If you wish to move out of your rented property, you should give your landlord written notice that you want to end the tenancy agreement.

You can't simply walk away or post the keys through the letterbox. This is called 'abandonment' and will not end your tenancy agreement. Your agreement with the landlord will continue even though you've left and the landlord can continue to charge you rent, so you're likely to build up rent arrears.

Ending a fixed term tenancy

If your agreement is for a fixed term (e.g six months), you can leave on the last day of the fixed term without giving notice. But you must ensure that you do not stay even one day over, or you will automatically become a periodic tenant and will have to give proper notice or come to an agreement with your landlord.

If you intend to leave on the last day you are not legally required to give the landlord any notice, but it's usually a good idea to do so, to avoid any dispute about when you actually left. Good communication helps things to go smoothly. Remember that you may need a reference to get a new home and, if you've paid a deposit, you're more likely to get it back if you keep the landlord informed.

Ending a fixed term tenancy early

Many fixed term agreements (including some assured shorthold tenancies with private landlords) contain a 'break clause', which allows you to end the agreement before the end of the fixed term. Check your agreement to see if it includes a clause like this.

If it does include a break clause, it should also say how much notice you have to give and whether there are any special procedures you have to follow.

If it doesn't include a break clause then you cannot end the tenancy early unless the landlord agrees to it. If you leave anyway you can still be liable for the rent to the end of the period.

Ending a periodic tenancy

If you stay beyond the fixed term, and your landlord doesn't give you a new fixed term agreement, your tenancy or licence will automatically become periodic, which means that it rolls from week to week, or month to month.

You normally have to give at least four weeks' notice to end it, or a calendar month if you have a monthly tenancy. The only exceptions to this are:

  • if your landlord agrees to accept a shorter notice period (surrender), or agrees that someone else can take your place (see below)
  • if you are an excluded occupier, in which case the amount of notice you have to give will depend on whether you have a tenancy or licence agreement. Working out whether you have a tenancy or licence can be quite complicated, especially if you don't have a written agreement. You should seek advice if you are not sure
  • if you can't agree a date that both you and your landlord are happy with
  • if you pay rent less frequently than monthly (every three months, for example). If this is the case, you have to give notice equivalent to a rental period

It is always best to give notice in writing and ensure that the notice ends on the first or last day of the period of a tenancy. For example, if your tenancy is monthly and started on the 5th of the month, the notice you give the landlord should end on the 4th or the 5th. Check with an adviser if you have any doubts about the dates.

Leaving with the landlords agreement

It is possible to get out of the tenancy at any time if you can come to a mutual agreement with your landlord. This is called 'surrender'. To be valid, both sides must agree, and it's always best to put what's been agreed in writing so everyone knows where they stand. If you have a joint tenancy all the joint tenants and the landlord must agree to the surrender.

It's worth seeing if your landlord is willing to negotiate even if your tenancy agreement says you can't leave early. It may be convenient for both of you.

Getting someone else to move in

This may be possible if you have no choice but to leave early and want to avoid paying rent on more than one home. However, you have to get the landlord's agreement for the person you suggest to move into the property. The landlord may want to take up references for them. The landlord should give the new person their own tenancy or licence agreement - otherwise, you will still be legally responsible for the tenancy.

Walking away

Walking away or posting the keys through the letterbox is called 'abandonment' and will not end your agreement. Your agreement with the landlord will continue even though you've left and the landlord can continue to charge you rent, so you're likely to build up rent arrears.

The landlord can apply for a court order to make you pay what you owe. The court will decide whether you should have to pay your landlord the money or not. If the landlord has managed to let out the property they can't claim rent from you after the new tenant moved in.

Abandonment may also make it harder for you to find a new home. Most private landlords ask new tenants for references from previous landlords and are not keen to rent to anyone who has abandoned a tenancy or licence in the past, or has a history of rent arrears.

Similarly, it's important to make sure that you have somewhere to go when you leave. If you need to make a homelessness application in future, the council may decide that you are intentionally homeless because you left a home that you could have stayed in.