Moving out: When and how tenancies end
The end of a fixed-term tenancy: Reaching the agreed end date
When does a fixed-term tenancy end?
A fixed-term tenancy of 90 days (three months) or less finishes on the end date that’s specified in the agreement.
A fixed-term tenancy of more than 90 days automatically continues as a new indefinite (periodic) tenancy after the end date of the fixed term, unless:
- you and the landlord enter into a new agreement or extend the existing one, or
- you give written notice to the landlord that you intend not to continue with the tenancy. This notice has to be given no later than 28 days (four weeks) before the end date of the fixed term, but not earlier than 90 days before the end date. You don’t need to say why you’re giving notice.
Can a fixed-term tenancy be ended early?
You can’t give notice to end a fixed-term tenancy early – you’re legally bound to keep paying the rent until the end of the fixed term.
But, you could “assign” your tenancy to someone else. This is where someone takes over your tenancy, allowing you to get out of it early. This is where you transfer all of the rights you hold under your lease to somebody else on an agreed date. It releases you from your tenancy agreement once the date of assignment takes effect, and it means you no longer have to pay rent.
Even though you could assign your lease (with your landlord’s agreement) before February 2021, the new law changes have made the process easier. For example, after 11 February 2021 landlords can no longer put rules in your tenancy agreement that stop you from assigning (except for social housing tenancy agreements).
You can also apply to the Tenancy Tribunal to have the tenancy ended early if there’s been an unexpected (“unforeseen”) change in your situation – losing your job, for example – that means you’ll suffer “severe hardship” if the length of the tenancy isn’t reduced. But the hardship you would suffer must be greater than the hardship the landlord would suffer by having the tenancy end early.
If the Tenancy Tribunal does agree to reduce the term, it can also order you to pay the landlord reasonable compensation to cover any loss or damage they’ll be caused by the tenancy ending early.
Your landlord can also apply to have the tenancy ended early because of unexpected hardship. You and the landlord can agree to end a fixed-term tenancy early.
How do I transfer my lease to someone else? (“assign” the lease)
If you want to make an assignment, all you have to do is give your landlord the name and contact details of the person you want to assign your lease to and get consent from the remaining tenants. You have to do this in writing such as by letter or email. This can be done at any time during your lease and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a fixed-term or periodic lease.
It’s illegal for your landlord to ignore your request, and they’re not allowed to unreasonably refuse. They’re also required to respond in writing in a timely manner. This means they have to make a decision based on the information you provide them, and if they refuse the assignment, they need to give reasons why, which may put you in a position to address their concerns.
If your landlord agrees, they can put conditions on the assignment and charge for the costs of the process. However, this has to be reasonable and they need to give you a breakdown of the fees. ‘Reasonable’ is what a reasonable person would do in the circumstances.
Example: Reasonable conditions and the need for agreement
Case:  NZTT 4299844
The tenant lived with her partner and kids. She texted her landlord that she was breaking up with her partner and wanted to leave the tenancy, asking if she could transfer it to him. The landlord replied that the tenancy would need to be changed if she was leaving. After providing a reference for her new flat application, the landlord emailed the tenant saying she needed to pay overdue rent and repair some property damage to end the tenancy. The tenant didn’t do any of these things.
The tenant argued she had been released from the tenancy on the day she texted saying she wanted to leave. But the Tribunal found that this wasn’t enough for an assignment. This was because she had only asked if it was possible to assign. She didn’t give more detail about it and her intention to go ahead with it, so there was never an agreement about it between her and the landlord.
The Tribunal went further and said that even if the landlord and tenant had concluded an agreement, it came with the conditions to pay overdue rent and repair damage. The Tribunal found that these were reasonable conditions and they hadn’t been followed.