I’ve got joint tenants and one wants to leave early, what do I do?

If you have joint tenants and one wants to leave the property before the tenancy is up, where does this leave you?

In 2022, friends, family members and partners regularly rent homes together. While house shares and HMOs are common, if it’s possible to live with people you know and like, many will opt for this option over living with strangers.

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However, life happens and what was once the perfect arrangement may need to come to an end for multiple reasons.

What is a joint tenancy?

If partners or friends are looking to live together, it’s common for them to sign a single tenancy agreement. In a HMO, each tenant would sign an individual agreement. 

However, what may have started out as the best thing for all parties may no longer suit for multiple reasons:

  • A falling out or break up. The tenants may decide they can no longer live together and one or both may wish to move out
  • Financial issues. One or other of the tenants may no longer be able to afford the rent and need to find somewhere cheaper to live
  • Personal reasons. One of the tenants may need to move away for a number of reasons, from a new job to a family emergency

Because a single tenancy agreement was signed, this means the tenants are liable for the rent both individually and jointly – if one tenant is unable to pay their half, the other tenant will need to cover it. In a HMO situation, other tenants aren’t liable if someone is unable to pay.

Where does this leave the landlord?

If one of the tenants leaves early, it might be tempting to just let the tenancy run as it is – rather than face any additional paperwork. But making sure things are in order and all the paperwork is up to date is the best thing for everyone. If you don’t update the agreement, the departing tenant still has right of access to the property and can be pursued for future rent arrears. Both of which could cause a lot of problems in the future – so don’t chance your luck!

If the tenancy is coming to an end and one of the tenants doesn’t want to renew, it’s a simple matter to simply start a new tenancy agreement with the remaining tenant(s). 

However, if you are in the middle of the tenancy, things become more complex. For the benefit of all parties, you will need to update the agreements. Before you start the paperwork, have a chat with the tenants to find out what they want to do:

  • Does the remaining tenant want to stay in the property? If so, you can sign a new tenancy agreement with the remaining tenant. This will mean that the departing tenant can no longer be pursued for any arrears after the date of signing and will no longer have right of access to the property
  • Does the remaining tenant want to look for a new housemate? They may already have someone in mind, in which case, you will want to start a new tenancy agreement with the remaining tenant and the new housemate – you will also want to thoroughly reference the new tenant!
  • Does the remaining tenant want to leave? They may not have anyone else they want to live with and may be unable to make the rent on their own, in which case, they will need to give you notice and you will need to look for a new tenant. If the issue is with making the rent, consider allowing them a shorter notice period, so they aren’t tied into something they can’t afford and you aren’t worrying about potential arrears

Breaking a joint tenancy

The cleanest thing to do is to bring the current tenancy to an end and then start a new one. 

  1. Deed of Surrender. Signing this means your tenants relinquish their legal responsibilities over and rights to the property. You would also sign this document, acknowledging this surrender
  2. Return the deposit. As a joint tenancy, you will have received a single deposit. It’s not up to you how much of that deposit each tenant contributed, so the easiest thing is to return it to the tenants to resolve as they see fit. If you use our Inventory Check In and Check Out, a professional third party will advise on if any of the deposit is required to cover any damages
  3. Sign a new agreement. Sign a new agreement with the remaining tenant and any new household members. Think of this as a completely new tenancy, so you’ll need to make sure you’ve ticked all the boxes with regards to protecting the deposit, providing copies of your legal certification (Gas Safety, EICR, EPC) and checking all the fire alarms

Working with your tenants

While this can be frustrating, remember that it’s equally frustrating and stressful for your tenants. We always advise that you keep the lines of communication open and we’re going to say it again – keep talking to your tenants to find out what the best next steps are for all parties.

Whoever decides to remain in the property – we cannot emphasise enough that you should treat it like a whole new tenancy. It can be tempting to skip steps because you’ve already provided them with the legal certification and already tested the alarms. But remember, this is a whole new agreement, so dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s!

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