Well, this was bound to happen, wasn’t it? Covering the topic of how to end a tenancy agreement seems like the natural step of progression after blogging about how to renew a tenancy agreement. Granted, both topics equally as unfulfilling to write (and probably to read if it’s not relevant to your current needs) as each other, but undeniably important and inevitable steps of being a landlord.
That said, I’m not just following the natural order of progression, because cutting ties with a tenant was something I recently had to deal with, so there is a hint of unchoreographed coincidence and relevance to this follow-up blog post. Of course, it’s also worth noting the poetic and uncanny timing, since we are approaching the end of the year and this might just be the last blog post of the year. So the general theme is ‘the end’. How fabulously morbid.
Ending tenancy agreements properly
Unfortunately, the termination I recently experienced was particularly squeaky clean and civil, so I don’t have a juicy story to toss your way for you to salivate over. I know that comes as sad news, as many of you would have taken extreme Christmas joy from hearing about how my tenant refused to vacate, and then in a fit of rage, hit me over the head with a saucepan, and then went onto serenading my girlfriend on my car bonnet, all while I lay on the floor gasping for air. Yeah, that didn’t happen. In fact, I was kindly parted with a box of Ferrero Rocher for my terrific service over the years. But I digress.
Ending a tenancy agreement may seem like an easy process. Actually, in general, it is an easy process, but it’s probably not as easy as many landlords believe, and that’s why many terminations aren’t exactly legit. Or to put it more accurately, in many cases, the method(s) used could be successfully disputed in court if it was to be challenged by a tenant. In that situation, the landlord could unwillingly find himself attached to an excruciatingly annoying occupant that has legal rights to stay put, along with a hefty legal bill. Lose/lose situation.
Fortunately, for the sake of the landlord, most tenants are just as comically gormless and clueless about landlord law as they are, so the tenant blindly obliges to the back alley tactics deployed by their landlord. Ignorance is bliss. However, there’s only so many times a landlord can get away with repeating the same level of incompetence before eventually getting caught out by someone that actually has some grasp of the legitimate procedures or has a small dosage of good sense (because that’s all it really takes) to find out.
Most notoriously (and worryingly), many landlords and tenants believe that a tenancy agreement automatically terminates on the date which is stipulated and agreed upon in a tenancy agreement, next to the “end date” field. That’s probably the biggest misconception in regards to ending tenancies. All the “end date” ultimately indicates is “when” a tenancy agreement can be terminated, not actually when it WILL be terminated. Another popular misconception is that landlords believe they can just say “get out” to their tenants on a whim, when the mood strikes, without serving official notice and/or following proper procedures. It’s often amusing and embarrassing when landlords try to shamelessly throw their beer-gut around like that.
Despite popular belief, and as difficult as it may be to appreciate at times, a tenancy should be terminated/ended through the correct legal procedures. While following the path set out by the powers that be may not always the most desirable of methods, especially when you’re dealing with unscrupulous, shit-for-brains tenants that are scamming the system and refusing to leave, it is still better advised to bow down and play by the rules (I know that can be gut-wrenching at times). That’s usually the safer and cheapest option, albeit being a typically slow and painful process. It can often feel like a slow death.
Daringly, I’m not going to frown upon any warm-blooded landlord that takes matters in their own grubby little hands when circumstances are extreme. I say that, not because I condone such notions or because I would personally participate in such schemes, but because I understand that landlord law is total bullshit and a complete failure when it comes to protecting landlords against rent-dodging, careless and unmanageable tenants, and not everyone can be as noble and disciplined like myself.
When you’re dealing with a tenant that just simply doesn’t care, I can genuinely understand the frustrations and very real intentions of plotting to drag them out onto the streets by their teeth. I’ve had those thoughts on several occasions, but I’m too much of a pussy to follow through. But my God, have I had some amazing wet-dreams starring some of my most unsavory past tenants, all of which involved plenty of medieval torturing devices and gushing blood escaping from every orifice in the human anatomy. Quentin Tarantino style. If you choose to actually embark down a dark and ugly road without the support of the law, I won’t support you, but I hope you understand the potential consequences.
But enough of the sympathising with the unstable and insane, let’s get back to legitimate practices for normal people. Allow me to give you a rundown of the most common and legitimate methods of terminating/ending a tenancy agreement. Each method is different and will only apply to specific scenarios.
