When You Decide To Leave
Lesley Henderson has been a landlord all her adult life and now runs a family business. She is also the author of the Landlord's Survival Guide.
Despite all the perceptions, the vast majority of tenancies end when tenants decide to leave, not when landlords insist that they go. When you decide that the time has come to move on, or your fixed term is nearing its end and you don’t wish to stay on, you need to organise yourself all over again.
Giving formal notice
Just like when beginning one, legal contracts need formal closure.
- If you’re choosing to leave at the end of a fixed term, notify your landlord/agent in writing at least one calendar month in advance.
- Similarly, if you decide to move on at some later stage, it’s still essential that you let your landlord/agent know – in writing, recorded delivery unless it’s handed in to an agency, so there’s no confusion – at least a calendar month before.
- Date the letter, and give the exact leaving date in the letter.
- Send all correspondence to shut down contracts via recorded delivery – just to avoid any confusion.
- If there are any special terms or conditions in your lease, follow them.
Furthermore, if you have been happy and well cared for, legal requirements aside, courtesy still is appreciated and can prove valuable long term. Remember, you may want to come back here for a reference, say for a future rental, or even for a mortgage application.
The leaving date you are giving is legally binding; you can’t just change your mind if your new job falls through. If anything does happen within the formal notice period which makes you want to stay longer than your given leaving date, you need to contact the agency or landlord very quickly. If they have not already agreed a contract with someone else, they will probably be happy to work something out. Even if they have, if you have a track record of being a good tenant the ‘bird in the hand’ theory will probably help you to persuade them in your favour.
If they have found someone that they prefer however, perhaps at a higher rent, you are unlikely to persuade them to accommodate your needs and you will be expected to move out as legally stated in writing.
What to do next
As soon as you give notice, check through your lease to find out what requirements have been put in for vacating the property, and there will be some. This is also an excellent time to remember that some agencies (and a few landlords) make significant profits from the cleaning and redecoration of properties when tenancies change hands. Some of the requirements that have been made may take a bit of time, but still need doing. This is the rubber gloves moment that I mentioned earlier. It can take a while to get things ship shape in a unit you’ve been living in all year – especially if you’re at work most of the time and haven’t cleaned the oven out as you went along.
The 28-day clause
As mentioned earlier, when you look at your lease you are also likely to find in here a clause that allows, within reason, the landlord or agent to show prospective new tenants around the property during the notice period. Tenants who have got along well with their management may well be asked to tidy up a bit when new tenants are viewing. OK, you’re not obliged to do it, but if you’ve had a happy time and you’d like a reference, it’s not an unreasonable request.
If you are giving notice within the fixed term
It’s very much in your interests to help your landlord find a new tenant as quickly as possible by letting them do viewings with the place looking its shiny best. If tenants do give notice during their fixed term, they’ll still have a rental liability until the end of that period. However, landlords/agents are still obliged to ‘take reasonable steps to find a suitable replacement’. If this is happening, helping them by being co-operative is a good idea. Some of the best services I know do genuinely try reducing their tenants’ potential losses, when tenants suddenly have to move out for good reason, and as I have said before there are a large number of reasonable landlords around.
Before you leave you must ensure that everything in the property is exactly as you found it. Here a well-organised inventory really comes into its own. You need to clean thoroughly. Everywhere. It is no good taking a nice clean house or flat, leaving it in a state and expecting no consequences. Leaving a mess behind will cost you money and cause you hassle.
- Take every room, clean every mark off the walls, wash every inch of floor. (Yes, even behind the loo.) (I know many landlords who always rent by preference to tenants who have been in the armed forces because they are marched into and out of all their service quarters under full inspection. The Swedes have a very strict regime where specialist cleaners must be used by both parties at each end of the rental contract. Even the ball cocks are scrubbed clean under this system.)
- You need to defrost fridges, and wash them out thoroughly. Don’t unplug the fridge and close the door – mould forms immediately. Either switch off and leave the door open when you leave, or leave it switched on with the door closed.
- Clean cookers – the bane of every landlord’s life – and those grease-filled cooker hoods. It takes hours to pull a cooker back from a state and tenants will find their deposit disappearing fast if they don’t clean up thoroughly.
- Wash the insides of cupboards as well as the doors. Hoover everywhere – including under the beds.
- The list is endless. Make the place look exactly as it did the day you moved in. Leave nothing to chance, or indeed to charge.
- If it is a term of your lease and you signed it, you need to take drapes to the dry cleaners and provide a receipt. If linen has been provided, wash and iron it and leave it where you found it.
These are just the standard terms. Your own lease can have other requirements, and you need to observe them or you may well end up with other pre-agreed charges.
Tenants in expensive units are advised to employ a professional cleaning service and save the receipt. Less room for claim and counterclaim this way.
And finally, replace anything you have broken or damaged to the same standard. Having cleaned thoroughly, replaced light-bulbs, etc, check around to make sure the furniture is in the same rooms as when you moved in. I know landlords who will shove an armchair back into the lounge, but agencies will call out the maintenance man. You have been warned.
