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When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Break clause

A tenancy agreement is a legally binding contract, just like a contract for a mobile phone or broadband service. Once you sign or commit to a tenancy you are obliged to continue paying rent until either

  • the landlord agrees to end the contract
  • the contract comes to a natural end and you have indicated that you do not wish it to continue or
  • the property is no longer available to you, e.g. someone else moves into the property and begins paying rent). 

You can only leave before the expiry date in the contract if

  • the landlord agrees to release you from the contract or
  • there is a break clause in the agreement. 

If neither of these apply and you leave the property anyway, there is a risk that the landlord will keep your deposit and may also take you or your guarantor to court for the rest of the rent that is owed. 

Break clauses

Most tenancy agreements don't include a break clause, but you should check your contract for one, just in case.  While all contracts must have a clause explaining that the tenant must give at least 4 weeks' notice if they want to leave the property, this is not a break clause and simply giving your landlord 4 weeks' notice will not normally end your responsibility to pay rent for the property.  

A break clause will usually say that either the tenant or the landlord can end the agreement early or before the expiry of the lease.  It will usually explain that whoever is ending the agreement has to follow certain procedures.  This could include paying the other person a fee or giving a longer period of notice.  It might also say that you can only end the agreement early if you are able to find a replacement tenant who is acceptable to your landlord. 

If you think there is a break clause in your contract, please phone our advice line and read this to our advisers so they can help you understand what you need to do in order to get out of this contract. 

What happens to your deposit if you leave early?

If your tenancy agreement includes a break clause and you have complied with all the instructions relating to this clause your deposit should be returned to you. 

Check the information about your deposit to find out which scheme is protecting it and how you can get your money back.  If your deposit is protected and you disagree with any deductions made by your landlord, you can ask the deposit scheme to adjudicate the dispute to decide who should get this money. Make sure that you provide the deposit company with a copy of your lease which shows that you were entitled to leave early. 

Where a tenant has left without relying on a break clause, the deposit company must award the money to the landlord if there is a dispute.  This is because the deposit company will say that you have broken the lease by leaving before the end date.  In these circumstances, you will have to try to get your deposit back through the Small Claims Court. 

At Small Claims Court the judge can consider things a little more deeply and if the judge believes you were justified in leaving early and if the landlord cannot prove that there was any damage or rent arrears owed as a result of your tenancy, the judge may order the landlord to pay the money back to you.