While most landlords and tenants have a great relationship, sometimes things can go wrong.
If your tenant has left your property but hasn’t paid their rent, you might wonder what you can and can’t do from a legal perspective.
Here’s a guide from our commercial property law team to ensure you get what you are owed, as well as answers to some of the other questions clients frequently ask us about liability for rent.
Note: this advice applies to landlords and tenants in England and Wales.
What happens if my tenant wants to leave before the end of their contract?
If your tenant wants to leave before the end of their contract, it is up to you whether you accept this.
The tenant might have a good reason for ending their tenancy, for example, if they have to look after a family member or a relationship has broken down. You might agree to terminate the contract early as a gesture of goodwill.
If you’re not in a position to agree to end the contract early and the tenant is still in contract, they will have to pay rent until their tenancy ends.
You’re within your rights as a landlord to include a clause in your contract to say a tenant will forfeit their deposit if they end their contract early. However, this must be included in the contract, and you need to be able to prove that the tenant agreed to it.
If you begin letting the property to other tenants, the former tenant no longer has to pay further rent, even if they are still technically in contract. You will however be able to seek recovery of any arrears up until the new tenancy commences.
Can a landlord keep a deposit if a tenant leaves early?
Yes. If a tenant has outstanding rent when they leave a property, you can deduct this from their security deposit.
However, what happens when there are additional deductions to consider, like cleaning costs and property damage? If your tenant has left without cleaning and the security deposit does not cover this or the cost of the unpaid rent, you may choose to take your tenant to court for the rest of the money that they owe.
How do I take a former tenant to court for unpaid rent?
First things first, it’s essential to determine if the tenant has ‘officially’ left the property. For example, have they dropped the keys through your letterbox or sent you a text message saying they have left?
If not, you will need to seek an order from the court for vacant possession to evict them from the property legally. Possession proceedings can also include a claim for any unpaid arrears.
Alternatively, if the tenant has officially left the property you can consider a breach of contract claim for recovery of monies owed following breach of the tenancy agreement. If you are claiming up to £10,000, you can take your tenant to the small claims court. This can be done online and you have six years to apply.
Note: the instruction of a tracing agent may be required to ensure you can satisfy service requirements.
Evidence is vital if you’re making a small court claim. You need to prove that your tenant is in rent arrears and that you have made reasonable attempts to try and get them to pay. A timeline of events is essential.
Your tenant will have the right to reply and agree to settle. If they don’t respond, you can ask the court to enter judgement by default and rule in your favour. If you’re unhappy with the tenant’s proposal, you can go to court.
If you win, the tenant will receive a county court judgement meaning they have to pay you back. This can be done using bailiffs or an ‘attachment of earnings order’ where the tenant has to pay you back through their salary.
Taking a tenant to court takes time and money. You need to decide whether it’s worth making a claim. Even if you win, there’s no guarantee you will get all your money back.
Can a tenant leave before the end of a section 21?
Yes. However, the tenant is still in contract, so unless you agree otherwise, they still need to pay rent in line with their contract.
Or follow our guidelines on evicting a tenant here.
Need help claiming the rent you’re owed? Our team of specialist solicitors are here to help
At Brown Turner Ross, we specialise in providing legal advice to landlords across the UK. If your tenant has left without paying or you’re unsure if you can legally take action, you can talk to us.
We’ll handle all the paperwork for you, saving you time and increasing the chances of getting the money you’re rightly owed.
Contact us today for friendly expert legal advice that answers all your questions.