1) Section 21 – Serving a possession order
This is the most common method of ending an assured shorthold tenancy, but I also think people, especially novice landlords and tenants, get confused by what a “possession notice” is. It almost sounds complicated and sinister. But it isn’t at all. It’s fluffy and gentle.
A landlord has a legal right to repossess his/her property at the end of an assured shorthold tenancy, which is the end date specified in a tenancy agreement. For this to happen, the landlord is required to give the tenant appropriate notice by serve a Section 21 notice (under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988).
A section 21 is NOT an eviction notice, it’s simply a notice to inform the tenant that the landlord wishes to take their property back (even if the tenant has done nothing wrong). The landlord does not need to provide a reason for repossessing their property. However, the notice does not have the authority to end a tenancy during the fixed term; the landlord and tenant are both legally obligated to see through the tenancy terms.
It is important to note that a tenant legally requires 2 months notice from the landlord if they wish to end the tenancy. So if the end date in the tenancy agreement is 21st March 2015, and the landlord wishes to repossess the property on that date, a notice needs to be received by the tenant before 21st January 2015.
The section 21 can also be served during a periodic tenancy to end the tenancy, but 2 months notice is still required.
2) Tenancy Surrender
I guess this is the opposite view of a section 21 notice, kinda’. Instead of the landlord serving notice, the tenant is choosing to initiate the departure, via a surrender notice (notice to quit). Basically, the tenant is informing the landlord they wish to surrender the tenancy and vacate on said date.
A tenant can surrender their tenancy at the end of the tenancy or during a periodic tenancy, but they must give the landlord 1 months notice (the amount of notice required to be given during a periodic tenancy may differ). If a tenant wishes to vacate on the end date specified in the tenancy agreement, assuming the end date is 21st March 2015, the tenant should ensure the notice is received by the landlord before 21st February 2015.
3) Mutual agreement
This can be actioned at any point during a tenancy, whether it fixed or periodic. It’s when both landlord and tenant agree to end the tenancy. Ultimately, a mutual agreement of termination can be formed 1 day into a tenancy. It happens.
From my experience, this normally happens when a tenant requests to vacate during the fixed term, and the landlord obliges without putting up a fight. I’ve said the following a few times before, but I’ll say it again because I think it’s an important message: if a tenant wants to leave, it’s usually best just to mutually end the tenancy, as opposed to putting up a pointless fight and hopelessly exasperating yourself. The stress of going through that experience probably won’t be worth the outcome, which is usually a sour relationship, but more worryingly, a hostile tenant that feels entrapped in your property. If that isn’t a recipe for a disaster in the form of a tenant using your carpet as toilet paper and a cum-rag, I don’t know what is.
4) Section 8 – Tenant eviction
The crudest method of ending a tenancy agreement, and something we all want to avoid like genital herpes.
Serving a section 8 should mostly be the last option because going down this path can be long and complicated if the tenant chooses not to vacate on request of the notice. Before serving the notice, it’s worth trying to get your tenant to surrender the tenancy or try to salvage a mutual agreement. Of course, it’s not always as easy as that, some times tenants simply don’t want to play ball. That’s when a sledgehammer is useful.
A section 8 can be served at any point during a tenancy, but in many cases it’s easier and more practical to serve a Section 21 to get rid of a rogue tenant. The reason being is that a Section 8 doesn’t guarantee eviction/possession. A tenant may choose to ignore the notice and remain in the property and then the case may inevitably end up in court for the Judge to decide your fate. Regrettably, the outcome may not be in your favour, and consequently side with the tenant and grant them rights to remain in the property. Essentially, the entire situation could drag on for several months and you may not even get the desired outcome. I’ve never been in this situation, but it happens, and I imagine it’s truly soul-destroying.
However, as mentioned, a landlord has a legal right to repossess their property at the end of the tenancy (the end date specified in the tenancy agreement). So depending on what stage the tenancy is at, particularly if it’s approaching the end date, or in a periodic tenancy, it might be worth going down the section 21 route instead, because the landlord will automatically be granted possessions, no questions asked (assuming the Section 21 was served under the right circumstances).
On a sidenote, it’s worth noting that you can serve both a section 21 and 8 at the same time, and see which one takes effect the quickest. They’re totally independent notices, served for very distinct reasons (although, with the intent of having the same outcome).
