What happens if you are a tenant living in a privately rented property that has a fixed term tenancy and you have to leave it early? Perhaps your job has changed and you need to move out of the area or a family member has become ill and you are leaving to care for them. Or maybe the accommodation is substandard and the landlord is refusing to act on your requests for repairs.
Bu ending a fixed term tenancy early can give rise to issues and may result in your landlord taking legal action against you. This article provides a tenant’s guide to the implications of ending a fixed term tenancy early.
What is a fixed term tenancy?
A fixed term tenancy is also referred to as an assured shorthold tenancy. A fixed term tenancy does exactly what it suggests and lasts for a fixed term – the term must be for at least six months and depending upon the landlord and how long they wish to rent the property could last for as long as five years, and in some cases even longer.
A fixed term tenancy should not be confused with ‘lifetime’ tenancies which have no set end date.
During the tenancy, you must meet the responsibilities and obligations as set out in your tenancy agreement, which could include:
- Payment of rent and any other charges relating to the property
- Giving any contractors access when required for essential repairs and safety checks, including in an emergency
- Engaging with the landlord as and when required
- Ensuring you do not cause a nuisance to the neighbours or that your guests do not cause one either.
As a tenant, you have the right to remain in the property for the period stipulated in the tenancy agreement.
You also have an obligation to pay rent for the full period of the tenancy, unless the landlord lets the property to other tenants.
The three options available to you at the end of a fixed term tenancy, are:
- Sign a new agreement for a fixed term tenancy
- Allow it to become a rolling “periodic” tenancy
- End the tenancy
If your landlord doesn’t offer to renew the tenancy it automatically turns into something called a rolling or “periodic tenancy”. This means that you can remain in the property on a flexible basis until such time either of you serve notice to quit, which must be a minimum of two months, but depends on when the tenancy was taken out. If in doubt, check with your landlord or agent and read your tenancy agreement which should stipulate the notice period required.
The landlord also has the right to end the contract at the end of the fixed term period, providing they have given notice as required under the tenancy agreement.
If you have a joint tenancy with other tenants, discuss with the other tenants named on the agreement what they want to do. Obviously, if there is a consensus that you all want to stay or alternatively, leave, then the situation is straightforward. If any of the joint tenants want to stay past the end of the fixed term and other’s leave, it will not automatically end the joint tenancy. If you are one of the tenants leaving, unless you ensure a new agreement is in place for those who want to remain in the property, you could be liable for rent even if you have left.
Can a fixed term tenancy be ended early?
If you need to leave the property earlier than the end of the fixed term period then you can do this in one of two ways:
- Use a break clause in the contract (if there is one), or
- Negotiate a surrender of the tenancy with your landlord, or
- Try to prove that the landlord is in breach of the agreement and has failed to remedy that breach.
You remain liable for rent until the end of the fixed period if you do not end the tenancy in any of these ways.
This applies even if the property is substandard or you have complaints about the landlord. Simply walking away from a fixed term tenancy agreement early, without a break clause or without agreement from the landlord, can have consequences, as you continue to be responsible for paying the rent during the fixed term period.
A break clause allows both a tenant and a landlord to give notice to end a tenancy earlier than the fixed term. There is no standard format for a break clause so you should check your contract to see what was agreed. It may not be obvious to you that there is one, this is because they are rarely headed as such. Look for anything about giving notice or terminating a tenancy early.
Not every tenancy has a break clause, some tenancy agreements have them as standard, others only contain them if a tenant has specifically requested one. So you shouldn’t be surprised if you don’t find one.
If you do have one, you should check in which circumstances you can use the break clause. It is usual for a break clause to be on or after a certain date, and there are some contracts that only allow it to be used at an exact point in the contract but not after that date has passed.
All joint tenants must agree to end a joint fixed term tenancy early unless the contract states otherwise.
Notice needs to be given in the way stipulated within the break clause, this is called “exercising” or “activating” the break clause.
The break clause should clearly state:
- When you can give notice
- How much notice should be given
If you cannot understand the clause, or it is not clear, you should ask your landlord or the agent to explain it in writing. Alternatively, contact the Citizen’s Advice Bureau who will be able to assist.
It is important the bear in mind that when you have exercised the break clause and given notice, your right to live in the property ends and you will not be liable for ongoing rent. You cannot usually ask to withdraw a break clause notice so it is important to make sure you have somewhere else to live before giving it.
