Your responsibilities when getting out of a lease

An office is being decorated at the end of a lease period

The end of your tenancy can mean having to make repairs to the property before you go. Know your liabilities and how much it could cost you

Your lease probably says you have to leave your premises in 'good and substantial repair and condition' when you leave. This usually means the same state of repair as when the lease was granted - so you don't have to make them perfect. For example, if you have been patching the roof to keep the water out, and the landlord decides to replace it with a new one, you don't have to pay for the new roof.

You only have to do what is reasonable, given factors such as:

  • the state of the premises when you moved in;
  • the reasonable expectations of any potential new tenant, given the age, locality, etc of the premises.

Your lease may also say that if you have made alterations, you must reinstate the premises to the same condition they were in when you moved in.

When negotiating your lease, make sure it includes a written and photographic record - a schedule of condition - that shows the state of the premises when you moved in.

But beware of the wording in your lease. Some leases require you to 'put' or 'keep' the premises in good repair and condition, which can mean having to leave it in a better state than it was in when you moved in. That's a critical difference, so take advice on the precise wording in your lease.

What if I haven't kept the premises in good repair?

If you don't fulfil your repairing obligations, the landlord can claim damages for any loss suffered. As well as the cost of the repairs themselves, these can include

  • the cost of supervising the work;
  • loss of rent and service charges while the work is being carried out;
  • producing and negotiating the schedule of repairs.

But if the landlord plans to destroy or significantly upgrade the premises, your repairs may be pointless. Find out the landlord's intentions if you can, and take advice.

Alternatively, you may be able to show that the cost of repairs to the property will be more than the reduction in its value. Or the landlord may have a new tenant who is prepared to carry out repairs themselves. If either applies, you could try to negotiate your way out of your repairing obligations.

Another option is to apply for a lease renewal (which is assigned to the new tenant, with their agreement) so you can roll your requirement to repair over into the new term.

Make sure you can prove the condition you left the premises in. If the landlord starts works, or new tenants make changes after moving in, you need to be able to produce a schedule of condition that shows the state the premises were in when you left.

Sometimes, instead of letting the landlord carry out repairs, it may be worth your leaving early so you can carry them out yourself.

Exercising a break clause

A final point - you may plan to end your lease by exercising a break clause. A break clause allows you to get out of your lease at certain points specified in the lease, provided you meet certain conditions.

One of the conditions is usually that you carry out specified repairs first. Depending on the wording of the clause, the slightest failure could make the break clause invalid - leaving you trapped in your lease.

Many tenants appoint a surveyor to advise on the works needed to comply with the lease and to ensure that they will be finished in time to exercise the break clause.

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