Ending a tenancy – painlessly!

Even the best tenants will decide to move out eventually, so it’s important to understand your legal obligations. In this article, I’ll be looking at a situation where you and the tenant are in agreement that it’s time to move on, and that you’re doing so with goodwill all around. Anything more difficult is going to need a whole new article, but I do plan to share tips on that in the future!

So here are my top tips for ending a tenancy painlessly:

  • Make sure you give or receive the correct notice period.
    • This should be obvious, but you’d be amazed... You went to all of the trouble to make a legally valid contract at the start – don’t go breaching it now! The one exception would be if it suits both of you to end the tenancy with slightly less notice, in which case make sure you get their agreement in writing.
  • Use your inventory – carefully.
    • You know that inventory thing I keep mentioning on about? This is where it pays for itself ten times over – but only if you are as thorough about checking the property at the end as you were (or should have been) at the       start.
    • A cursory glance over is not going to be enough, and if you find it difficult to be impartial with the tenant watching you then take a friend and have them chat to the tenant while you methodically check everything that was on the original inventory. Keep last week’s advice about “fair wear and tear” in mind.
  • Make sure they take absolutely everything with them.
    • No matter how worthless you think a pile of belongings might be, or how clearly you think it should be in the bin, the law considers that the tenant, perhaps for sentimental reasons, could value them. Since they don’t belong to you, you cannot sell or otherwise dispose of them.
    • The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 is the applicable law here, and it says that landlords are required to make reasonable efforts to contact the tenant in order for them to return their possessions. Until you can do that, you are under a legal obligation to take care of the tenant’s possessions.
    • Since you probably have another tenant coming in, you’ll have to store them somewhere, potentially for up to 3 months. The in’s and outs of the law are long winded, but just take it from me – you don’t want to end up in this situation, because the law is firmly in favour of the tenant and it is more trouble to you than it’s worth.
  • Deal with the deposit promptly.
    • If you are happy with the condition of the property, and intend to return the full deposit, this must be done promptly. The exact duration depends on which scheme you have registered it with, but can be as little as 10 days.
    • If you intend to claim part or all of the deposit back you must notify the tenant within the same timeframe, and hope that they do not dispute the charge.
    • If they do, you’re going to need your wonderfully made inventory again (see how much I value them!), and you’re going to need equally good proof of whatever issues you are making the deductions for. (Cough, PHOTOS, Cough!)

  • Make sure you get all of the keys back.
    • At the beginning of the tenancy, it is a great idea to take a photo or photocopy of all the keys you are giving to the tenant. This will make it easy to identify if they have all been returned.
    • If the tenant does not return all of the keys (oh, my wife still has a set and she is at work….) then the tenancy is not over. We have had to deal with cases where tenants try to live rent-free by keeping a set of keys and coming back after the end of their lease.
    • Whilst you can’t stop someone making extra copies, if you can show that they returned all the originals, then you’ll be able to prove that they intended to move out in the event they try to live there without permission. It doesn’t happen often, but if it does then you’ll be glad to have the proof! The only way around this is to change the locks after every tenancy – but this can be expensive, so I advise only doing it where you feel you may have a problem tenant on your hands.
  • Get the home professionally cleaned.
    • I advise all of the landlords who trust us with their property to do this before letting the place out for the first time. If you can show that it was done professionally before the tenants move in (keep that receipt), then you can reasonably add a clause to your tenancy agreement asking that they pay for the same when they move out.
    • This is the area that causes the most headaches on move out. Everyone has an opinion on what “clean” means, and if yours is different to the tenant, you have an argument on your hands. Getting a private cleaner to do it every time removes any source of conflict. 
    • Don’t forget the oven!
  • Take meter readings at the start and end of every tenancy.
    • Or you could pay for their bills. Whichever you prefer, really!

It has been my experience that the vast majority of tenants are trustworthy and well intentioned, but at the end of the day this is not their permanent home and they will never care for it as deeply as you. This simple fact underpins most of the problems you may encounter, and it is why having a great agent to represent your interests can go a long way to preventing issues before they arise. Remember my key advice: get a professional inventory and use it wisely!

As ever, Jasmine, Matt and myself are here to help you with your queries – don’t hesitate to ask if you need some expert advice.

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