Can my tenant move out before her twelve-month lease is up?

November 2012

Question

I rented out my home for the first time about six months ago, as I moved abroad, and let the property myself to a single tenant before leaving. I noticed that the rent stopped coming in last month and I phoned the tenant who said that she was sorry but couldn’t afford the rent any more and had to move out.

I told her that she had signed a 12-month lease and she couldn’t simply move out without agreeing it with me. She said that since I have her deposit that would cover the last month’s rent.

I am very distraught because I am new to being a landlord and do not know what to do.

Have I any comeback or can she simply walk away?

Answer

Unfortunately this situation is very common where a tenant agrees to rent an apartment for, say, 12 months and then defaults midway through. If the tenancy agreement is specifically for a fixed period of time and it is clearly stated on the agreement, then the tenant is liable for the entire rent for the period of the fixed term.

If the tenant approaches a landlord mid-tenancy and asks for permission to sublet the property and a landlord refuses then they will be able to break the lease without penalty.

This is clearly documented on the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) website () and the Threshold website ().

Where no fixed-term contract is in place a tenant may give notice to terminate a tenancy but this must be done in an appropriate way and the process is also clearly set out on the websites mentioned.

Where a tenant stops paying rent without notice to a landlord, or vacates without notice to a landlord, then there is no protection for that tenant under the law and a landlord can seek recovery of loss or damage through the PRTB.

It is important that in the first instance the tenancy is registered with the PRTB to be eligible for this process.

In practice, however, where a tenant has breached the lease agreement for reasons which are to do with the inability to pay it is very difficult to recover any outstanding payments.

It is good that you picked up on the non-payment early so that you can limit the loss by dealing with the situation quickly.

We always recommend to clients to check their bank accounts each month to stay on top of rental payments. The important thing is to get vacant possession of the property and re-let it as quickly as possible.

I understand that you are a first-time landlord and that you may not be familiar with the law or common practices.

I would recommend using a suitably qualified agent to handle your affairs. It will involve a fee but this may be money well spent — especially if you are living abroad. Most agents offer a management service also.

Fergal Hopkins is a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland.