How can a tenant end a residential tenancy and stay within the law – usually with a Tenant’s Notice to Quit?
In practice most residential tenancies in England and Wales end (over 90 per cent of them) with tenants giving their landlord notice.
These guidelines are based on English law and are not a definitive interpretation of the law, every case is different and only a court can decide, so if in doubt seek expert advice.
This may be by a casual telephone call, or these days by text or e-mail. Most landlords accept this as being reasonable and will expect around 1 month’s notice as stipulated in most tenancy agreements.
The default residential tenancy after 28 February 1997 is the Assured Shorthold Tenancies (AST). Prior to that, tenancies after 15 January 1988 would also be ASTs if your landlord gave you a notice prior to signing to the effect that this is an AST (s20 Nortice). ASTs are covered by the Housing Acts 1988 and 1996.
Notice – Fixed Term Tenancy
A fixed term tenancy (contract) cannot be terminated before the end of the term unless there is a break clause, or surrender is agreed by the landlord, or one or other party is in serious breach of the contract.
Sometimes landlords will agree an early surrender, or if the tenant will pay compensation and/or costs of re-letting, but there is no legal obligation on the landlord to accept to this.
If a tenant terminates early and unilaterally without good reason there is a risk this will be challenged in court by the landlord and costs and damages may be awarded. A tenant is legally obliged to pay rent to the end of the fixed term.
With Assured Shorthold Tenancies (ASTs) there are 17 grounds on which the landlord can seek early termination for breach of contract under s8 of the Housing Acts 1988 and 1996, some of which are mandatory and some discretionary (the judge decides) grounds.
At the end of a residential fixed-term tenancy the tenancy ends on the last day* and providing the tenant leaves before or on the last day of the tenancy, it is possible to leave without giving any notice as no notice is required under the Housing Acts.
However, in the fixed term the tenancy agreement may require the tenant to give notice and this should always be complied with. Of course, most tenants do give the landlord notice out of common courtesy as they want a proper check-out to be performed, pending return of the deposit.
*For example, a 6-month AST commencing on the 1st of June will end on the last day of November (30th). A periodic tenancy would then run on from the 1st of December until the 31st of December, 1st of January until the 31st and so on, month by month until ended by either landlord or tenant. The landlord is required to give two full tenancy periods’ notice ending on the last day of a period, whereas the tenant is only required to give one tenancy period’s notice, again ending on the last day of a period.
Notice – Periodic Tenancy
A Periodic Tenancy (Rolling Contract) on the other hand can only be ended by the tenant serving a formal Notice to Quit on the landlord. At common law the minimum notice period is one complete period of the tenancy, subject to a minimum of 28 days (Protection from Eviction Act (PEA) 1977 s5).
The method of service should follow that stipulated (and therefore agreed) in the Tenancy Agreement (Contract) and the server should request proof of service.
Most AST periodic tenancies are monthly (rent is paid monthly), so the tenancy periods, once the tenancy becomes a statutory periodic tenancy (SPT), are one month in length. Weekly tenancies (rent paid weekly) require a 28 day minimum notice period.
The Tenant’s notice must be in writing, though there is no prescribed form this must take, it must be for a minimum of one complete tenancy period, and must expire on the last day or the first day of a tenancy period.
Shorter notice may be accepted by the landlord, but there is no legal obligation on the landlord to accept a shorter notice than is required by law.
A tenant’s Notice to Quit in a Periodic Tenancy will end the tenancy. Once a notice to quit has been served this cannot be cancelled except by agreement with the landlord.
If the landlord insists, the tenant must then leave on or after the notice expiry date. If the tenant stays after the expiry date (holds over) the landlord is legally entitled to charge double rent** for every day the tenant stays.
Where there are joint tenants any one tenant can end the tenancy by serving a valid Notice to Quit.
This will be the case even when other tenants do not want the tenancy to end and have not been consulted. The landlord may not seek to end the tenancy for the remaining tenant/s, but if s/he does any tenant remaining after the notice expiry will be a trespasser, though the landlord will need a court Possession Order to evict the remaining tenant/s.
** Double Rent – where a tenant is able to a give notice to quit under the terms of the tenancy and has given to the landlord a valid notice to quit, and subsequently does not give up possession on the date of expiry of this notice, the landlord is able to demand double rent under section 18 of the Distress fro Rent Act 1737.
A Tenant’s Notice to Quit is available to download from the Documents (Mid-Tenancy) Section of the LandlordZONE® website here: www.landlordzone.co.uk/documents
By Tom Entwistle, LandlordZONE®
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©LandlordZONE All Rights Reserved – never rely totally on these general guidelines which apply primarily to England and Wales. They are not definitive statements of the law. Before taking action or not, always do your own research and/or seek professional advice with the full facts of your case and all documents to hand.