The accidental landlord: my tenant wants to move out early

A tenant’s decision to move out early spoils the accidental landlord's birthday bash and gets her thinking about the tenant/landlord obligations...
It’s Saturday night, I’m heading off to my own birthday bash, all set to party like it’s 1989, and a tenant rings to stop me in my tracks. For no particular reason he is planning to move out of his room the following week. He has paid his rent for the next two weeks, but he says he won’t pay any more.
 
He doesn’t appear to care a jot about the six-month contract he signed only three months ago. He has decided he wants to leave, so he is going. End of story.
 

I retort that he is obliged to pay rent for the next three months, unless he can find someone suitable to take over his lease — so there.
 
Then off I go to dance to some Eighties hits, determined not to let him spoil my night. But as I’m strutting my stuff to Madonna’s Into the Groove (yep, it’s that kind of party), it suddenly strikes me that despite my cavalier response, I might not be within my rights to just kick back and leave it to the tenant to sort out this mess.
 
I had a similar situation, years ago, with a particularly awkward woman who gave me just three weeks’ notice that she was leaving two months before the end of her fixed-term lease. At that time, I was warned by a solicitor friend who specialised in contract law that I had to try to re-let the property as soon as possible to reduce the tenant’s loss.
 
Since then, several landlords have told me this is nonsense, that there is no obligation on the part of the landlord to try to re-let a property. So I decide to seek the opinion of a more specialist solicitor. I approach Leon Golstein, head of property disputes at law firm Seddons in the West End.
 
He stresses that as every situation is different, landlords should seek legal advice based on their specific circumstances, but in principle, a landlord does have a duty to try to re-let a property to reduce the tenant’s financial burden.
 
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£450 a week: in Cambridge Gardens, North Kensington, this one-bedroom, open-plan flat is available to rent through John D Wood 
 
However, he points out that a landlord isn’t obliged to take the first applicant who comes along, and in certain circumstances it might not be possible for the property to be re-let.
 
For instance, the landlord might be overseas, so unable to prepare the property for re-letting, or the period left on the lease might be too short for a lawful let. If this is the case, the tenant remains on the hook, he said.
 
Landlords can also pass on the bill of re-letting the property to the departing tenant, Golstein reassures me. This includes letting agent and marketing costs, assuming these don’t amount to more than the rent for the remainder of the lease.
 
The tenant will also be responsible for the property and any associated bills, such as council tax, while it is empty, up to the end of their lease.
 
“There are other possible risks,” says Golstein. “If the tenant leaves the property empty, contrary to a duty to keep the property occupied or secure, and it burns down or becomes a squat or is otherwise damaged before it can be safely re-secured by the landlord, the tenant may find himself exposed to all costs and losses arising as well.”
 
So it seems I will have to get my skates on to re-let the room, which is only fair, I suppose — but if I don’t find someone suitable, my tenant might regret spoiling my party.

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