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L changing locks – an act of surrender?

There are various ways in which a leasehold estate in land may come to an end. One of these is surrender by operation of law. Sometimes the surrender of a lease does not take place by deed but is effected by operation of law ie as a result of the actions of the parties. Note that a surrender by operation of law does not take effect following action by T alone. HMLR PG 26 points out that examples of surrender by operation of law might be:
 
L grants a new lease of the same premises to the existing T;
  • T gives up possession of the premises to L and possession is then accepted by L; or
  • T gives up possession of the premises to L and L then grants a new lease of the premises to a third party with T’s consent.
An interesting article from Hardwicke Chambers discusses a recent case. Many surrenders by operation of law are established because T has returned the keys of the premises to L and this has been accepted by L. The converse happened in the recent case.
 
T lawfully exercised a break clause to terminate the lease six months hence. L indicated that it would agree to bring the lease to an earlier end if it could find an alternative T, but did not promise to do so. T relocated and L sought an increasing amount of access to the premises. T resisted these claims for access at which point L changed the locks but made it clear that this act was not intended to forfeit or surrender the lease and that possession was not being taken. Unsurprisingly T argued to the contrary.
 
The court found in L’s favour because L’s acts of trying to find a new T would clearly benefit the existing T by allowing them to end the lease earlier than they would otherwise be required to do so. The case is an interesting reminder of the importance of making the purpose of any acts which could be interpreted as surrender very clear. Source: www.hardwicke.co.uk.
 

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