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Can you get out of a tenancy agreement early?

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Whether you are a landlord or tenant, there are various circumstances where you may wish to end a tenancy agreement early. It might be that as a landlord you want to sell the property or as a tenant that you need to move for work or personal reasons.

Understanding your rights and obligations around ending a tenancy can help you to achieve your goals while avoiding any potential legal issues.

This is particularly important during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, as there have been a number of changes to the way in which tenancy agreements are being handled during these unprecedented times. Further support for landlords and tenants during the ongoing crisis is available on the government’s website.

How to get out of a tenancy agreement early

The process for ending a tenancy agreement will vary depending on whether you are a landlord or a tenant:

Can a landlord end a tenancy agreement early?

Ending a tenancy without a reason (section 21 notices)

Under normal circumstances, if your tenant has an assured shorthold tenancy (AST), you will usually have the right to take back possession of your property without needing to give a reason, as long as:

  • Where you have a written tenancy the initial term of the tenancy has ended (this will typically be 6 or 12 months)
  • If your tenancy is not in writing, the date you require the property back must be at least 6 months after the tenancy began
  • You provide at least 2 months’ notice which expires no earlier than the end of the initial term of the tenancy (Between 26 March 2020 and 30 September 2020, this has been extended to 3 months, due to Covid-19)
  • The tenancy is periodic (e.g. a one-month rolling contract) or fixed-term and the date you need the property back is after the end of the fixed term (which cannot be less than 6 months from the start of the tenancy)
  • Any deposit the tenant has paid has been placed in a recognised deposit protection scheme

If the tenancy started after 30 September 2015, additional restrictions apply:

  • You must not have been served with a notice by the council following a complaint by the tenant about living conditions in the property
  • You must have provided a copy of the government’s ‘How to Rent’ leaflet
  • You must have provided an energy performance certificate
  • You must have provided a gas safety certificate

The notice you must serve on the tenant is called a ‘section 21 notice’.

Ending a tenancy with a reason (section 8 notices)

You may be able to end the tenancy during a fixed term if you have a reason, such as:

  • Your tenant is in rent arrears
  • Your tenant has damaged the property
  • Your tenant is causing a nuisance to the neighbours
  • You need to sell the property or move back in yourself

The amount of notice you must give your tenant (called a section 8 notice) will depend on the reason you rely on, but it should be at least 14 days.

If your tenant refuses to leave after being served a valid notice (whether you have served a section 21 or a section 8 notice), you may be able to start possession proceedings to evict them.

Break clauses

A break clause is a term of a fixed term tenancy agreement that may give you the right to end the tenancy during the term. The break clause must say that you have the right to use it, otherwise only the tenant can use it. Typically, you cannot have a break clause that only the landlord can use as this is likely to be viewed as an unfair contract term.

The wording of the break clause will determine how you must serve notice upon the tenant and specify the notice period you must give. Usually, it will have to be in writing and landlords must always serve a minimum of two months’ notice (although they also cannot reclaim possession of the property within the first four months of the tenancy.

Can a tenant end a tenancy agreement early?

As a tenant, you will be responsible for paying your rent for the entire length of your fixed-term tenancy. You can end your tenancy at the end of the term (if the landlord does not end it themselves). If neither you nor your landlord serve notice to end the tenancy, your tenancy will automatically turn into a periodic tenancy and you may still be responsible for rent, bills and other costs even if you move out.

What is the notice period for an assured shorthold tenancy?

Your tenancy agreement will normally state how much notice you need to give in order to terminate your tenancy. If this is not specified you will need to give a minimum of 1 months’ notice which expires no earlier than the end of the initial tenancy.

If your initial fixed term is up and you have not yet signed a new fixed-term tenancy agreement, you can end your tenancy by giving the amount of notice specified in your tenancy agreement. However, if you sign a new fixed-term agreement, you will again be liable for the full rent for that term.

If you have a periodic tenancy, you can also end your tenancy by giving either one months’ notice (if it runs month to month) or four weeks’ notice (if it runs week to week). You can either give notice on the first or last day of your tenancy.

Other ways to end your tenancy

There are two exceptions that can allow you to end your tenancy early:

  1. If the tenancy agreement contains a ‘break clause’ specifying that you can end the tenancy early and under what circumstances you are entitled to do so.
  2. Your landlord agrees to end the tenancy early (it is advisable to get such an agreement in writing).

If you leave a rental property before the end of your tenancy without the landlord’s agreement you will still be liable for the rent. The landlord may be able to deduct money from your tenancy deposit or apply for a court order to recover unpaid rent.

Covid-19 and tenancy agreements

As mentioned, there have been a number of changes to tenancy agreements in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Under new restrictions:

  • Landlords need to give tenant 3 months’ notice is they intend to seek possession between 26 March and 30 September 2020
  • From 27 March, the court service has suspended all ongoing housing possession activity. This will initially last for 90 days
  • Tenants struggling to pay rent are being encouraged to arrange a rent payment scheme with their landlord
  • Landlords who have Buy to Let mortgages will be protected by a 3-month mortgage holiday

Need help ending a tenancy agreement early?

Bird & Co Solicitors is a long-established law firm offering buy to let property services and residential property dispute resolution services to landlords and tenants across England and Wales from our 3 offices in the East Midlands.

We can provide clear, practical advice on your rights and responsibilities under fixed term tenancy agreements.

In relation to landlords, we can help with all aspects of buy to let property, including buying and selling property, creating tenancy agreements and dealing with landlord-tenant disputes quickly and cost-effectively.

In relation to tenants, we can provide expert advice on tenants’ rights, tenancy agreements, renewing or ending a tenancy, and handling landlord-tenant disputes.

To find out more about our property services, call us today on 01476 372 038 or use our contact page to find details of your nearest office.