According to leading consumer group Which? there are landlords and letting agents who are refusing to honour break clauses in their agreements with tenants during the coronavirus crisis, meaning that they are not able to move out of their accommodation during the current health crisis.
The Which? information suggests that this refusal stems from fears among landlords that they will not be able to find replacement tenants during the lockdown period. The group goes as far as suggesting that they have heard reports of landlords putting pressure on tenants to remain in their properties even when the formal agreements have come to an end.
Cases of individuals having lost their jobs unexpectedly and wanting to move out of their accommodation due to coronavirus and back in with family are common. Others want to break and find somewhere cheaper where the impact on their income will be reduced during these uncertain times. There are many freelancers living in rented accommodation who saw their income dry up overnight at the end of March who could have found themselves in this situation.
Others are employed, but perhaps in industries that are all but closed, such as travel and tourism or leisure. Even those who have planned for ‘disasters’ such as redundancy couldn’t have foreseen the impact this coronavirus outbreak has inflicted across all industries, all around the world.
For many tenants in this situation, moving home is a reasonable step to take and the break clause makes it possible, but for others, having landlords refuse, claiming that it is up to their discretion to grant, is adding additional unnecessary stress to an already difficult situation.
Which? reports that some individuals who have spoken to them have been told to find alternative work to meet rent, or to borrow money from family. According to the statement on the Which? website, there is room to interpret this declaration of “landlord’s discretion” which could be considered unfair in the context of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 as there is a very clear imbalance in favour of the landlord.
For those tenants who have a break clause in their agreement, the option might well make financial sense in the current climate; the crisis shows little sign of abating, and the savings to be had on rent in the coming months could soon mount up. However, not every agreement has a break clause included, and as Which? reports, some landlords are making things difficult even if the agreement includes the break.
Before landlords make a statement on a break clause, they should read the tenancy agreement carefully. If there is no break clause, it is more clear cut. If there is a break clause and it is straightforward, then it should be allowed under any circumstances and no excuses should be given, nor should a tenant be pushed for a reason for wanting to break.
Social distancing guidelines do not prevent a tenant from moving out during coronavirus restrictions. If, however, the clause says the break is at the discretion of the landlord, then the decision should be handled sensitively, although some will argue that that defeats the purpose of including such a clause in the first place. Be clear on any conditions attached to the clause, such as a minimum rental period before a break may be taken.
Replacing the tenant is down to the landlord or their letting agent and the outgoing tenant should not be made to feel accountable or responsible in any way. Respectable agents would not do that anyway.
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