UK Property Law
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Thanks for your question.
The basic position is that a tenant is liable for the rent due under the tenancy agreement until the next opportunity to break clause or until expiry of the term. However, landlords are under a duty to mitigate their loss by finding a replacement tenant so the amount due is usually reduced to two or three months.
This is obviously somewhat difficult in your position since if you that would take you up to the break clause. You are therefore left with reasoning with the landlord to see if she will agree to an early vacation by a surrender of the tenancy. You may decide that to attempt to make it easier for her by brining her a replacement tenant (www.gumtree.co.uk is good for finding tenants) because she is under a duty not to unreasonably withhold a replacement tenant.
Try to deal only with the landlord rather than the agent, they will simply be after as much money as possibly and she will doubtless be more compassionate about your position.
As to the deposit, landlords are entitled to deduct amounts owed in rent from it so the question of the return is tied up in whether you can get the landlord to agree to your vacation. They could deduct at least two months from the deposit and possibly three as well depending on how long the Court would think that a replacement tenant could be found.
If the landlord is on your side you will be fine, you may have to negotiate a bit. .
Many thanks for your prompt and helpful response. There was just one thing I wanted to clarify quickly - and that is about the landlord's duty not to unreasonably withhold a replacement tenant. I didn't see anything to that effect written in our contract, so is that general duty that applies in all cases, or only if it is in one's contract?
I have no doubt that we could easily find a replacement tenant so that she is not out of pocket for the three month period in question - there were three other offers on top of ours when we got the flat initially, and yes we would certainly offer to help her out by managing that process of finding someone. My main worry is that her agent will insist on doing things 'by the book' and charging her a new contract preparation which she will need to pass on to us.
Sorry it's taken me a while to reply.
The duty to mitigate one's loss (ie. by finding a replacement tenant in this case) is an accepted principle of contract law and it need not be expressed in the tenancy agreement.
It's obviously good that you are confident that a replacement can be easily found, be clear with the landlord and hopefully that will prompt a constructive approach from her.
The costs of preparing the new tenancy agreement is simply something that you will have to put up with if she insists upon it as a term of the surrender, in the end you are bound by the term of the tenancy and although you can limit your exposure to liability this fee is not something that you can get around. You won't know until you speak to the landlord if she intends to include it as a term of the the surrender.
I hope this clarifies, if so please kindly click accept.