The ultimate end of tenancy checklist for landlords - Total Landlord Insurance

November 28, 2023
The ultimate end of tenancy checklist for landlords - Total Landlord Insurance

Read an interactive and user-friendly version of this guide below.

Whether it’s you or your tenant that wants to bring a tenancy to an end, there are certain steps you or your agent needs to take to make sure the law is complied with – and also so that you have the smoothest possible transition from one tenancy to the next.

In this guide, we look at:

  • How the end of a tenancy can come about
  • Notice periods
  • The check-out process
  • Returning the tenant’s deposit
  • Problems you might encounter at the end of a tenancy 
  • Preparing the property for the next tenant

Note that the legals and timelines stated here relate to Assured Shorthold Tenancies (ASTs) in England. Follow the links below for information on how to end a tenancy in the rest of the UK:

When and how does a tenancy end?

There are a number of different ways a tenancy can come to an end.

Once a fixed term tenancy expires, the tenant may leave or the landlord may take the property back.

(If neither of these things happen, the tenancy will continue as ‘periodic’ (rolling) or both parties may renew the tenancy for another fixed term.)

In other cases:

  • A tenant or landlord may want to end the fixed term tenancy early
  • Either party may want to bring a periodic tenancy to an end
  • The landlord may want to evict the tenant 

The notice period and steps that should be taken vary, depending on whether you or your tenant choose to end the agreement and why:

The landlord wants the tenant to leave at the end of a fixed term

In this case, you (or your agent) must give the tenant at least two months’ notice by issuing a Section 21.

The tenant leaves voluntarily at the end of a fixed term

Although a landlord has to give notice, there is no legal requirement for the tenant to do the same if they want to leave at the end of a fixed term. While most will let you know out of courtesy, it is always advisable to make contact two months before the end of the tenancy agreement to find out their plans, so you have time to re-advertise and market the property if necessary.

The landlord and tenant mutually agree to end a fixed term tenancy

A landlord cannot force a tenant to leave during a fixed term unless they have breached the tenancy agreement, and a tenant is liable for the rent for the whole fixed term. However, both parties may come to a private agreement to end the tenancy. 

This usually happens when the tenant’s circumstances have changed, e.g. they lose their job and can no longer afford the rent, or they need to move to a different area for work or family. In this case, the landlord may agree to a one or two month notice period, or only hold the tenant to their obligation to pay rent until a new tenant can be found. 

Whatever the arrangement, always put the details in writing, signed by both parties, or make sure your agent does.

Either the tenant or landlord gives notice during a periodic tenancy (no breach)

If the tenant has not breached their agreement, the landlord must give two months’ notice. The tenant only has to give one month’s notice. (This is assuming rent is paid monthly – if it’s paid weekly, the tenant must give four weeks’ notice.)

Note that if the changes proposed in the Renters (Reform) Bill come into force and all tenancies become periodic, tenants will have to give two months’ notice.

The landlord wants to evict the tenant for breach of tenancy

If the tenant has breached their rental agreement, the landlord can issue a Section 8 notice at any time to end the tenancy and require the tenant to leave – even during a fixed term. The notice period will depend on the ground(s) for eviction

The landlord applies for a possession order

If the tenant refuses to leave at the end of a notice period – whether notice has been given via Section 21 or Section 8 - you will have to apply to the court for a possession order. In the worst-case scenario, you may require a bailiff to remove the tenant from the property.

See our ultimate guide to handling the eviction process.

The tenant abandons the property 

‘Tenant abandonment’, or ‘implied surrender’ in legal terms,  is when a tenant leaves the property before the end of the contract term and without telling the landlord or letting agent. When it comes to a statutory tenancy like an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) tenants have rights which cause complications for landlords in this situation – read our guide to tenant ‘abandonment’ for advice on what to do if this happens to you. 

End of tenancy check-out and inventory

It’s a good idea for you or your agent to arrange a property inspection around three weeks before the tenant is due to leave so that you can: 

  • Make sure the tenant has a copy of their check-in inventory for reference
  • Remind them of the condition the property must be left in to avoid any deposit deductions – particularly in terms of overall cleanliness
  • Advise of any damage you notice, giving the tenant the opportunity to make repairs themselves
  • Agree a time for the check out on the day of the tenant’s departure

Ideally, the tenant should always be present for check out, so that any issues can be discussed, and necessary deposit deductions agreed in person.

Make sure your agent or you walk through the property, checking for damage and missing items against the original inventory, taking photographs where necessary. Importantly, have the tenant sign to confirm they agree with the check out inventory and make sure all keys are returned.

For full information and advice, see our ultimate guide to a landlord inventory and schedule of condition

Returning the tenant’s deposit

It’s important to note that it is up to the deposit protection scheme provider to decide what can be deducted from the deposit. That means you should never agree to the deposit being used in lieu of the tenant’s last month’s rent – they must make their final rental payment as usual. 

Not only are deductions in the hands of the scheme provider, but there may be damage that costs more to repair than the balance of the deposit after rent, so it’s in your own interest to have the full deposit funds available in case you need to make a claim.

