Lease agreements are considered legally binding contracts in Temecula, California.
In most cases, the lease term lasts for one full year. A tenant has to stay or at least pay rent that is due on time during this period. However, there are situations that might call for breaking a lease early.
Depending on the particular reason, the renter may or may not have a legal basis to break a lease.
In this article, we’ll provide an overview of breaking a lease in California.
California lease termination.
Breaking a lease occurs when the tenant leaves before a fixed-term lease agreement expires. Going through with this in California could have many consequences. Here are the major results of breaking a lease:
- Credit judgment. A judge could issue a credit judgment against the tenant who broke a lease. This judgment is effectively a legal order to settle a debt.
- Civil lawsuit. Should the landlord file a civil lawsuit against a lease-breaking renter, it’s more than likely that the landlord wins the case. That holds true if there is no legal ground for breaking a lease. For example, even a job loss or an illness isn’t considered to be a legally justified reason in California.
- Renting difficulties. Finding a new place to stay may be complicated for a tenant who has broken a lease. That’s because landlords check credit reports and ask for references during the tenant screening. Breach of a contract or an eviction makes finding a rental unit hard.
Breaking the lease without breaking the law.
Some scenarios for breaking a lease are legally justified in California.
#1: Abuse Victims
Tenants who are abuse victims have the right to early lease termination. For instance, sexual abuse, domestic violence, and elder abuse are qualifying issues.
Provided that the case meets all the specific conditions, abuse victims have a solid legal ground for breaking a lease in Temecula.
#2: Unsafe Unit
Landlords have to ensure that their rental unit is safe for habitation. Tenants may break a lease when the landlord fails to provide habitable living conditions.
Here are some common reasons that cause a property to become uninhabitable:
- Pest infestation
- No access to essential utilities
- Ongoing criminal activities in the building
#3: Landlord’s Permission
The best-case scenario is an agreement between the tenant and the landlord. Not all landlords want to file a lawsuit in the court. The whole process consumes time and money.
Breaking a lease agreement is legally justified when the landlord understands the situation and agrees to the breach.
#4: Illegal Unit
Rental properties need to pass building codes. When a rental unit fails to meet fixed criteria, the rental could be considered illegal. For example, garages and other attached units converted into rentals won’t hold legal status after failing to comply with code.
Tenants have the right to break a lease when they live in illegal units. The fact that they have held the unit as a dwelling hold is insignificant.
#5: Active Military Duty
Entering active military allows a renter to terminate a lease early under Federal law. The person has to belong to uniformed services, such as:
- Activated National Guard
- Armed Forces
- Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service
- Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Any order on a change of station or full-on military deployment signifies that the renter has to notify the landlord about the situation. The tenancy terminates thirty days after the next due rent. It doesn’t matter if this particular date is many months before the lease expiration.
#6: A Harassing Landlord
Landlords in California need to give 24 hours’ notice for entry to the rental property. Repeated privacy violations or harassment leads to a constructive eviction. The constructive eviction is equal to forced, illegal eviction of a renter. These cases justify breaking a lease and not paying further rent amount.
Here are a few examples of serious harassment:
- Changing the locks without notifying a tenant
- Turning off utilities on purpose
- Removal of doors or windows
- Stalking and trespassing activities
- Sexual harassment
What about the landlord’s duty to find a new tenant?
Under California law, landlords must make reasonable efforts to re-rent a unit. The reason for leaving isn’t specified. Breaking a lease applies here as well. This means that landlords rather have to find a new tenant instead of charging the former tenant for the full remaining rent.
In case of a broken lease, the landlord needs to re-rent the property and subtract the newly received rent amount from the former tenant’s total debt. However, the landlord has the following rights:
- No need to rent the property for less than fair market value.
- Focus on re-renting the property doesn’t have to be immediate as the landlord may have other responsibilities.
- The landlord can bill the former tenant for justified expenses, such as rental unit marketing costs.
The bottom line:
Lease agreements legally bind the signed parties to its terms in California. However, tenants may face serious life events that demand breaking a lease. In most situations, there is no legal ground for a breach of the lease agreement.
There are some exceptions, though. The following scenarios allow a renter to terminate the lease early:
- Harassment or repeated privacy violations on part of the landlord.
- A renter is legally considered as an abuse victim.
- Rental property is illegal because of a code violation.
- A tenant enters active military duty when belonging to uniformed services.
- A landlord gives permission to terminate the lease early.
- The rental unit is considered unsafe for habitation.
Even if the tenant broke a lease, the landlord needs to re-rent the rental unit. They need to take practical steps to find a new, qualified renter instead of automatically billing the former tenant for the total rent due.
Disclaimer: This blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. Laws frequently change, and this post might not be updated at the time of your reading. Please contact us for any questions you have in regard to this content or any other aspect of your property management needs.