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When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Leaving a private tenancy early

There are many reasons why you may want to leave a tenancy early. However, unless there is a clause allowing you to do so in your tenancy agreement, it can be difficult to leave once you’ve signed a rental contract. There's a very real risk that your landlord will sue you if you leave before the contract ends so get advice before you make any decisions. 

Break clause

Check if your tenancy agreement includes a “break clause”.  This type of clause may allow either the tenant or the landlord to break the contract without reason as long as sufficient notice is given. If there is no break clause in your agreement, your landlord does not have to allow you to leave.

If you leave the tenancy before your tenancy agreement is up, or without giving the landlord notice you can be held liable for unpaid rent. Walking away will not end your agreement. The landlord can continue to charge you rent, so you're likely to build up rent arrears:

  • if your agreement is fixed term, you can be charged rent until the term ends
  • if your agreement is periodic, you can be held liable until your Notice to Quit expires
  • if the default tenancy term applies, you can be held liable for the remainder of the six months if you leave early, or
  • until the landlord has replacement tenants in the property.

If you leave your tenancy early, your landlord will probably keep some or all of your deposit to cover any rent you owe or any charges he's had to pay to find new tenants.  The landlord will have to go to court to make you pay what you owe. The court will decide whether you should have to pay your landlord the money or not. Talk to an adviser at Housing Rights if your landlord's kept your deposit or is taking you to court. 

Problems with housemates

Whether you’re sharing your home with a partner, friends or family members, you'll probably have some sort of disagreement.  In some situations, it may become impossible for you to continue to live in a property and you may need to move out before your tenancy period is over.

If there is tension in a shared house, try to discuss any problems and come to a satisfactory arrangement to resolve the situation.

If you feel unsafe in your home, don't stay there.  If you have been threatened by someone you live with you should contact the police.  If you cannot remain in your home due to a fear of violence, you should inform your landlord immediately.  Although your landlord is not obliged to release you from your contract, if you can provide evidence of any threat s/he may be more understanding.  It may help if you can find someone else to take over your tenancy.

The property is unfit

If the property you are renting is not fit for habitation, you should contact your local Environmental Health Office immediately and ask them to carry out a fitness inspection.

You need to give your landlord a chance to sort out any necessary repairs in the house. Once you have signed a tenancy agreement, it is very difficult to leave the property, even if you feel it is unsuitable.

The landlord has breached the terms or conditions

A tenancy agreement is a legal contract and both you and the landlord must stick to the terms and conditions in it.  If your landlord has made a serious breach of the agreement, you may be able to end the contract.  It can be tempting to leave a property if your landlord is interfering with your right to peaceful enjoyment or failing to carry out repairs.  If you leave a property before the tenancy term expires you have broken a legal contract and your landlord could sue you for any unpaid rent.  If this happens, you will need to be able to prove to a court that you left because the landlord broke his side of the agreement and that you gave him or her an opportunity to fix the situation before deciding to leave.  If, for example, you are leaving because the landlord won't carry out repairs you should:

  • write to the landlord explaining that he is in breach of the tenancy agreement, clearly showing which clause in the agreement he has broken
  • ask the landlord to sort out the problems in the property or respond to your letter by a specific date
  • write again to your landlord, if the problem is not resolved, explaining that he continues to be in breach of this agreement and that you will have no option but to serve a Notice to Quit if he does not sort the problem by a specific date
  • send your landlord a Notice to Quit, if he continues to ignore the issue, explaining that you are serving Notice because he has continued to breach the tenancy agreement. 

Keep copies of every letter you send and every reply you get from the landlord.  At court, the judge will review these letters and decide whether or not you gave the landlord reasonable time to sort out the problem.  If the judge agrees that the landlord was in breach of the agreement and feels that you gave enough notice of your intention to leave if he didn't sort out the problems, the judge will probably decide that the landlord does not have a case against you.  

Get advice from Housing Rights if you are considering leaving a property because your landlord has broken the agreement. 

No longer able to move in

You could agree to take on a tenancy but a change of circumstances makes it impossible for you to move in.  This could be the case, for example, with a student who signs a tenancy agreement in June for the forthcoming academic year, but then fails to get a place on his or her chosen course.

In these cases, you will have to rely on the good nature of your landlord to release you from the contract.  If you have signed a tenancy agreement, you are usually legally bound to the contract until it expires.  Your landlord does not have to agree to release you from the contract. Try to find someone to take over the tenancy, or see if you can negotiate with the landlord to come to an acceptable arrangment.  If your landlord does agree to release you from the contract, make sure you get this in writing.

I’ve been offered a social tenancy

If you receive an offer from the Housing Executive or a housing association while you are renting, you should negotiate with your landlord to see if he will allow you to leave your tenancy early.   It may help if you can find someone else who will take over your tenancy.

Although housing benefit can normally only be paid on one home, if you have been offered a social tenancy while living in the private rented sector, the Housing Executive may pay rent for both homes for a short period.

What about your deposit?

Your landlord will probably try to keep your deposit if he or she hasn't agreed to you leaving early.  If you go without trying to resolve any problems, the landlord is probably entitled to keep your money.  If you feel that it was unfair of the landlord to keep your money, you should try to negotiate to get it back but you may end up having to go to court.

Don't use the tenancy deposit company's dispute resolution scheme if you've left the tenancy early.  If you left early because the landlord broke the agreement and can prove this, you should take your landlord to Small Claims Court to get your deposit back if he or she won't return it.  The deposit company will automatically award the money to the landlord if you leave before the end date.  Get advice if you're not sure what to do.