Once the tenant has left and any deductions have been agreed, both parties must confirm to the scheme how much of the deposit should be returned to the tenant within 10 days. In the case of mydeposits, the funds will then be released to the tenant within one to two days. 

If you want to make deductions and the tenant disagrees, you will have to provide the scheme with evidence to support your claim. The adjudicator will investigate and make their decision, which is final. You and/or your tenant should then receive the money within five days.

For full information, see our ultimate guide to tenancy deposit protection legislation.

What if things don’t go according to plan at the end of the tenancy?

It’s worth recognising that most tenancies end without a problem. However, there are things that can go wrong and it’s important to be prepared so you can act quickly and legally to resolve issues. Here are some of the most common problems:

The tenant doesn’t leave

One of the biggest things that can go wrong is the tenant refuses to leave on the date specified in the notice. In that case, you will have to begin the formal eviction process. The correct paperwork must be issued in the right way at the right time, and if you make any errors, you may have to begin the process again from scratch. So it’s well worth taking legal advice from specialists such as Landlord Action.

For more information, head to our ultimate guide to handling the eviction process.

The tenant has caused damage and/or items are missing

If the cost of making repairs can be covered by the tenant’s deposit, then you can make a claim to withhold some or all of the money. Take photographs and record the damage on the inventory at check out, then obtain quotes – e.g. for materials and labour. 

If the tenant disagrees with your claim, you will need to forward all your evidence to the deposit protection scheme provider and their adjudicator will make a decision, which is final.

However, if repairs cost more than the amount of the deposit held (fortunately, this is rare), you could try to pursue the tenant, although this can be tricky and time consuming. If they haven’t left a forwarding address, it may be hard to file a claim with the county court – and bear in mind that the tenant may not have the funds to pay, even if you can track them down. Most of the time, it’s simply wisest to chalk it up to experience and focus on getting the property back in shape for a new tenant.

The tenant has left some of their belongings behind

If the tenant has left belongings in the property, you can’t simply clear them out and get rid of them. Under the law, you are responsible for keeping them safe for a reasonable period of time and must make reasonable attempts to contact the tenant.

If you do dispose of or sell the belongings, the tenant could seek damages, so make sure they are stored safely and you keep a written record of your efforts to let the tenant know you have them.

The tenant has left a mess – or has not cleaned the property to a good enough standard

Tenants are required to hand back the property in the same state of cleanliness as when they moved in, regardless of what wear and tear or damage may have been caused during the tenancy.

Cleaning is the most common source of end of tenancy negotiations between landlords and tenants, with mydeposits reporting it as the cause of over a quarter of all custodial deposit protection scheme disputes.

Our separate article, ‘End of tenancy cleaning checklist for landlords and tenants’, explains landlords’ and tenants’ cleaning responsibilities and includes a helpful checklist to help avoid disputes at the end of a tenancy.

If you have a dispute with your tenant, consider using a mediation service 

If you need help reaching an agreement with your tenant over any aspect of the tenancy – even in the months after it has ended – there are mediation resources available to you. These can be free or paid for and can offer a valuable alternative to going to court.

For disputes over claims made against your tenant’s deposit, you can use your deposit protection scheme provider’s free dispute resolution service, e.g. the one offered by mydeposits - ADR.

And for all types of tenancy dispute, there’s the government-authorised PRS Mediation service provided by the Property Redress Scheme. In many cases, landlords and tenants are able to either find a way of moving forward without having to end the tenancy or come to an arrangement about bringing it to an end without a contentious eviction.

For advice on how to prevent a problem arising with your tenant in the first place, take a look at our article, ‘Trouble with tenants? 7 tips to protect you and your rental property’.

Preparing the property for the next tenant

Ideally, you should aim to keep the void period between tenancies as short as possible, so that you maximise your rental income. However, there are certain checks to be made and usually jobs that need to be done before the property is occupied again.

So, even if you have found a new tenant by the time the previous one moves out, it’s sensible to leave a few days between tenancies so you can take time to prepare the property properly. For instance:

If you are still advertising the property, remember that you need to make yours stand out from the crowd to attract the best tenant and secure the best market rent. For more advice and ideas, see our ultimate guide to rental property marketing and our article, ‘Nine steps to becoming a good and successful landlord’.

And for full information on what’s required when preparing your property to let, see our separate ultimate guide.

Ending a tenancy checklist for landlords

  • Communicate with the tenant to establish how the tenancy is to be ended
  • Make sure the correct notice is given/received in writing
  • Begin arrangements to re-let the property – communicate with agent and agree advertising, etc.
  • Carry out an inspection and arrange the check out / inventory 
  • Check the tenant out of the property, agreeing any deposit deductions
  • Arrange for the return of part or all of the tenant’s deposit
  • If the tenant has left any belongings behind, store them safely and contact the tenant
  • Make any necessary repairs and upgrades
  • Have the property professionally cleaned
  • Make sure you have all the correct certification and paperwork for the property in place
  • Make a fresh inventory ahead of the new tenancy

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