A tenancy agreement is a legally binding contract which places certain obligations on both you as the tenant and the landlord. When the tenancy is for a fixed term, you generally have an obligation to pay rent for the property until that fixed term is over.
When it comes to ending a tenancy agreement early, the process and your obligations as a tenant will depend on whether:
- your tenancy agreement includes a break clause that allows you to end your tenancy early
- there is no break clause but your landlord agrees to the early ending of the tenancy
- neither of the above are in place.
Ending a tenancy agreement early by way of a break clause
A break clause in a tenancy agreement allows you as the tenant or your landlord to end a fixed term tenancy agreement early. It does not, however, allow the landlord to end the tenancy before six months have passed unless particular conditions of the agreement have been breached, for instance, where you have fallen into rent arrears.
You do not need your landlord’s agreement to use the break clause to end your tenancy agreement early.
Even with the break clause in place, however, you must adhere to the assigned minimum notice laid out in the tenancy agreement. A break clause may also include further conditions, relating perhaps to rent payments or the condition of the property. For instance, the break clause may state that it cannot be enacted where the tenant has fallen into rent arrears.
Generally, you must give written notice to your landlord unless your tenancy agreement states that an emailed notice is acceptable.
It is always recommended that you receive some form of proof of receipt, when delivering your notice. This could be a written or printed receipt, given to you when you deliver the notice by hand, or the online proof of receipt provided by the Royal Mail should you post your notice to your landlord using recorded delivery.
Ending a tenancy agreement early with your landlord’s agreement
Where you wish to end your tenancy agreement early but there is no break clause in place, your landlord is under no obligation to allow this to happen. You have agreed to pay the rent for the entire fixed term by signing the tenancy agreement.
Where your landlord agrees to allow you to end the tenancy agreement early, this is known as a surrender.
Your first step should be to talk to your landlord and explain the situation to them. It may well be that they will agree to your wish to end the tenancy agreement early in which case the next stage will be to negotiate the terms of this arrangement, such as:
- the amount of notice they require
- the date you must leave the property by
- any consequences for your deposit
- whether you must find new tenants to cover the remaining part of the fixed term
- whether you must wait until the landlord can find new tenants to cover the remaining part of the fixed term
It is always recommended that you receive the agreed terms of the surrender in writing or by email as proof should there be any future misunderstandings or disagreements. This document is called a surrender of tenancy.
Ideally, the surrender of tenancy should include:
- the address of the rental property
- your name and address
- your landlord’s name and address
- when the tenancy agreement will come to an end
- any payments required from you as the tenant, such as rent or the costs of returning
- the property to its condition at the beginning of the fixed term
- whether you as the tenant retain any obligation (e.g. to pay rent until a new tenant is found)
- any other conditions or terms relating to the ending of the tenancy agreement
The weight of power in this situation is with the landlord and you are dependent on their agreement and good will. They are under no obligation to agree to ending the tenancy early or to find a new tenant to replace you during the fixed term.
Ending a tenancy agreement early without a break clause and without your landlord’s agreement
Where there is no break clause in the tenancy agreement and your landlord does not agree to your request to end the agreement early, there are unfortunately very few options left open to you.
You are obligated to pay rent for the full fixed term, regardless of whether you remain in the property or not.
One option is to ask your landlord whether they will allow you to end the tenancy agreement early if you can find a new tenant. Alternatively, the landlord may say that you must continue your tenancy, during the fixed term, until they can find a new tenant.
If you leave the property without the landlord’s agreement, this is known as abandonment. Your landlord will be within their rights to deduct any rent payments that you have not paid for the remaining fixed term from your deposit and to take court action against you to recover any further arrears.
Abandoning a rental property can make it more difficult to find new rental accommodation because of the checks that are carried out on any prospective tenant.
A joint tenancy agreement lists more than one person as tenant. The responsibility to pay rent, maintain the condition of the rental property, and follow the conditions of the agreement is shared jointly between the listed tenants.
As a joint tenant, you may only end a tenancy agreement early if all the listed tenants agree. If all the joint tenants agree, then you may only end a tenancy agreement early where a break clause is in place or your landlord is in agreement.
Where one joint tenant wishes to leave, the remaining tenants should enter discussions with the landlord. Options available to them may be to find someone to take on the tenancy in place of the person who has left, or to negotiate a new tenancy agreement with the landlord.
Should one of the joint tenants leave without notifying the landlord, they may still bear the obligation to pay rent for the remainder of the fixed term.
How to plan ahead for ending a tenancy agreement early
You can’t predict unexpected changes, such as the loss of a job, but you can plan ahead to make life easier should there be a surprise development that means you can’t remain in your rented property.
First, consider the length of the fixed term of the tenancy agreement you are entering. The landlord may ideally want a fixed term of one year, but if you feel that six or nine months would be better, discuss this with your landlord. This is a particularly wise approach to take when there are known changes on the horizon, such as buying a house or the birth of a child.
If your landlord isn’t happy with a shorter fixed term, you could discuss whether they would be happy with a shorter fixed term followed by a periodic tenancy, rolling over from one month to the next, for instance.
If the landlord is not willing to shorten the fixed term of the rental, or you are happy with the fixed term that the landlord is offering, ask if they would add a break clause to the tenancy agreement.