When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Landlord is in breach of contract

You might think that it's okay for you to leave because the landlord has broken the contract by failing to do proper repairs or to carry out other obligations. If you feel the landlord has materially breached the agreement, you could defend yourself in court by proving that

  • you notified the landlord of the breach,
  • you allowed the landlord reasonable time to remedy the breach,
  • you made the landlord aware that you felt s/he was in material breach and were considering terminating the agreement if the breach is not remedied and
  • you eventually gave Notice to Quit to your landlord, giving your reasons as the landlord being in breach of the agreement.  

What is a material breach?

A material breach must be quite serious.  For example, a landlord who turns up at your property once without giving you proper notice may have breached the agreement, but this isn't really a significant breach.  However, a landlord who regularly lets him or herself into your property without giving you advance notice may have materially breached the agreement.

Try to resolve the problem before deciding to leave

You must give your landlord a reasonable amount of time to fix the problem. If you find that the landlord or agent isn't taking your concerns seriously, the council's environmental health team may be able to help if the breach relates to

  • harassment
  • repairs and fitness or
  • deposit protection. 

There is always a risk if you leave a tenancy before the term has expired so it's important that you take all the steps available to you to resolve the matter before deciding to leave. If the problem is the landlord failing to do repairs, you should contact the council.  Keep your communication in writing and keep records of all the emails, letters or text messages you send about this problem.  

Write to your landlord

Before you give your notice you should

  • write to the landlord setting out what you believe to be a breach and that you will issue Notice to Quit if the breach is not remedied by a specified date 
  • write again enclosing Notice to Quit if the issue hasn't been resolved by your deadline and clearly state that you are issuing this Notice because the landlord has materially breached the contractual obligations. 

If your landlord takes you to court to claim unpaid rent, use your letters to defend your case.  However, it will be up to the judge on the day to decide whether or not the breach you cite is significant enough to render the lease void. 

What happens to your deposit if you leave early?

If you leave before the contract end date, your landlord will probably keep any deposit that you paid.

You can try to reclaim this either through the tenancy deposit company's adjudication service or through the small claims court procedure. However, if you have broken the contract the tenancy deposit company will not be able to return your money to you, so using the dispute resolution service is not recommended when you leave a tenancy early.  

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 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.  Remember, that the landlord may counterclaim against you for the rent that is owed under the remainder of the tenancy.