Landlord's short guide to ending a residential tenancy
This short guide can help landlords end a residential tenancy. This article takes into account all the necessary questions that a landlord should be concerned about before the tenants move out.
When and how does a tenancy end?
A property can be surrendered by the tenants under the following circumstances:
- when the tenant leaves voluntarily at the end of a fixed-term
- after either the tenant or landlord gives notice to the other to end the agreement
- by mutual agreement between the tenant and landlord
- by court possession order (eviction)
The key to a smooth handover is good preparation.
You should make sure you know when the fixed-term of the tenancy ends, and check in advance with your tenants as to whether they intend to leave or continue renting on a periodic basis (usually month by month). You can ask informally, such as by a telephone call or e-mail message.
If the tenants do intend to leave, you should remind them of their obligations under their agreement before they vacate. For example, that they should leave the house in a clean state.
Make sure you have a copy of your original inventory or schedule of condition.
Make an appointment for handover with your tenants during which you will:
- check the property for damage using the inventory
- take possession of the keys
- agree (if possible) on how much of the deposit will be returned and in what timeframe
Keep a watch out for the following
Be wary of accepting surrender when you do not intend to do so, for example by accepting tenants' keys or engaging in verbal exchanges that could be misunderstood (you don't want the situation to be thought of as a retaliatory eviction for example).
For an AST (the most common type), a tenant can only end the tenancy:
- if the fixed term is at an end; or
- if they have served the correct notice after the end of the fixed-term; or
- by mutual agreement with the landlord.
Tenants are liable for paying rent until the tenancy is ended legitimately. You should remind your tenants about this.
Be sure that you are not taking on any sublets or lodgers arranged by the tenants: surrender should be conditional on you receiving a vacant property.
What if the tenants appear to have abandoned the property?
Never assume tenants have vacated without proper evidence. There are any number of legitimate reasons a tenant may have for leaving temporarily that do not imply surrender.
Do not enter the property or interfere with their possessions until you've obtained a possession order through the court. Unless the tenancy has been ended by the above conditions they are still legally in residence regardless of how long they have been away or how large any rent arrears. If you try to re-enter or repossess without a court order you could be charged for unlawful eviction. That said, if the tenant owes rent you may be justified in re-entering the property.
If the property is clearly vacant, for example if the tenant's possessions have been removed or they have returned their keys or left them behind, then you may reasonably assume the property has been surrendered.
For more information, read our article about tenant abandonment.
Return of deposits
After you have checked the property (conducting a second inventory) and have resolved any issues relating to the deposit, the tenants must vacate the property and hand over their keys before you arrange for the agreed deposit amount to be released.
Remember that you cannot deduct from the deposit for fair wear and tear resulting from normal use.
If the deposit is protected by a deposit protection scheme, then inform the scheme administrators of the outcome.
They will either pay the agreed amounts to you and to the tenants within 10 days (in the case of a custodial scheme), or you will be required to pay the tenant the amount agreed and notify the scheme administrators (in the case that you have used an insurance schemes).
If you cannot agree on a deposit settlement and the deposit is protected under a protection scheme, then you should refer the dispute for arbitration by informing the scheme administrators.
The procedure for resolving deposit disputes is covered here. If you decide that damage done by the tenant comes to more than the deposit, you may wish to make a dilapidations claim in the county court.
For unprotected deposits you can simply pay the tenants the agreed amount.
If you dispute what this should be, you can take the case to your local county court. Note that it is easier for both you and the tenants to agree a settlement out of court, than go to court. A slight compromise now might save you much time and stress later.
If the tenant owes rent, then you may deduct it from the deposit accordingly, or bring a claim to the county court. A court claim is only advisable if there is a good chance that the tenant can pay.
Note that you will not be able to claim for unpaid rent after you have re-let the property.
Property left by the tenant
If the tenant leaves any of their possessions in the property, you cannot sell or dispose of them until you've taken specific steps to ensure that he or she no longer wants them.
Send the tenant (or each one if you have let the property to more than one) a letter by recorded delivery stating your name and address, the items left, where they are held and the date after which the items will be disposed of. You must give a reasonable amount of time for the items to be collected.
If you don't have a forwarding address, before you dispose of the items, you must be able to demonstrate that you've made reasonable efforts to find the owners. This could mean using a tracing agent.
Keep copies of letters, receipts for deliveries and agents' reports. If the items are not claimed or you cannot locate your former tenants, keep records of the disposal or sale of the items. The important thing to note here is that you are dealing with property that is not your own, and if you do not take these precautions you could be liable for a claim for damages from your former tenant.
Further information and useful documents
We have a collection of articles on residential tenancy that cover a wide range of factors, both legal and practical.
If you need a residential tenancy agreement, you can find a range for different types of property here.
You may also be interested in reading about notices to end a tenancy.
Please note that the information provided on this page:
- Does not provide a complete or authoritative statement of the law;
- Does not constitute legal advice by Net Lawman;
- Does not create a contractual relationship;
- Does not form part of any other advice, whether paid or free.
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