The legal stuff
The assured shorthold tenancy or AST is the most common tenancy in the United Kingdom—it’s assumed your tenancy falls into this category. There are two main types of AST: periodic (or rolling), where the agreement has no end date; and fixed-term, where the end date is specified (and automatically turns into a periodic tenancy if no other actions are taken by either party). Your legal roles and requirements will differ based on the type of tenancy and the reasons behind termination of the lease. Let’s take a look at each scenario in turn.
On a tenancy that renews automatically month-to-month, the legal burdens on either party are relatively small. If you as a landlord wish to reclaim the property, you must supply two months’ written notice to quit. The tenant, on the other hand, should give at least one month’s notice. If the rental period happens to be longer than one month, then the notice given can instead match the rental period.
It’s difficult for either party to end a fixed-term tenancy in the middle of the term unless both come to an agreement. Some tenancy agreements feature a break clause that specifies the amount of time needed to break the lease. Without this clause, the tenant lacks the legal ability to break the lease and will be expected to pay owed rent even if they vacate the property (again, unless a mutual agreement is reached).
As a landlord, forcing someone out of the property is also difficult to do. If the tenant is breaking the terms of their lease due to excessive damage or disrepair, illegal activities within the property, not letting the landlord in to perform regular property inspections, or some other violation, the landlord can serve a Section 21 notice and begin eviction proceedings if dispute resolution has gone nowhere. See our article on tenant disputes for a further examination of what happens when tenants and landlords disagree.
Handing things over
When it comes time for the tenant to leave, there are a number of steps you and the tenant should follow, most of which should be clearly documented in the tenancy agreement. But following are some items that should never be forgotten.
Compile all communications.
It is a good idea to maintain a written record of all communications that have taken place between you and your tenants. Collecting and reviewing this information can be helpful should any disputes arise later in the process.
Remind tenants of their obligations.
This should echo what is already in the tenancy agreement, but it will be helpful to make tenants’ responsibilities clear to the tenant before the move-out date. For example, making sure the property is cleaned, returning keys, setting up a forwarding address, and taking final meter readings and notifying utility companies of their upcoming departure. This is also a good time to remind tenants that they may be required to allow the property to be seen by new prospects.
Arrange and perform a move-out inspection.
An inventory and evaluation should have been completed at the start of the tenancy, which will help when conducting the move-out inspection. This end-of-tenancy inspection is the final opportunity to assess the property for required cleaning, damage outside of normal wear and tear, and potential illegal activities, any of which can result in withholding all or a portion of the tenant’s security deposit. See our complete article about the specifics of performing a move-out inspection.
Return the security deposit.
The tenant’s security deposit should have been held in a government-approved tenancy deposit scheme. After performing a move-out inspection, it is generally required that the deposit be returned within 10 days of the end of tenancy. If there are any issues that need to be addressed, tenants should also be given the opportunity to correct them before anything is taken out of the deposit.
Finally, if you are using the services of a letting agent or other rental assistance, these businesses can help smooth the end of tenancy process and perform tasks like move-out inspections. Finding the right kinds of assistance is difficult, so consult the Sharehouse trust partnership network to evaluate your options.
The end of a tenancy may be a stressful time for both tenants and landlords, but with good recordkeeping, attention to detail, and strong lines of communication, it can proceed with a minimum of issues.