5) Break clauses
Some tenancy agreements have ‘break clauses’, which is where landlord and tenant have the opportunity to end the tenancy agreement early. I personally don’t understand the point of break clauses because if you’re going to have one of those, you may as well just have a 6 month tenancy agreement (that’s the minimum length an assured shorthold tenancy can be). In any case, the terms and conditions of the break clause often depends on the clauses stipulated in the tenancy agreement.
Typically, the tenant or the landlord can serve notice (usually 2 months notice is required) during the fixed-term of the tenancy to end the tenancy early. The most common example where a break clause is used, is with in a 12 month contract, which allows for the opportunity to end the tenancy after 6 months. Essentially, either party can “break” the tenancy before the end date, as long as the correct procedures are followed.
Again, a landlord should serve a section 21 notice and the tenant should send a surrender notice (depending on who wants to take advantage of the break clause). More details available in the tenancy break clause blog post.
Few final points/tips…
- Serving notices alone won’t end/terminate a tenancy, they’re only requesting for the tenancy to end. A tenancy has only ended when a tenant has officially vacated and returned the keys. In the case of stubborn tenants, a court order maybe required to get a possession order.
Despite which method you use to terminate a tenancy, you may find yourself in a nerve racking situation where your lousy tenant refuses to vacate. Unfortunately, none of the methods above can force the tenant to physically leave.
- Record keeping: every action you take relating to ending a tenancy should be documented and a record should be kept. For example, if both landlord and tenant agree to mutually terminate the tenancy agreement, get something down on paper, dated and signed.
- Trackable delivery method: all correspondence should be trackable and leave behind a footprint, so either send everything via email or recorded delivery.
- Complications can occur: in most cases, ending tenancies is a relatively straight forward and a painless experience; landlords and tenants are most agreeable. I may have made the situation sound worse than it is for the average situation. However, I do want to emphasise how unimaginably shit and scary the situation can be if a party in the chain isn’t prepared to play ball. It can be truly terrifying. If you’re in this situation, I’ve covered a lot of what I think you should know in my My Tenant’s Rent Is Late blog post.
- Be fair and reasonable: if you’re a landlord giving your tenant notice, try to be as accommodating and reasonable as possible, especially if you’re trying to end a tenancy agreement with tenants that have always been good to you and don’t necessarily want to vacate. If they need an extra month in the property, perhaps it’s something you should allow for. Communication and compromising is always the best way of dealing with these issues.
- Timing is important: if you’re a landlord and you’re trying to terminate a tenancy, I would advise against informing your tenants too early, because they may find new accommodation sooner than you’re willing to let them escape. If them vacating early will cause you financial or logistical problems, I would carefully strategically calculate when the best time would be to inform them.
- End of tenancy cleaning: this can be a messy issue (pun-intended. I know, I’m disgustingly shameless!). The sad fact is, if I received a hand-job for every time there was a tenant/landlord dispute over the [poor] condition of the property during check-out I’d be a very happy man… probably quite chapped, too. Ouch.
The general rule is, tenants should leave the property in the same condition as they received it in, minus wear and tear, of course. Sounds simple enough, and it really, really, really should be. But no, it really, really, really isn’t in many cases. For more details on the horrific complexities of ‘cleaning’ (some people seem to really struggle with it), you may want to jump over to end of tenancy cleaning blog post.
I’m afraid that’s all I’ve got for you this time, but hopefully I’ve shed some light on an important matter to some of you, and perhaps even encouraged some landlords to reconsider their ill practices. As always, if anyone has any tips, nightmares or advice to share, you know what to do- shut the F up and royally do-one. Only joking. Use the comment box below and we’ll have a little natter.
As said in the earlier part of this post, this will probably be my last post of the year; I’m starting to get into the festive spirit, so I’ll mostly be senselessly drowning myself in a pool of tequila and boobs. I’ll still continue to spread my Christmas love on Twitter, but for those assholes that aren’t following me on there, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you a safe and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Without trying to intoxicate this blog post with pure cheese, I genuinely have been grateful for the continuous contribution from you all! I know every comment not only helps me, but also hundreds and thousands of readers! xoxo
Disclaimer: I'm just a simple landlord blogger, I am not qualified to give legal or financial advice. Any advice I give is my opinion based on my experience, and is never legal or professional advice. You should always get professional advice on any legal and financial matters!