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The right way to end a tenancy

Posted by Andrew Hodkinson-Smith on 4th April 2022
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As a landlord, your priority is likely to be having a great tenant living in your property, paying rent to you on time and in full.

 

But there may be times when you want or need to get your property back. That could be for a personal reason – you might be planning to sell or move either yourself or a family member into it. On the other hand, it could be because you’re unhappy with the tenant and/or they’ve broken the terms of their tenancy agreement.

 

Whatever the reason, if you want your tenant to leave, there are specific legal steps you have to follow to end a tenancy.

 

If we manage your property, we’ll take care of the whole process for you. But if you self-manage, you’ll need to take the time to understand your obligations and what you can and can’t do if you want to stay on the right side of the law.

 

To help you, we’ve put together this handy overview of the different situations in which you might want to end a tenancy, beginning with:

 

Section notices

This is the paperwork you need to issue your tenant with if you want to bring the tenancy to an end. The type of notice you should use depends on the reason you’re ending the tenancy:

 

Section 21 notice: This is essentially a ‘no fault’ eviction, where you can simply give the tenant a minimum of two months’ notice that you want them to leave – and you don’t have to give them a reason. You can find the correct form (6A) on the government website.

 

It’s important to know that there are certain circumstances in which you can’t serve a Section 21 notice, including:

  • If you haven’t protected the tenant’s deposit
  • If you haven’t given them the latest version of the government’s ‘How to rent’ guide
  • If you haven’t provided them with copies of the property’s EPC and current gas safety certificate.

 

You can find a full list on GOV.UK but, in general, as long as you’re meeting all your obligations as a landlord, you should be able to end the tenancy with a Section 21.

 

Section 8 notice: A Section 8 (form 3) is normally used if the tenant has breached their tenancy agreement. This differs from a Section 21 in two key ways:

  1. You must state the ground(s) on which you’re evicting the tenant, and
  2. The notice period will vary, depending on the ground, but it’s generally between 2 weeks and 2 months. In the most serious cases, for example if there’s illegal activity, no notice is required.

 

As well as issuing the right paperwork – and you must make sure you use the most up-to-date version of the section notice – you’ve got to be able to prove that the notice was served correctly. So it’s a good idea to have it hand-delivered to the property or sent via a ‘signed for’ postal service, and also email a copy to your tenant requesting a ‘read receipt’.

 

Ending a tenancy within an initial fixed term

A fixed term is the initial minimum period you and your tenant agree that the tenancy should last for. There are two key things to note here:

 

  1. You can’t ask a tenant to leave within a fixed term unless there’s a ‘break clause’. So, if the agreement was signed for an initial 12 months, with a 6-month break clause, that means the earliest you could serve notice would be month 4, requiring the tenant to leave at the end of month 6. If there’s no break clause, then you’re committed to the full year’s tenancy.

 

  1. The tenancy doesn’t simply expire at the end of the fixed term. If you want the tenant to leave, you have to give them notice – so if the initial term was 12 months, you’d have to serve them with a Section 21 notice at the start of month 10.

 

If you don’t serve notice, you can either draw up a new tenancy agreement for a second year, or simply leave the contract as it is and let it become ‘periodical’. That’s effectively a rolling contract, where you can give the tenant two months’ notice at any time.

 

If the tenant has breached their agreement, that’s a different matter and you should be able to give them notice via a Section 8 at any point – see below.

 

If the tenant wants to move out

While you have to give your tenant at least 2 months’ notice to end their tenancy, the situation is different for them.

 

Unless the tenancy agreement states otherwise, it will usually end automatically if the tenant moves out by the end of a fixed term – they don’t necessarily have to give any notice.

 

Once a tenancy has become periodic – i.e. any initial fixed term has expired – your tenant only has to give you one month’s notice.

 

Importantly, the tenant is committed to pay rent for the full initial fixed term. So, if they signed a 12-month tenancy without a break clause, they can’t simply give a month’s notice during that first year.

 

Usually, if a tenant is unhappy in the property or their circumstances have changed and they need to move, most landlords will negotiate with them to end the tenancy early. So, for example, if they needed to leave right away, you might just hold them to paying the next 2 months’ rent, or you could ask them to pay a reduced rent until you find a new tenant.

 

Note: As soon as the property is re-let and a new tenancy begins, the previous tenant is no longer liable for rent.

 

Ending a tenancy when the tenant hasn’t done anything wrong

In reality, this hardly ever happens. When a landlord has a good tenant in situ and things are ticking along nicely, they’re usually keen to hold on to them for as long as possible.

 

But if you did want to get your property back, you’d simply need to follow the standard Section 21 process by using form 6A and giving your tenant at least 2 months’ notice.

 

If you are asking your tenant to leave when they haven’t done anything wrong, it’s important to be sensitive to the fact that they might be upset or annoyed at having to move out. We’d suggest you give them as much notice as possible and ask if there’s anything you can do to help them find a new home or move their things.

 

Getting your property back when a tenant has breached their contract

In this case, you can use either a Section 8 or a Section 21.

 

If you want to get your property back as soon as possible and the type of breach means you only have to give 2 weeks’ notice, you might want to serve a Section 8. We most commonly see Section 8’s used for serious rent arrears.

 

However, it’s important to be aware that if there’s conflict – and you do occasionally simply get a ‘bad’ tenant! – they may refuse to leave, and then you’ll have to go down the full court eviction route, which could take time and be costly.

 

On the other hand, as long as you’re not claiming rent arears, you could issue a Section 21. Although that means you’ll have to give a minimum of 2 months’ notice, if the tenant then refuses to leave, you may be able to get your property back more quickly than if you’d served a Section 8 notice.

 

So let’s move on to the final section:

 

What if my tenant won’t leave?

The first thing to say is that the majority of tenancies end perfectly well: either the tenant gives notice themselves or the landlord serves notice and the tenant leaves.

 

However, on the rare occasion when a tenant digs their heels in, it can get tricky – and potentially expensive for landlords.

 

Often, when a tenant refuses to leave by the required date, they’re also in rent arrears. So it’s obviously important from a financial perspective for you to regain possession of the property so you can let it to a tenant that will pay the rent!

 

If you’ve used a Section 21, you can apply to the court via the ‘accelerated procedure’ to get a possession order to evict the tenant. There’s no court hearing – it’s simply a case of the court processing the paperwork – so it’s generally a quicker and less costly process, with less hassle than a full standard possession procedure.

 

However, if you’ve used a Section 8 – which is the only option if you’re claiming rent arrears at the same time as requesting possession – then you’ll have to go down the standard route, which involves a court hearing to decide whether a possession order should be granted. Needless to say, that can be costly, and it may take several months for your case to make its way through the court system.

 

So we’d suggest you try to reach an agreement with your tenant that means you avoid having to go to court. The Property Redress Scheme has a mediation service for landlords and tenants, which is well worth trying, and if you have a letting agent, they should be able to help you try to reach a resolution.

 

One of the most important things to understand is that evictions have got to be handled in a specific legal way, and if you get any of the paperwork wrong, it can invalidate the entire eviction – which means you’ll have to start the whole process again from scratch.

 

If we manage your rental, we’ll handle all this on your behalf, but if you’re a self-managing landlord, we’d suggest you engage an eviction specialist, such as Landlord Action. Although that will be an extra cost for you, it’s generally money well spent for peace of mind that everything is being done properly and you’ll get your property back as quickly as possible.

 

To find out more about our fully managed service, or if you have any specific questions about the best way to end your current tenancy, we’re always here to help. Call us directly on 01253 625745 or email lettings@brighterlets.co.uk and we’ll get right back to you!