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If you rent privately, and you are not renting a room in your landlord’s home, your tenancy agreement is most likely to be an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST).
These are usually for a fixed term of 6 months or one year. It is important for both tenants and landlords to make sure the terms of the agreement are clear and not ambiguous.
For example, a recent client’s fixed term, 6 month tenancy, ends in a month’s time. Sarah (not her real name) came for advice because she’s not clear if she needs to give any notice to her landlord.
In theory, you can just leave at the end of your fixed term. However, your landlord may have stipulated, in the contract, that if you intend to leave at the end of a fixed term you must give a month’s notice. The notice you give has to end on the first or last day of your tenancy period. Your tenancy “period” in most cases is a month as rent is mostly paid monthly.
For example, if your tenancy period runs from the 14th of the month to the 13th of next month, then the first day would be the 14th and the last day the 13th.
In Sarah’s case, her contract states that once the fixed term is ended, her tenancy will become a Periodic tenancy and a month’s notice will be required. Due to the imprecise wording, it is ambiguous as to whether she has to tell the landlord that she is intending to leave at the end of the fixed term or not. It could be interpreted that she only has to give a month’s notice if her tenancy rolls over into a periodic agreement. Alternatively it could be inferred that she needs to give a month’s notice before the end of the fixed term if she is not going to “roll over” into the periodic agreement.
In such a case we would recommend that Sarah does give a month’s notice. However, if she doesn’t, her landlord could potentially pursue her for an additional month’s rent, because there is an inference that the tenancy will just continue otherwise.
Can you end a fixed term tenancy early? Not unless there is a “break clause” in the contract. This will usually give rights on both sides to end a tenancy early BUT longer notice is usually required, as stipulated in the contract, frequently 2 months.
For more information about ASTs, see: england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/private_renting/assured_shorthold_tenancies_with_private_landlords