Ending the tenancy early (deed of surrender)

Introduction

In most cases, your tenants will stay in the property far beyond the length of the contract you agreed with them. Tenants in England stay in the same property for four years on average according to the English Housing Survey. 

However, sometimes circumstances change and a tenant may want to end their tenancy agreement before the fixed term. This guide provides information on what to do in these situations as well as a document to help you both agree to end the tenancy if you do agree to let them end the contract early.

Ending the tenancy during a fixed term

As a starting point, a tenancy agreement provides the tenant with control of the property for a specific period of time. In exchange, they agree to pay the rent for the duration of that period. Once this is set, neither party can end the agreement during this fixed term unless -

  • the landlord regains possession in the fixed term through a statutory notice (such as a section 8 notice)
  • the tenancy has become frustrated (it cannot be fulfilled) by an unforeseeable event (freak weather destroying the property for example)
  • there is a break clause in the tenancy agreement allowing the tenant or landlord to end the agreement early
  • both parties mutually agree to end the tenancy early.

If none of these conditions apply, then the tenancy will continue until at least the end of the fixed term. In most cases, the tenancy will continue on beyond that until either you or your tenant choose to end it by serving a notice.

My tenant has asked me to agree to end the tenancy early. Do I have to?

As your contract is binding on both parties, you are free to refuse a request to end the tenancy early. You are under no obligations to give up your entitlement to any rent due during the fixed term of the contract and you can hold your tenant to the contract they signed until the fixed term ends.

However, practically it is likely to be worth considering. If the tenants circumstances have changed they may be unable to pay the rent and you may be able to find an alternative tenant who can. Similarly, if the tenant leaves the property without informing you then it can be difficult to collect rent and difficult to regain possession.

My tenants appear to have left the property without informing me. Is this considered surrender?

Where a tenant vacates property without informing you, then this may be considered surrender. When the tenant's actions are inconsistent with the tenancy continuing then this could be considered an 'implied surrender' on the part of the tenant.

Landlords should be careful around accepting surrender in these cases, particularly where the tenancy is still inside a fixed term. A landlord needs to have a court order to regain possession of their property or terminate the tenancy usually. If you take back the property without first seeking a court order, then you may be considered to have unlawfully evicted the tenant if they return. This is particularly true where your tenant has not been in contact to tell you of their intention to leave.

What if the tenant has left the keys with me?

If the tenant has dropped off the keys with you or your agent then this will not count as surrender unless you agree to a surrender. Consider this as an offer to surrender the tenancy from the tenant which you are free to accept or not accept. Many landlords in these situations prefer to make the best of the situation; contact the tenant and inform them you will begin looking for a suitable replacement but you will not accept surrender yet; once the replacement is found you can arrange to surrender the existing tenancy and stop charging the existing tenant rent.

Surrender Agreement

If you do decide to allow the tenancy to end early, then you should always seek to formalise this in writing. This is known as 'express surrender'. To help our members we have produced a template for use in these situations. This deed of surrender document provides certainty that the tenants have given up their rights to remain in the property.

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