Can a tenant leave a rented property before the tenancy period ends?
A tenant can leave a rented property early if they want to. The tenant is still liable to pay rent for the property until the agreement ends or the landlord begins letting the property to new tenants. Once a new tenancy begins (eg new tenants move into the property), the old tenancy agreement ends and the old tenant's obligations to pay rent ends, which may entitle the old tenant to a refund of rent already paid.
If there is a break clause in the tenancy agreement, then the tenant will need to give the correct notice that is stated in the contract. When a break clause is used correctly it will end the tenancy agreement and the tenant won't need to continue paying rent.
For more information, read Ending your tenancy early.
Repayment of rent - after service of a section 21 notice
If the landlord (or landlord's agents) serve a Section 21 notice on the tenant that forces them to leave the property, the tenant must be repaid any rent paid for the rental period that they were not at the property. The formula used is R x D/P where:
R is the rent paid
D is the number of whole days of the relevant rent period for which the tenant was not in occupation of the property
P is the number of whole days in that rental period
Facts: Mr A has an assured shorthold tenancy (AST) for 12 months, with rent being paid monthly (£1,000) in advance on the 1st of the month for that month (ie the rental period is for the whole month). The tenancy includes a break clause of 6 months. Mr A's landlord served a section 21 notice, with the expiry date falling in the middle of the month (on the 15th of the month). Mr A complies with the section 21 notice and vacates the property on the 15th. Mr A is entitled to a refund of the portion of the rent that was paid for the whole month because he paid a month's rent, but was evicted partway through the rental period.
Answer: Using the above formula, with January (which has 31 days) as an example month, the calculation would be £1000 x (16/31) = £516.13. This means that the landlord would need to refund Mr A a total of £516.13 of the rent paid for the month.
Facts: Mrs B has an AST for six months, with no break clause. Mrs B pays £1,500 rent per month. The section 21 notice cannot be served until after four months into the tenancy from the original start date. If the tenancy started on 1 January, notice cannot be served any earlier than 1 May. If notice is served on 2 May, and the tenant refuses to leave, possession proceedings cannot commence until 2 months later (ie 2 July). If the landlord goes to court and gets a possession order for 21 July, then the tenant will have to leave on that date by order of the court. If the tenant pays rent in advance for the whole rental period for July, they would need to be refunded a portion of the prepaid rent.
Answer: Using the above formula with rent being £1,500, the month is July and the date the tenant left being 21 July, the calculation would be £1,500 x (10/31) = £483.87. As Mrs B wasn't in occupation of the property for 10 days of the month, she will need to be refunded a portion of the rent she paid.
Repayment of rent - mutual agreement to end the fixed-term tenancy
A tenancy agreement can be terminated if both the landlord and tenant both agree to end the tenancy early, even if there is no break clause in the tenancy agreement. This is called ‘surrender’. For more information, read Surrendering a tenancy.
Facts: Mrs C has an AST for 12 months, but has decided that she wants to leave the property. She has ended her tenancy early with the landlord by mutual agreement (ie tenancy has been surrendered). She pays rent in advance on the first of every month for that whole month (eg from 1 March to 31 March). She leaves the property on 10 March. The landlord was able to re-let the property with a new tenant moving in on 20 March. Would Mrs C be entitled to a refund of the rent?
Answer: Mrs C is entitled to a refund of some of the rent, but only for the period that the new tenant took over the property and was in occupation. This is because the landlord should not have re-let the property until the end of Mrs C's rent period (ie until after 31 March) because Mrs C is still technically the occupier of the property until the new tenant moves in.
Mrs C is entitled to a refund based on the number of days for which the new tenant is in occupation (eg 11 days from 20 March to 31 March). Mrs C has paid £2,000 for the rental period of March, therefore the calculation would be £2,000 x (11/31) = £709.68.
If you're unsure whether your tenant is entitled to a refund of rent, or whether your landlord should be refunding you a portion of your rent, Ask a lawyer.
What about Rent Repayment Orders?
A Rent Repayment Order (RRO) entitles tenants to a maximum of 12 months’ rent repayment if their landlord has committed an offence whilst they are renting the property (eg renting out an HMO without a licence or evicting a tenant unlawfully). Where a landlord has committed such an offence, the tenants can make an application for an RRO. For more information, read Rent repayment orders.
What is the situation in Scotland?
If you have a private residential tenancy in place, the tenancy is open-ended and the tenant can leave when they like as long as they give you 28 days’ notice in writing (or the amount of notice that was agreed in writing in advance, for example, in the tenancy agreement).
If you have an assured or short assured tenancy with a fixed term, the tenancy agreement should state what happens if the tenant ends the tenancy before the fixed term has expired and how much notice is required. In most cases, the tenant will still be liable to pay rent for the property until the agreement ends or the landlord begins letting the property to new tenants. Once new tenants move into the property, the old tenant's obligations to pay rent ends, which may entitle the old tenant to a refund of rent already paid.
What is the situation in Wales?
On 1 December 2022, the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 came into effect and changed private residential property law in Wales.
If an occupation contract is ended by the landlord (ie the contract holder is evicted), it’s not yet clear which rules will apply. Section 21 notices can no longer be used in Wales - they have been replaced by section 173 notices, for which there is no explicit requirement for rent repayments. It may be, however, that rules similar to those used for section 21 notices in England will be considered fair and will apply.
This guidance will be updated as more information becomes available. If you need advice about rent repayments under a Welsh occupation contract, Ask a lawyer for help.