Some renters have told Which? that landlords are refusing to let them move out during the coronavirus pandemic because they can’t find new tenants.
Those affected are reporting that some private landlords aren’t honouring break clauses that would normally allow tenants to leave their home before the end of a tenancy agreement.
And some landlords are pressuring tenants to continue renting homes, even though their tenancy agreement has ended and they have no duty to stay.
Coronavirus and renting: what does COVID-19 mean for my rights as a tenant?
Break clause rejected
Chelsea lives in a shared house in Leytonstone, east London. Her freelancer income has dried up during lockdown, so she decided to end her tenancy early.
She said: ‘I wanted to use the break the clause so I could move back in with my mum for a while.’
‘My tenancy agreement says it costs £300 to leave before the tenancy ends in August, but long term it would save me around £800 a month.’
If a tenancy agreement includes a break clause, this would usually allow renters to move out before the end of the tenancy period.
But Chelsea’s letting agent refused her request, saying it’s down to the landlord’s discretion.
The landlord wouldn’t give permission for her to leave under the current circumstances, saying it would be difficult to find a new tenant at this time.
The landlord suggested Chelsea find a different job or ask her family to help her pay her rent if she couldn’t afford it.
Chelsea said: ‘It does say in my contract that a request to end the tenancy early needs to be agreed by the landlord, so I don’t know what else I can do.’
But if a tenancy agreement contains a break clause, the tenant can usually rely on it to move out earlier.
Landlords shouldn’t be able to choose whether or not they will allow the tenant to leave under a break clause. It may be argued that this is an unfair term under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
‘Move out now and lose your deposit’
Others are having problems with tenancies that are coming to an end during lockdown. Joel Richardson’s tenancy for his home in Gloucestershire ends in May.
‘Both myself and my partner are self-employed in the fitness industry and we’re out of full-time work at the moment. We need to move somewhere cheaper,’ he said.
But Joel’s landlord told him he can’t find new tenants and has asked them to stay on a rolling basis until social distancing measures have been relaxed.
‘I know we’re not bound to stay, but the landlord says that if we leave, we’ll be breaking the law and social-distancing rules.
‘He says that because of this, he won’t return our £1,000 deposit and won’t be able to give us a reference.
‘It’s stressful enough having to leave a home we love and have lived in for three years. Now we’re being held to ransom.’
Can my landlord stop me from using a break clause to move out early?
No. If your private tenancy agreement contains a break clause, you should be able to use it to move out before the tenancy ends.
If the clause says its down to the landlord’s discretion, you may be able to argue that this is an unfair term under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, due to the imbalance of your rights against the landlord’s.
Saying it’s down to the decision of the landlord defeats the purpose of including a break clause. It’s not your responsibility if a replacement tenant can’t be found and your landlord can’t hold you accountable.
There might be some conditions of the break clause, however. For example, you might have to have lived in the property for at least six months before you can use the break clause. You might also have to pay a fee and each case will depend on the wording in your agreement.
Can my landlord force me to stay in my home after the tenancy period ends?
Absolutely not. Once your tenancy is over, your contract with the landlord has ended and you have no contractual obligation to them. You can move out.
If a private landlord is trying to withhold your deposit, contact the deposit scheme and explain what’s happened. Deposit schemes offer mediation services and should be able to help you get your money back.
You can use our letter template to ask for your deposit back.
If your deposit hasn’t been paid into a protection scheme, you can report your landlord.
You could even take your landlord to court for not protecting your deposit in a scheme. They could be ordered to pay you back the full deposit amount, plus compensation. You can point this out to your landlord if you’re having issues.
What if I don’t want to move out, but don’t want to renew?
Many renters are choosing to stay put at the moment. Research from lettings agency Hamptons found that seven out of 10 tenancies that were due to end in March were renewed, the highest level recorded in March since 2008 when 77% of tenants renewed.
Your current tenancy will usually continue as a periodic tenancy if your fixed-term contract ends as long as you still live there, but it’s best to check the terms of your agreement
Government advice is to negotiate with your landlord and it expects landlords, agents and tenants will need to work together and show goodwill in order to comply with the public health guidance.