Ending a tenancy when it's still in the fixed term

If you have a fixed term tenancy with a private landlord and you want to leave before it’s due to end, your landlord can insist that you keep paying rent for the full length of the tenancy. You can’t simply end it by giving notice.

There are some exceptions, for example if your tenancy agreement contains a break clause that allows either side to end the agreement before the end of the fixed term.

Some landlords might be prepared to negotiate if you need to end the tenancy early, but they are under no obligation to do so.

What can you do if you need to end your tenancy early?

If you feel you have to leave because you are having difficulties paying the rent, check if you can claim benefits to help pay the rent. For example, if you’re on a low income, you can apply for housing benefit. You may be able to get other benefits to help meet your living costs. You don’t have to tell your landlord you’re doing this.

Even if your tenancy agreement doesn’t say you can end it early, it's worth asking if your landlord is willing to negotiate. It may be convenient for both of you – for example, if the landlord is planning to repair and redecorate the property.

They may be prepared to let you get out of the agreement. This is called 'surrendering' the tenancy. For a surrender to be valid, both sides must agree to it. Ask for any agreement to be put in writing, in case of a dispute later on in the tenancy.

If you have a joint tenancy (see below) all the joint tenants and the landlord must agree to the surrender.

What happens if your agreement is about to end?

If your agreement is for a fixed term (eg 6 or 12 months) you can usually leave on the last day of the fixed term without giving notice.

If you intend to do this, first check your tenancy agreement and make sure there isn’t a requirement for you to give notice. It’s always best to speak to your landlord and get advice if you’re not sure.

Should you stay beyond the end of the fixed term - even for just one day - you will automatically become a periodic tenant. Your tenancy will run from month to month or week to week, and you will normally be able to give either 1 months’ notice or 4 weeks’ notice to end it. Your landlord can usually end a periodic tenancy by giving you 2 months notice. Most of your other tenancy rights will stay the same.

It’s common for landlords to ask you to sign a new fixed-term tenancy agreement at this point. But some will just let the tenancy keep going on a periodic basis.

Can you give the landlord notice during a fixed term?

If your agreement is still in the fixed term, it’s unlikely that you’ll able to end it simply by giving notice – unless your landlord agrees to it.

But it might be possible if your agreement contains a ‘break clause’. This is a term in the agreement that lets you end the agreement before the end of the fixed-term.

If there is a break clause, the agreement should tell you how much notice you have to give and whether there are any special procedures you have to follow.

Break clauses have to apply to both landlords and tenants, so that both parties have the same rights.

Contact a local advice centre if there's anything you're not sure of.

Use Shelter's advice services directory to find a face-to-face adviser in near you.

Finding someone else to take over the tenancy

If you have to leave your tenancy early and want to try to avoid paying rent on two homes, it may be possible to find someone to take over the rest of your tenancy.

You have to get the landlord's agreement for another person to move into the property. The landlord may want to check references for them. Check that the landlord will give the new person their own tenancy or licence agreement – otherwise, you will still be legally responsible for the tenancy.

Leaving before the end of the fixed term

Leaving your tenancy without giving notice, by moving all your things out and then posting the keys through the letterbox, is called 'abandonment'. It won’t end your agreement, even though you’ve left the property. Your landlord can carry on charging you rent until the fixed term of your agreement comes to an end. 

The landlord can apply for a court order to make you pay what you owe. The court will decide whether you should have to pay your landlord the money or not. If the landlord has managed to let out the property, they can't claim any rent from you after the new tenant has moved in.

Leaving this way may also make it harder for you to find a new home. Most private landlords ask new tenants for references from previous landlords, and might not rent to anyone who has abandoned a tenancy or licence in the past or has a history of rent arrears.

It's important to make sure that you have somewhere to go when you leave. If you need to apply as homeless in the future, the council may decide that you are intentionally homeless because you left a home that you could have stayed in. This means you might get less help from them.

What if you have a joint tenancy or licence?

You have a joint tenancy or licence if you share your home with a spouse, partner, family member or friend, and both or all of your names are on the agreement.

If you're thinking about leaving, talk to the other joint tenants first. It may be possible for someone else to take your place, or for the landlord to draw up a new agreement to those who are staying.

You can only end a fixed term joint tenancy if:

  • your landlord and all the other joint tenants agree to it
  • there’s a break clause in your agreement, and all the other tenants agree to use it.

The actions of each individual person will affect all of your rights. For instance:

  • If one of you leaves without ending the tenancy properly, the whole rent will still be due and the other tenants will have to pay the missing person's share.
  • If one of you has caused damage, the landlord may have the right to take money out of your shared deposit.

Get any agreement put down in writing, so that you have some proof if there are any disagreements later.

See our page on joint tenancies for more about how these agreements work.

Read Shelter's guide Private Tenancies for more information for rights in a private tenancy 

Last updated: 1 January 2014