Key return on early exit?

Sam asks:
(updated on Thursday, May 23rd 2013)

My tenant is leaving the property early. Can I ask for the keys back and expect them to continue to pay rent until the end of the tenancy?

Our Experts Answer:

Under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 (the Act), a fixed term tenancy can only be terminated early with the mutual agreement of both parties. Where an agreement to terminate a tenancy early is reached, the agreement should be recorded in writing, preferably on the tenancy agreement. If an agreement is not made to terminate a tenancy agreement early, but a tenant chooses to move out prior to the termination date regardless, the tenant will remain as the legal tenant of the premises and will continue to be responsible for the tenancy (including continuing to be responsible for any rent owing). As the tenant may also retain possession of the property until the date the tenancy ends, a landlord cannot require the tenant to return the keys prior to the tenancy ending. However, if a tenant does agree to return the keys to the landlord prior to the tenancy ending, the landlord and tenant should discuss any terms that will apply (e.g. whether rent payments will reduce, or whether returning the keys to the landlord constitutes the tenant handing possession of the property back to the landlord). If the tenant wishes to retain possession of the property (which they are entitled to until the tenancy ends), the landlord would need to comply with their obligations under the Act including their obligations in respect of entering the premises. To discuss your situation further, or for further information regarding ending a tenancy earlier, you can visit the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Building and Housing Group’s website at, or call 0800 TENANCY (0800 836 262).

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