Here is a question to the blog clinic fast track from Liz who is a tenant.
I need to move home for work. Through the agent the landlord agreed to end my tenancy early if a suitable tenant was found and would not charge me a search fee.
A tenant was found and their tenancy due to be signed. I organised a cleaner through the agent.
On the day the tenancy was due to be signed the owner said they wanted to sell the property instead and are holding me to pay rent until the end of my lease (four months). They have even asked me to give access for valuation. I cannot afford two properties.
The problem with this question is that we do not really have enough information to advise properly.
There are two possible answers – one is based on contract and the other is based on a doctrine called ‘estoppel’. However, from the information you have provided it is not possible to say with certainty if either of these will apply to this situation.
Breach of contract
When you sign a tenancy agreement this is a legal contract to rent (and pay rent) for a property for a period of time.
Unless the tenancy contains a ‘break clause’ (ie a clause allowing you to end early) you can only end the tenancy early if the landlord agrees.
Under contract law, contracts are enforceable if both parties give something of value to the other. This is known as ‘consideration’. It is nothing to do with being considerate. Consideration is something of value.
So with a tenancy:
- the consideration from the landlord is the grant of the tenancy,
- the consideration from the tenant is the agreement to pay rent.
If you want to change the tenancy, eg by ending it early, for an agreement to do this to be binding in contract law, there would also need to be something of value passing both ways.
You say ‘a tenant was found’. Who found the tenant? If the tenant was found by you, and this was on the basis of an agreement with the landlord that, if you found a suitable tenant for them, they would allow you to end the tenancy early – I think you could justifiably claim that the landlord’s refusal at the last minute to end your tenancy is a breach of contract.
However, if the tenant was found by the landlord, which seems more likely from the way your question is worded, particularly if the landlord paid agents to find the tenant, then this will not be the case.
There is also the question of the cleaner – you say this was found ‘through the agents’ which, as the agents act for the landlord may not be sufficient to base a breach of contract claim on – unless perhaps you had already paid the cleaner when the landlord refused to honour his agreement.
However, this would be better used for the other legal argument
This is a legal doctrine that courts can use to prevent (or ‘estop’) someone (A) from going back on their word, if the other party (B) has relied on it ‘to their detriment’. Provided the A is aware that B will be doing this and stands by and does nothing.
I think this may well apply to your situation but again we don’t really have enough information to be able to say for sure.
- if the landlord said to you “we have now found a new tenant, we will be signing a tenancy agreement with them on [date] and after that you will be released from the tenancy”. And if,
- relying on this, you have signed up for a new tenancy and paid the deposit and first month’s rent, and
- assuming the landlord is aware that you will be doing that, then
- I think you would be able to rely on estoppel if the landlord seeks to claim rent for the rest of the tenancy from you.
You would have acted ‘to your detriment’ as you would have committed yourself to a new tenancy. The landlord can’t then turn around, knowing that you are putting yourself in a position where you are committed to a new property, and change his mind.
However, we don’t know if this is the case or not. You don’t say whether you have signed up to a new tenancy or not – you only mention the cleaner.
This could be sufficient to base the estoppel on – paying for a cleaner to clean the property is ‘something of value’ and as the cleaner was found via the agents, the landlord would either know or be imputed to know as the agents act for him, that this was being done.
So if before the landlord turned around and told you he was no longer willing to end the tenancy, you had already paid the cleaner – this might be sufficient to allow you to claim estoppel.
However, the estoppel argument would be stronger if you could say that you had committed yourself financially to a new tenancy and that the landlord or his agents knew this. Or had done something else which put you in a difficult position in reliance on the landlord’s promise (which he would have been aware of).
If you reached an agreement with the landlord that they would end the tenancy if you found a new tenant, and you did actually find a new tenant (which clearly was acceptable to the landlord as they were about to sign them up) then you may be able to claim breach of contract.
Or, if you have acted in reliance on the landlords promise to end the tenancy early ‘to your detriment’, for example by signing up to a new tenancy or possibly by paying for a cleaner, you may be able to defend any claim the landlord may make for rent arrears on the basis of estoppel.
However, the information you have provided is just not sufficient to be able to say for sure if either of these apply.
If you have not found the new tenant or have not actually signed up to a new tenancy or ‘acted to your detriment’ in any way (or maybe if you are not in a position to prove this if challenged by the landlord), then the landlord will be entitled to claim the future rent to the end of the fixed term.
Hopefully, this answer will give you sufficient information to work out whether you have sufficient grounds to refuse to pay any future rent or whether you should accept the situation.
Bear in mind that if the landlord sues you for rent arrears (if you refuse to pay the ongoing rent) and you decide to defend, you would need to be in a position to prove your case. For example by way of emails or records of telephone conversations where any agreement reached with the landlord was discussed.
So before deciding what to do, you should check carefully all correspondence with the landlord and his agent and see if it can support your case. A lack of written evidence will not be fatal (remember that contracts do not have to be in writing) but will make it more difficult for you.
You may be interested in this series of articles which describes how lawyers ‘find the answer’ to legal issues. If you want to take further advice from a solicitor, see our list of advice services here, and be sure to show them this answer which may help them.