Surrendering the tenancy without a break clause
If your circumstances have changed or you are having problems with the landlord or the property, this does not automatically give you a right to end the tenancy earlier than the fixed term that has been agreed.
In cases where there is no break clause, you will need to negotiate with the landlord or agent to try and reach an agreement to end the tenancy early. This is called a “surrender”.
If you usually deal with the agent, then you should contact them initially so that they can put forward any proposals you have to the landlord on your behalf. Sometimes, it can take time for the agent to speak with the landlord and you may have to be patient, however, if the agent is unhelpful you should think about contacting your landlord direct.
If you are on good terms with your landlord then it will probably help you to broach the subject with them to get what you want – an early end to the tenancy. But even where there has been a less than cordial relationship between you, you should always keep communications polite and friendly.
The first step is to put your request in writing to the landlord or agent. Using email can be a quick and efficient way of dealing with things whilst also allowing you to keep track of an email chain of negotiations.
The first email should set out:
- Your detailed reasons for wanting to leave
- Any suggestions for a replacement tenant (where applicable)
Your landlord may be sympathetic if they understand the situation and want to help you resolve it. This may be particularly true if you can’t afford the rent because you have been made redundant, have suffered from a relationship breakdown or are at risk of violence in the home.
There may be a quid pro quo situation where a landlord has failed to follow their legal obligations and you offer to overlook those indiscretions in exchange for an early release from the fixed term tenancy, for example:
- If the deposit was protected incorrectly
- The landlord refuses to do any repairs
- The house doesn’t meet Home of Multiple Occupation (HMO) licensing rules
A tenant’s liability for rent does not end even where a landlord breaches their obligations and a tenant will still need to reach an agreement to surrender the tenancy to discharge that liability.
Before they agree to bring the tenancy to an early end, the landlord may ask you to meet certain criteria, such as:
- Paying a fee
- Giving up a deposit
- Finding a replacement tenant
- Paying the rent until replacement tenants move in
Any charge can only cover “reasonable costs” so if a fee seems high, you should ask the landlord for a breakdown of what it covers.
Finding a replacement tenant
If the landlord is confident of finding another tenant who can move in and start paying the rent as soon as you leave, they are more likely to agree to a surrender. You could help the landlord find new tenants by putting photographs, video’s or adverts of the property online. Perhaps you know of a friend or family member who has seen the property and are interested in renting it out. Either way, once a replacement tenant has been found it is essential they sign a new agreement with the landlord and pay a deposit to them (not to you) to ensure you are not liable for rent in the future.
Reaching an agreement
Once you have received a response from the landlord you should consider it even if they have attached criteria to the surrender. If the conditions are not too onerous or seem reasonable in the circumstances and they allow you to leave without incurring any further liability, then it is probably sensible to take the opportunity to end it.
A formal “deed of surrender” is not needed legally to end a tenancy early, although some landlord’s may insist upon it, and may include it as one of their conditions. If this is the case, make sure you get any conditions attached to the surrender in writing, including the date your liability for rent ends.
Fixed term tenancy FAQs
What happens at the end of a fixed term tenancy agreement?
If a tenant moves out at the end of a fixed term tenancy it ends and they will no longer have any liability to pay rent to the landlord. If a tenant remains in the property it will automatically turn into a rolling contract known as a “periodic tenancy”.
What is a fixed term tenancy UK?
A fixed term tenancy with a private landlord is for a specific length of time which can vary from contract to contract, although it is typically granted for a six-month period. Fixed term tenancies offered by a local authority or housing association can be more secure than renting from a private landlord because they are less likely to want the property back - and only then in certain situations.
Is a fixed term tenancy secure?
A fixed term tenancy is also known as an assured shorthold tenancy and is secure for the period fixed within the contract. Outside of that fixed term, the tenancy can be ended by either party giving notice.
What is the difference between an Assured Tenancy and a secure tenancy?
Assured tenancies and secure tenancies are similar in that both offer a high security of tenure and essentially act as a tenancy for life, known as “succession”. Although the succession rights granted to an assured tenancy are not as extensive as those for secure tenants.
What is a flexible fixed term tenancy?
A flexible fixed term tenancy is a type of secure tenancy that is granted for a fixed term with a minimum of two years and in most cases should be granted for a minimum period of five years. Flexible fixed term tenancies are usually offered by a local authority (council) or housing association and are secure for the term of the fixed term, meaning you can only be asked to vacate the property in certain circumstances.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.