Tenant ending a fixed term lease

Ending a lease

If a lease is for a specific amount of time and the tenant wishes to leave early, they will have to either ‘terminate the lease’ or ‘break the lease’. The difference between these two is whether rent has to be paid after they leave.

A tenant may end a lease for any of the following reasons:

  • the owner has not done something the lease says they must, or has done something the lease says they must not do
  • the owner has not done repairs that are not the tenant’s fault within the required timeframe (see Maintenance and Repairs for the relevant timeframes) and the tenant has let them know that the repairs were required or that they were not done properly, and that it is reasonable to rely on this reason to leave
  • the tenant wishes to move out and wants to end a non-fixed-term lease .

A notice to terminate must:

  • be in writing
  • be served on the owner or agent at least 14 days before the tenant intends to leave
  • state the date on which the tenant will leave (called the ‘date of effect’).

A tenant does not have to give the owner notice that they do not wish to extend or renew the lease. However, if a tenant is not negotiating an extension or renewal as the end date draws nearer, this may encourage the owner to issue a notice to vacate and look for a new tenant. So it is recommended that a tenant let the owner know what they intend to do.

Notice to terminate for use by tenants

If the tenant wants to leave early because the owner hasn’t complied with the lease (for example, if the owner has not fixed issues at the property within the timeframe for repairs after the tenant tells the owner) they must give the owner a ‘notice to terminate’ the lease. See Example Notice to Terminate (pdf, 98.1 KB).

A tenant cannot serve a notice to terminate for repairs unless they have already notified the owner of the need for repairs and 28 days (for general repairs) have passed without the owner completing the repairs.

A notice to terminate is needed so that the owner is made aware that, unless they stop their illegal behaviour, or properly comply with their obligations under the lease, the tenant will leave and will no longer be responsible for rent.

Therefore, in most cases, if an owner then stops their behaviour, or fixes what they were doing wrong before the date of effect of the notice, the notice will no longer be valid and the tenant cannot move out.

This is the case except for repairs – an owner has already been notified of the need for repairs, so they are unable to stop the notice by fixing the repairs within the timeframe.

Also: Repairs and Minimum standards are different. If you are terminating because a property does not meet a minimum standard, see Ending a lease for breach of minimum standards .

The tenant is responsible for rent until the last day of the notice, which is the day they are to return the keys.

If a tenant leaves without giving notice, or if the notice is disputed by the owner, the tenant may have to pay rent or other costs after they have moved out (see “Breaking the lease”).

The tenant is still responsible for leaving the property as it was at the beginning of the tenancy, even when they have served a valid notice to terminate.

If the owner makes a claim on the bond at the end of the tenancy, they will need to provide a copy of the notice to terminate and reasons why they believe the notice was invalid.

Contents of the notice to terminate

A notice to terminate must contain the following information:

  • the date of serving the notice
  • the name of the tenant
  • the name of the owner
  • the rental property address
  • details of the reasons for the notice
  • the date on which the notice will ‘take effect’ (the tenant will leave and return the keys).

Number of days in the notice period

(see Number of days in the notice period under Notice to vacate )

What can an owner do?

If an owner disagrees with a notice to terminate, they should immediately let the tenant know, and give reasons why they disagree.

If a dispute about the bond occurs, the owner should give the Commissioner a copy of the notice and of their reasons for disagreeing (see Evidence required for a bond claim ).

Even if the owner thinks the tenant has left when they shouldn’t have, they will need to advertise and try to find new tenants as soon as possible.

Breaking the lease

If a tenant leaves a lease before the end date without proper reasons or a notice to terminate, they are ‘breaking the lease’.

A tenant breaking the lease is responsible for paying rent until a new lease starts or until the end date of the lease, whichever happens first.

If you must break the lease, you should give the owner as much notice (in writing) as possible.

The owner must make reasonable attempts to try to find a new tenant, for example by advertising, by processing applications, and by not unreasonably refusing applications (known as 'mitigating loss'). An owner does not necessarily have to let the property with the same terms and conditions as they had before (for example with the same rent, or allowing pets).

The tenant will have to pay any advertising costs charged to the owner. The tenant may help the owner find a new tenant.

Once the tenant has left the property (in the same condition it was in at the beginning of the tenancy) and returned the keys, the tenant is no longer responsible for cleaning or gardening issues. This means the owner should do their vacating inspection as soon as possible after the tenant leaves and finalise any claim to the bond at this point.