Here is a question to the blog clinic from Cliff (not his real name) who is a landlord
I am a private landlord living abroad and I am renting my property through one of the well-known Estate Agencies.
I have recently signed a contract with a tenant for a term of 2 years, with a break up clause after 9 months. However, due to a scaffolding being erected for a period of 3-6 months, the tenant has informed me through the estate agent that she will move out tomorrow and wants to be paid back the deposit and the rent she has paid in advance.
Her reason is that had she known about the scaffolding, she wouldn’t have been interested in the property.
On my side, probably I should have been more informed about the scaffolding being erected at the time of the signature of the agreement (I wasn’t unfortunately), but my question is: can she really walk out so freely breaking the agreement recently signed? Is it that simple?
I have proposed that she can move out when I have found a new tenant but she has refused. Alternatively, I was thinking of reducing the rent (amount to be discussed) for the period of the works, but I am not sure she will accept.
Can she really take legal action or maybe I should take legal action against her, due to the early and unexpected break up of the agreement?
The short answer is no, your tenant cannot walk out on the tenancy like that. She has signed a legally binding agreement and is liable to you for the rent, on a month by month basis, until the end of the fixed term.
Whether or not she lives there.
There is an old rule often known by its Latin wording ‘caveat emptor’ which means ‘let the buyer beware’. It means that if you are buying or contracting for something you need to make sure before you commit yourself that you want to go ahead.
Now in many consumer type contracts there are laws, such as the Sale of Goods Act which give consumers rights to end the contract in certain circumstances. However, there are no such rules for rented property.
The only law I can think of which may give her that right is under the Misrepresentation Act. However, this is dependent upon there being a ‘representation’ which was wrong.
So if the tenant said to the agents ‘Are there going to be any building works which will affect my use of this property’ (or something similar) and they said ‘no’ then (even if they genuinely believed that they were correct) she will have the right to end the contract.
However, if nothing was said about it, then there has been no ‘misrepresentation’ and she has no rights under the act.
Before going any further therefore, you need to speak to your agents and see what was said by them as you will be bound by what they said to the tenant.
However if they can assure you that nothing was said to the tenant about this, not even something which could be misleading (however innocently) such as what a lovely view there is from the windows, then I think you are in the clear.
In which case you should say to her that the scaffolding is nothing to do with you, that you were unaware that it was going to be erected, and that she is bound by the agreement. Then send her a separate ‘without prejudice’ letter setting out your proposals, ie that you will try to find a new tenant for her but that she is responsible for the rent in the meantime.
Under the strict law, note that (assuming there was no element of misrepresentation) you are not responsible for finding a new tenant if she decides to leave early, and you can hold her liable for the rent for the whole of the fixed term, on a month by month basis.