When you can end a tenancy agreement early as a tenant?

There are a wide range of circumstances where you might wish to end a tenancy agreement early for those renting or letting in the UK. If you are a landlord or a tenant it is important to understand your legal obligations when attempting to end an agreement early to ensure you do not encounter legal problems.

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As a Tenant

Many tenancy agreements start with a fixed term, usually 3, 6 or 12 months, with the last day
of your tenancy being clearly stated on the tenancy contract. You will have a fixed term
tenancy if your contract has an end date that has not yet passed. If your agreement has no
end date or it has passed, you probably have a periodic tenancy and the notice requirements
are different.

There are two main ways to end an agreement early
- Break Clause
- Coming to agreement with landlord

What is a break clause?

A break clause in a contract details how a contract may be terminated before the end of the
agreed term. Your contract will give you details on the break clauses in place. Break clauses
usually contain information such as
- The amount of notice you need to give
- How to give notice

An example break clause could be the tenant must give 2 months’ notice in writing.” Not all agreements will have a break clause, they are more common in longer fixed term tenancies.

Coming to agreement with landlord

It is possible to end a tenancy agreement early as a tenant by coming to an agreement with their landlord. This can be done either through informal negotiation or via solicitors. If both parties reach an agreement, they will need to draw up and sign a new tenancy agreement that reflects the change of circumstances. It’s important for tenants to seek legal advice if they are considering ending their tenancy early, as solicitors can provide assistance in ensuring that all necessary changes are made and that both parties understand their rights and obligations under the new contract. Furthermore, solicitors can also ensure that the correct notices are served and any necessary paperwork is signed in order for the termination to be binding and enforceable. In some cases, solicitors can also help negotiate a financial settlement between the landlord and tenant, to cover any costs or losses incurred by either party due to the early termination. Ultimately, solicitors can provide valuable assistance in ensuring that both parties’ rights are respected when ending a tenancy agreement early.

As a Landlord

Do you have an assured shorthand tenancy (AST) in place? AST’s are the most common type of tenancy agreement and are typically granted for a fixed period of 6 months, although there is no legal requirement to give any fixed term period at all. An AST will give you the right to take back possession of your property without using a break clause as long as the contract you have in place has been written properly. This is however only applicable in certain circumstances and sometimes possession can only be obtained after the end of any fixed term period. If the fixed term period has passed and the tenant remains in occupation, the tenancy automatically becomes a periodic tenancy that rolls over from month to month at the same rent.

What if tenants leave without coming to an agreement?

This is known as abandonment and does not signal the end of the agreement and the agreement will continue and the tenant is still liable for rent. In this case you can use the courts to obtain judgment against the tenant for any unpaid rent. In the event that the property is let again you can only recover rent for the period up until the start of the new let agreement. As a landlord you must be sure that the tenant has surrendered by abandonment before letting the property again or making changes to the property that would prohibit the tenant from entering the property again. Returned keys are a clear indication of surrender by abandonment but communication is key, talk with the tenant and be sure everyone understands the situation.

What if you are unsure if a tenant has left the property?

It is not always clear if a tenant has indeed abandoned the property. Some accepted indicators of abandonment are non-payment of rent, property keys being left behind or returned to the landlord and the tenant’s possessions being removed from the property. If as a landlord you are unsure if a tenant has indeed left the property you should end the tenancy by applying to the Court for a possession order. This removes the risk of unlawful eviction under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, which protects tenants from being unlawfully evicted from properties.