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So Long, Fare-well - Can My Tenant End Their Tenancy Early?

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The one thing buy-to-let landlords value above all else is a good, long-term tenant who looks after your property and pays their rent on time.  Trying to find new tenants is always slightly stressful – with buy-to-lets, it is often a case of “better the devil you know.”

Fixed-term tenancies provide landlords with surety that they will have their buy-to-let rented for a specified period, usually 12-months.  But what if your tenant wishes to vacate early, thereby breaking the tenancy agreement. 

Can a tenant end their fixed-term residential tenancy before the contracted date?

Check to see if there is a break clause in the tenancy agreement

Some fixed-term tenancy agreements have a break clause included.  For example, if your tenant has a fixed-term tenancy for 12 months, the tenancy agreement may include a break clause which states they can leave the property without receiving any penalty six months into the tenancy.

Before entering into a tenancy agreement, it is crucial to have your solicitor look it over and advise you on the legal implications of break clauses.  Letting agents sometimes favour break clauses as they can use them to get a 12-month fee up front even if the tenant only intends to stay for 6 months.

If you are happy to include a break clause, to ensure your interests are protected, it is recommended that you state that the tenant must provide a period of notice, delivered in writing, before exercising their rights, i.e. six to eight weeks.

Periodic tenancies

A periodic tenancy refers to a situation where the tenancy rolls over week-by-week or month-by-month.  At the end of a fixed-term tenancy, if a tenant stays even one day after the end-date, the tenancy automatically becomes periodic, and they must provide you with property notice before quitting.

Normally the tenant should give four weeks’ written notice if they wish to end a periodic tenancy.  The notice must be in writing and must end on the first or last day of the tenancy unless the tenancy agreement allows it to be ended on a different day.  If rent is paid less frequently, a tenant must give at least one rental period of notice.  For example, if rent is paid every two months, two months’ notice would be required before the tenant can leave the property.

What if my tenant just leaves?

If your tenant simply leaves the property without giving proper notice, it is known as abandonment. 

Just because your tenant has left the property does not mean their legal obligations have ended.

You must be sure that your tenant has truly abandoned their tenancy before you make moves to change the locks or re-let the property.  In most well-drafted tenancy agreements, a clause will require a tenant to inform the landlord if they plan to be away from the property for a certain period, thus eliminating any confusion. 

It is crucial that you carry out reasonable checks to confirm whether your tenant has abandoned their tenancy.  They may have been taken to hospital and unable to communicate to you or had some other tragedy befall them.  Things you can do to try and shed light on the situation are:

  • check with neighbours, family or friends of the tenant
  • see if the keys have been returned to the letting agent
  • find out if the tenant's furniture and/or personal belongings are still in the house

Even if you suspect the property has been abandoned, a landlord can only enter it without permission under certain conditions.  For example, you may be worried that the electricity or gas has been left on and damage may occur to your property.  If you feel you must enter the premises, take a witness with you to confirm the condition of the property and the actions you took.

If you change the locks for security purposes, you need to put a clear notice on the door letting the tenants know where they can retrieve the new keys from.

To be safe, it is best to apply to the court for a possession order if you suspect your tenant has abandoned the tenancy.  In doing so, you eliminate the risk of having charges brought against you by the tenant under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.  You could also face civil litigation from the new tenants you have re-let the property to as you are likely to have breached your obligations under the tenancy contract you have agreed with them.

You can mutually agree to end a tenancy early

If a tenant wishes to end a tenancy early, you can agree to let them do so. Sometimes unexpected circumstances can come out of the blue, such as the tenant being offered their dream job in a foreign country.  In cases like this, you can choose to work with the tenant to find suitable occupants who are prepared to take over the tenancy.  However, you are under no obligation to do so, and the tenant is legally responsible for paying rent and abiding by all the covenants in the tenancy agreement until proper notice is given or the fixed-term expires.

Bird & Co Solicitors are a long established solicitors firm with three offices in the East Midlands.  We have a particular specialism in property transactions and conveyancing.  If you would like more information or advice regarding landlord and tenant matters, please contact us on 01476 591711.