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When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Ending a tenancy before the end of the fixed term

This page is for landlords operating in Northern Ireland.  You can find advice for tenants elsewhere on our website. Private landlords in Northern Ireland can call Landlord Advice on 028 9024 5640 and choosing option 5. 

Tenancy agreements are usually binding for a fixed term. Although tenants may initially have planned to stay in the property for a year or longer sometimes things happen that mean they can no longer live in the property.

Reasons for leaving

A tenant may wish to leave a tenancy early for any reason. Some of the most common reasons are:

  • a relationship breakdown between a couple or friends
  • a change in the tenant's circumstances, such as having to move to another country or becoming ill
  • a refusal of a place on a university or college course
  • a loss of employment or reduction in hours means the tenant can no longer afford to stay in the property.

You do not have to agree to release a tenant from a tenancy agreement. However, you should be reasonable and consider how this issue will impact on you and on the tenant. For example, if a tenant has been made redundant they may have to apply for housing benefit to assist with paying rent. Although they may be able to afford the full rent for a period of time, they may not be able to keep up payments. In this instance, it may be better for you to agree to release the tenant from the contract.  If a tenant wishes to leave because their housing situation is having a negative impact on their health, or the health of a housing member, be considerate of their position and try to come to a satisfactory agreement.

Negotiating with the tenant

If your tenant decides they want to leave the tenancy you should find out their reasons for doing so. Try to be understanding of your tenant's situation and come to an arrangement that is satisfactory to both of you.

Ask your tenant to find someone to take over the tenancy. If you accept a replacement tenant, don't forget to settle any money issues, such as deposits, with the original tenant before they move on.

If a tenant has been made redundant or suffered an income shock, they may be able to get their full rent paid by housing benefit for a 13 week period if they can show that:

  • they could afford the tenancy when they moved in
  • neither they, nor a member of their household, have claimed housing benefit in the previous 52 week period.

After this 13 week period, their housing benefit will be significantly reduced and it may no longer be practical for either of you to have the tenant stay on in the property.

Your legal position

Unless there is a clause in your tenancy agreement allowing the tenant to break the agreement by giving written notice, you do not have to release a tenant from an agreement.

You are entitled to enforce the terms of a tenancy agreement for its full period. If your tenant moves out of the property, without your agreement, you can pursue them through the courts for rent for the remainder of the fixed term. However, you cannot then re-let the property to another tenant until that fixed term expires. You can't get the full rental income from the property twice.

If you wish to end a tenancy because the tenants have breached the tenancy agreement, you should cite the breach in your Notice to Quit.  You do not need a reason to serve a Notice to Quit on a periodic tenant. 

Consider whether it is easier to re-let the property and take action against the former tenant for any associated fees once the property is let or to leave the property vacant for the remainder of the term and pursue the former tenant for all the outstanding rent.

Your tenant must give you a minimum of 28 days' Notice to Quit.  If you agree to release the tenant from the agreement you should put this in writing.