The thorny question of tenants giving notice at the end of an AST fixed period!

Interesting situation today. I couldn’t get in touch with one of our tenants before Christmas and her post has been gradually building up into a large pile. This coupled with the fact that no-one had seen sight of her, she didn’t pay her rent for December and her 6 month assured shorthold tenancy agreement expired on 1 January 2012 gave me a little hint that she might have just upped and left. On checking today, our first day back after the New Year, sure enough the flat was empty and in a bit of a state, as you can see…

In my experience, people who up and leave without giving any notice have rarely 1) left properties in a good state, 2) paid their utility bills, 3) any intention of giving you a forwarding address and 4) any manners. We’ve a clause in our contracts which asks tenants to give us a month’s notice if they are going to leave the property on the last day of their initial six month fixed term – 95% of tenants do so, it’s just good manners, good organisation and good housekeeping. Plus how else are you supposed to return the deposit for example, or forward mail, or do a proper inventory check with them.

So, I was a little irritated with her. I tweeted:

Interesting choice by tenant, whose tenancy up on 1st Jan, to just vacate the flat. No notice. Marvellous. Knew she was iffy!

Which was how I felt. Most tenants agree to  and do give the requested notice, for their sakes and ours.. it makes life so much easier! But I was then soundly scolded and told by Pimlico Nick on Twitter:

I’m surprised you are surprised. That’s how the law is written, and what she did is correct.
Contract doesn’t over ride statute – you can’t change the law by writing an illegal contract.
Let’s take it one step at a time.
I’m always surprised when tenants are rude, because mostly we have such lovely, well mannered tenants and we try and be nice, helpful and professional with them too.
What she did is legally ‘correct’ in that any tenant is perfectly well within her rights to vacate a property on the last day of their six month period / end date of their initial contract, but tenants rarely do so without saying a word unless they are running from / avoiding paying something / leaving the property in a state – all of which are contra to what is in their contract and what constitutes acceptable behaviour from a tenant.
Finally having checked and double checked, I am very thankful to learn that I have not written ‘an illegal contract’ – I was worried!! It’s perfectly fine to put such a notice clause in and the vast majority of tenants will honour it, however if a matter gets to court then the clause MAY not be relied up and MAY be ignored. But may not be. And it seems that the general consensus from everyone from the direct.gov site to Shelter to Citizens Advice all say that tenants would be wise to give their landlord notice, ‘especially if they want deposits back’.
I couldn’t find any case law documented on-line, be interesting to know if any exists?

The National Landlords Association web-site states:

When the fixed term comes to an end the landlord and tenant have three options. They can either:

i. agree a replacement fixed term tenancy (but note that during the new fixed term the landlord will not be able to regain possession except if one of the grounds for possession under the Housing Act 1988 is satisfied)
ii. do nothing and allow the tenancy to run on with the same rent and terms, under a statutory periodic tenancy
iii. give notice (in the case of the tenant) or serve notice and start proceedings for possession (in the case of the landlord)

Note – the tenancy agreement may specify the period of notice that the tenant has to give, however this will not preclude the tenant from leaving at the end of the last day of the fixed term without giving notice to the landlord. If your agreement does give a notice period but the tenant does not comply with this Notice Period, we would not advise relying on this alone in court.

So basically a tenant is free to go at the end of their fixed term whether or not they have given notice, and it’s NOT a given that if a landlord attempts to sue them for ‘lost rent’ for the missing month it may take them get a new tenant, he/she will win. It would however, be a crazy landlord who would try and do that because if a tenant’s iffy enough to scarper without telling anyone (especially owing rent, bills and cleaning costs), it’s highly unlikely they’d ever get an money out of them even if they did win in court.

Good riddance is the attitude to take: clean up the mess, pass on any details and addresses to the utility companies and get the property back on the market asap! And I consider myself chastised by Pimlico Nick. Again 😉

5 thoughts on “The thorny question of tenants giving notice at the end of an AST fixed period!

  1. Sorry you consider yourself chastised, I didn’t mean to be rude, and I apologise. Tessa Sanderson provides carefully written contracts with instructions to avoid this problem, but basically on the last day of the contract the tenant can either stay or go, and they don’t have to tell you which they are going to do. It’s not fair, but the law isn’t built around fairness.

    • Give over, I’m jesting with you! It’s good to check and double check what you do, and never be complacent. I find that most tenants will happily give notice as a courtesy, whether or not they believe it’s part of the contract and it isn’t an extreme or unfair term to have in, just could not be absolutely relied upon. In this instance the tenant actually left at the start of Dec and didn’t pay her rent for that month but I didn’t know that she’d moved out. We always take 6 weeks deposit so are covered for the rent and also the damaged and mess shown in the images. May well be more vigilant on those last days in future!

  2. Sian I will swap your “iffy” tenant and “mess” she left for any of my “iffy” tenants 🙂

    Apart from that stain – looks more “wear and tear” to me…

    @Nick – thanks for clarifying about fixed term tenancy and notice periods

    • Naaaaa, you’re ok I’ll keep mine. I rarely get “iffy’ ones so always moan when one turns up 🙂
      Definitely a stain, she’s apologised for bleaching the carpet…
      Nick’s info is always useful, just kinda took against the accusation of illegality and suggestion I was attempting to get around the law.

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