What happens if you don't end your tenancy legally

Find out the consequences of leaving a tenancy early without bringing it to a legal end. 

When your rental liability ends

You're liable to pay rent if you don't end your tenancy properly - even if you move out.

How to end your liability to pay rent depends on whether you:

If you have a joint tenancy, the agreement could continue as a periodic tenancy if any of the joint tenants stay beyond the fixed term. 

If the landlord finds a new tenant

Your tenancy ends automatically if the landlord lets the property or room to someone else.

Once a new tenancy begins, your contract ends and you're no longer liable for rent.

Your landlord doesn't have to look for a new tenant, but they probably will if you:

  • return the keys to them
  • remove your belongings from the property
  • explain that you've left and are unable to continue to pay rent

You're still liable for rent until the property is let to new tenants unless the landlord releases you from the contract or you can end it by giving written notice. Check if a new tenant has been found after you move out.


Your landlord or agent are unlikely to give you a good reference if you leave the contract early without their agreement.

This could make it harder to find somewhere to rent in the future.

What happens to your deposit

Your landlord will probably refuse to return your deposit if you don't end your tenancy correctly.

They can keep it to cover things like:

  • unpaid rent
  • cleaning or damage
  • the costs of finding new tenants if you left early

Your deposit should be protected in a scheme if you had an assured shorthold tenancy.

You can use the scheme's free dispute resolution service if you disagree with the amount that is withheld.

If your deposit isn't protected, you could consider claiming compensation. Your landlord might counterclaim if you owe them money.

Risk of court action by the landlord

Your landlord can take court action if you owe them money.

They have up to 6 years to make a claim.

They will need your name and address. They could find you at a later date even if you don't give a forwarding address.

It's usually best to settle things before they get to court.

When a court orders you to pay a debt to someone, it's known as a county court judgement (CCJ). It could affect your credit rating.

Having a CCJ could make it harder to find somewhere to rent in future. Most letting agents and some landlords carry out credit checks on new tenants

Find out more about CCJs from Step Change Debt Charity

Last updated 23 August 2019 | © Shelter

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