.