Landlord Rights When a Tenant Moves Out Early

What rights do landlords have when a tenant appears to have left a buy-to-let home before the tenancy agreement has ended? 

Moving out early creates a tricky situation for landlords who must decide if the tenant has abandoned the property or surrendered the tenancy before changing the locks. 

The risk is taking the property back too quickly can soon become an illegal eviction with all the problems that entails for a landlord. 

This guide looks at the three likely scenarios and how to deal with them.

Express surrender

This is probably the easiest of the three scenarios for a landlord to identify and deal with. 

An express surrender needs consent from the landlord and the tenant, which should be obtained in writing to allay any future misunderstandings. 

The agreement releases both parties from the tenancy and any other obligations they have to each other.

If the tenant signs to move but stay on, the landlord can still take back the home through the courts. Surrender should be made as a deed, and a suitable document is available here

It should be noted that if the tenancy is periodic, it’s easiest for the tenant just to give a notice to quit. This unilaterally ends the tenancy and doesn’t have to be made as a deed.

Implied surrender

No written agreement is involved in an implied surrender, which means a landlord should be sure the tenant has given up the tenancy.

 There will be an implied surrender where a landlord or a tenant has been a party to some act, the validity of which he is afterwards estopped from disputing and which would not be valid if the tenancy had continued to exist (Sable v QFS Scaffolding Ltd  [2010] EWCA Civ 682) 

If the implied surrender is disputed, a court will look at what happened leading up to the point when the landlord decided the tenant had moved out. This could cover several factors, such as moving belongings out of the home or handing the keys back. 

Non-payment of rent is a consideration but not a decisive factor and carries little weight. 

As a landlord, the aim is to list a series of actions consistent with those of someone leaving the tenancy. 

The key is that the tenant’s actions should show their intention relating to the property to a reasonable person. 

A useful case is Sable v QFS Scaffolding Ltd. Although the case relates to a builder’s yard, the rules also apply to residential property. More detailed information about surrender is available here.


Deciding if a tenant has moved out, just gone on holiday, or is in hospital is a concern for landlords. 

Abandonment is when a tenant moves out without telling the landlord. This is one case with a thin line between lawful possession of a property and illegal eviction. 

The question is not whether the tenant is living at the property but whether they intend to return within a reasonable period. If the landlord is unsure whether the tenant intends to return within a reasonable period, a court order must be obtained. 

More detailed information about abandonment can be found here.

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If a landlord takes possession when it seems evident that the tenant has abandoned the property, there is a risk that the tenant may then claim unlawful eviction. The landlord could be prosecuted and face a civil damages claim from the tenant. Therefore, the safe option is to obtain an order from the court giving the landlord possession. As detailed earlier, evicting a tenant without a court order is a criminal offence (with very few exceptions).

Tenant Wants to Leave

A periodic tenant intending to leave must provide a notice to quit in writing. The minimum notice period is four weeks (specified in section 5 of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977). The length of the notice should be at least the length of a rental period (subject to the four-week minimum rule and up to a maximum of six months). This will be a calendar month for a calendar monthly rental in most cases. Where the rent is quarterly, a quarter's notice is required, six-monthly or yearly requires six months' notice. The notice should always expire at the end of a rental payment period or the first day of a new period.