Any advice for ending a lease early in the UK?
June 7, 2022 6:51 AM   Subscribe

My situation has changed, and I need to end my lease early so that I can start another one elsewhere here in London. I started the current lease at the beginning of April 2022 after having lived here for one year already, and would like for my last day of tenancy to be the beginning of September 2022: that's five months of full tenancy, with three months notice. Do you have any experience with doing this, and relevant advice for how to handle it going forward?

We have an estate agent handling our current rental property, and so far they have been very reasonable in our dealings. The lease doesn't have an explicit break clause named as such, but it does say this:

The Tenant goving not less than two calendar months' notice in writing to the Landlord or the Landlords Agent to expire at any time after the first six months of the term then this tenancy will be determined.

Is that, in effect, a break clause that means we can only leave at six months? Will we be on the hook for one more month of rent no matter what?

I think we can negotiate with our landlord, and maybe all will be fine because of the amount of notice we're giving, but any advice or experience you can share before I break the news to them (via email) would be very much appreciated.
posted by Ten Cold Hot Dogs to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
I'm finding that clause very difficult to make sense of, but I read it to mean that you're committed to the first six months, and subsequent to that may be able to break the lease without penalty, at the landlord's discretion and provided you give two months' notice. If it's in the lease you signed in April, then yes, I think you're nominally on the hook till October.

However. Does the current lease specify the consequences for leaving early? My experience of renting is now ten years out of date, so hopefully you'll get more up-to-date input from others... but IIRC my lease had a term in it to the effect that if I vacated early, I would be on the hook for rent and bills (council tax etc.) until the lease ended or the landlord found a new tenant, whichever happened first. If yours says something similar, then with three months' notice I'd be surprised if your landlord couldn't find a tenant for September... and if it *doesn't*, then perhaps that's at least an option to discuss.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 8:26 AM on June 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: IANAL. But, I am a residential landlord here in the UK (yes yes, I know). I'm assuming your tenancy is residential? If it is then you are under an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) and - unfortunately - you are on the hook until 6 months is up (30 September assuming you started on 1 April). The fixed term of an AST is binding on both parties (and was originally designed to give security to the tenant more than the landlord).

According to your contract you must give two months notice to quit, but if you give it earlier than 4 months you will only be free of the contract at 6 months (e.g. give notice at 3 months, leave at 6, give notice at 5 months, leave at 7)

Theoretically you will be responsible for the rent up to the end of the 6 month period. However, there is always the possibility that the agent/landlord will not hold you to it, if the property is easy to rent again (I fear this is unlikely though, most agencies in the UK are rapacious at best). Negotiation is the only option for an early exit, I'm afraid. Citizen's Advice has this to say on the matter, while Shelter says pretty much the same thing.

Hope this helps!
posted by offmessage at 9:28 AM on June 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Did you sign another 12 (or six?) months fixed term lease or did you go month to month after the year? That would be the two standard options in England.

Assuming you signed for six months fixed term then yes, you are on the hook for the six months.

To negotiate with the landlord I would recommend you think about the effect on the landlord. They have to pay the letting agent a fee for finding a new tenant, checking references, handling handover and cleaning etc. The reason why a monthly lease is more expensive is yes, you pay for flexibility but also, if you sign another fixed term lease, your landlord knows they won't have to incur these 'one off' expenses for another x months. The one off expenses for my UK rental property are about 70-80% of the first month rent of a new tenant when all is said and done.

I'd start by terminating the lease and by labouring the very long notice period and how flexible you'll be about viewings.

Then you can see how they react and what you may offer to meet them somewhere below the sixth month rent if required. In doing that I'd look at what your monthly renewal offer was, compared to the lower fixed one. I'd probably go and offer them the equivalent of the month to month for the remaining time until you plan to vacate.

And if that doesn't do it, offer a % of the last month rent. Hopefully, given the significant notice period they can work with, they'll be open for a reasonable suggestion - assuming you really are locked in for 6 months per the contract.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:30 AM on June 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

For future reference, in England, you do not need to start a new contract after the last one expires. The contract is for a minimum fixed term, not a maximum term. In other words, the contract is valid, and will automatically become a rolling tenancy, unless the landlord decides to kick you out with a Section 21 and two months notice. You, on the other hand, would also have gotten maximum flexibility, as you would be able to just end your lease with just one (or two? can't remember) month notice.

When a fixed-term tenancy ends, it automatically becomes a rolling tenancy if the tenant remains in occupation and doesn't move out -- from the Homelet blog.

If your one-year fixed term contract ended in April 2022, you could have just said to the landlord that you were fine letting the tenancy become a periodic tenancy, pay your rent as normal, then the landlord would have no legal recourse except to serve you a Section 21 notice with two months' notice period. And you would have maximum flexibility when to end your tenancy.

Additionally, there are plans to abolish Section 21 altogether, so if and when that happens, the landlord cannot kick you unless you haven't been paying your rents on time (Section 8).

It doesn't help you here, but hopefully it helps you and others reading this in the future, especially if you think you might be moving shortly.

I Am Not Your Lawyer, I'm merely well-seasoned renter, so please do check.
posted by moiraine at 9:31 AM on June 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

Just to clarify - my letting agency sends my tenants a renewal offer and that has a price difference for another fixed term/month to month for the reasons outlined in my earlier post. But it is possible your landlord's agency doesn't do that.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:38 AM on June 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

You've linked to Shelter's website - are you aware they can offer advice on private rentals? I'd get on the webchat with their advisors, who are experts, and will probably offer better advice than us. Citizen's Advice Bureau can probably also help, but I'd start by asking Shelter.
posted by penguin pie at 2:26 PM on June 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I used some of your talking points to "soften the blow" (boohoo, poor landlord I know) and it was simply accepted: no extra fees, no trying to keep us on for the sixth month, nothing at all. I really appreciate your help though, I was a bit nervous sending it!
posted by Ten Cold Hot Dogs at 3:18 AM on July 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

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