You’re joking, right?
No I am not. Landlords and agents get sick and tired of being expected to clean up after other people for free. It means the unit cannot go straight back on the market until someone has pulled it back up to scratch. Remember that the balance of responsibility is yours, not your landlord’s or agent’s. While many are just delighted to get back a lovely clean property and happy to return your deposit in exchange, sadly others are waiting for the tiniest detail for a deposit reduction.
When you are satisfied, repeat the photo process I suggested in the Lesson on inventories or call in someone else you can trust (not your mum) to verify the clean standard of return. This can seem like an awful palaver, but many of you will have lost money over this process in the past, and almost all of you will know someone else who has. Again, fingers crossed that the new Tenancy Deposit Scheme begins chipping away at the routine charges many agents and landlords try for.
- Don’t forget to notify gas, telephone and electricity companies of exactly when you are leaving, and, as you move out, take a meter reading to check against your closing accounts.
- Tell the local authority and water companies that you are leaving too.
- Give everyone a forwarding address for the sending of final accounts.
- Those of you wanting to speed up deposit returns may well consider settling final bills over the phone with a debit card and asking for a verifiable payment number. Others will visit council offices, pay their final accounts and get receipts for doing so.
All these things help landlords/agents make the speediest deposit refunds. If you’ve been one of the many silly tenants who believed that by keeping a low profile you’d get away with costs, think again. Landlords/agents automatically provide all the authorities and utilities with details of new tenants – in the end, your liabilities will always catch up with you.
Once you have left
Having left the property and given back the keys you may find that some private landlords inspect that day, and send your deposit to your provided forwarding address immediately. A few may even inspect just before you leave and pay you there and then, but this is rare. Most landlords/agents need a bit of time in an empty unit to go through the place with their own inventory and few of us appreciate having the tenant present, breathing down our necks in what must be a detailed process. It’s also likely to become even rarer with the new deposit systems.
Most agencies and private landlords, quite reasonably, not only check the building, but need formal confirmation that you have settled all your final accounts before moving on. Given the number of tenants who try to leave behind a mountain of debts, this is a sensible precaution for managers to take. As well as the work involved, no new tenant wants to move into any property which has unpaid bills outstanding, or bad payment records. Each new tenant is entitled to a ‘clean sheet’. Properties with records of County Court judgments can be a nightmare to move in to, as no one will give the new tenants any credit without immense amounts of hassle.
If you haven’t paid your own bills, don’t be surprised if your deposit is used to pay them. New systems are being brought in to protect tenants from abuse, not to allow them to avoid settling their own debts.
The dreaded time lag
The new rules will insist that deposit refunds reach tenants within ten days. Unfortunately, the length of time that (even within reasonable practices) it takes to receive your original deposit back from one property, in order to make a move, can leave people trapped. If you are utterly dependent on the deposit held by one landlord to pay the deposit on the next unit, and you want to move from one to the other immediately (as most of us do), you can have real difficulty. The value of having a good relationship with your existing landlord is again obvious.
However it’s not always possible to get a landlord/agent to co-operate, and some landlords can be very oppressive about this. There are unfortunately no easy solutions to needing your deposit back from an unco-operative landlord or agent, to enable you to move to something better. It really is a Catch 22 situation, which no amount of experience can really resolve, and one which bad practitioners can, and regrettably do exploit, leaving poorer tenants vulnerable and understandably frustrated. I’m not even certain how the new system can help those who need their deposit back to move on within 24 hours. Not everyone has a helpful bank manager, or a generous parent to tide us over a critical ten days. Let’s hope for better things after April 2007, where at least an obligation for part/full refunds becomes ten days.
For those of you using independent landlords, with whom you’ve enjoyed a good business relationship, there’s at least a chance of fast movement.
Deposits taken from tenants at any time before 6 April 2007
There are two letters in Appendix 4 that you could find helpful if you are experiencing any difficulty in obtaining a deposit refund (under the old system, which will still affect tenants for quite some time yet). The first is a polite letter to be copied out and posted ten days after you vacate, if you are still waiting. Enclose photocopies of any receipts etc. The second is a much stronger letter to be posted within seven days of the first, if you are still waiting. Once it ever becomes necessary to start writing for your deposit, you have reached the stage when you must register all letters so that you can prove that you have written.
If your money still doesn’t arrive
Tenants who have returned the property they have been renting in good condition, and have proof that no outstanding bills remain unsettled, should have absolutely no hesitation in both threatening and then taking action for its recovery in the Small Claims Court (see letter in Appendix 4). These are inexpensive and effective. In most cases simply sounding well informed, and writing a letter that sounds competent, will be sufficient to concentrate the mind of whoever it is who is being slow. Your Citizens’ Advice Bureau will write letters on your behalf, as will local law centres. If you have also made your own accurate provisions for proof (photos and witnesses), as suggested earlier, you will be even better protected.