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  • Daniel Rodriguez

When Can a Tenant Legally Break a Lease in California?

As a landlord, it can be frustrating to balance a budget with an apartment or commercial property that is only partially full, and finding replacement tenants for tenants who break their lease can be a slow process. If you own a commercial property, an apartment building, or another property management company, it is very important to understand when your tenants can legally break their leases, and what options you have when they break a lease. For a free consultation on your landlord-tenant dispute, contact the Roseville landlord-tenant attorneys at the NewPoint Law Group, LLP today.

Breaking a Lease in California

When a tenant signs a rental agreement with you, they make a legal promise to continue to pay rent and occupy the rental property until the lease is up. For most residential properties, this may be a one-year lease, but commercial properties may have longer leases. These time periods may seem short to a landlord who commonly deals with 1-year or 5-year rental agreements, but for the tenants, this may be a very long time. When residents change jobs or commercial renters’ businesses fail, they may try to get out of their leases early.

In some cases, tenants have the legal right to break the lease. While some of these situations may be dictated by the rental agreement, others are demanded by California law or federal law. In short-term leases, like month-to-month leases, tenants may be able to end the renewal by simply giving notice. In these leases, unless the rental agreement says otherwise, the tenant has no obligation to stay-on after the month is up. This means they can legally end the lease, and you can start looking for a replacement renter at your convenience.

Otherwise, the following situations usually allow a tenant to quit the lease early:

1. The Property is Uninhabitable

If an event partially destroys the building, poor upkeep removes access to running water or heat, or other circumstances make the rental unit’s conditions unlivable, the tenant may leave. This may need to be communicated to you beforehand, and you may have an opportunity to challenge this or repair the problems. California law usually allows them to break the lease if the conditions are unbearable. However, some housing code violations may not be severe enough to allow the tenant to leave altogether, and may justify only a reduction in rent.

2. You Harassed the Tenant

Renting an apartment or office space is a contractual, business affair. Personal feelings may sometimes be hard to overcome, but tenants are not expected to remain in a contract with landlords who make their lives miserable. Make sure that all communications with residents and commercial renters are conducted in a clear and professional manner, because harassing your tenants can give them legal grounds to terminate the lease early. It is vital to remember that this includes not only unwanted communications, but also intruding on their privacy and other violations. Be sure to always give residents proper notice before entering their unit or altering their access to the building. Changing the locks or removing a window or door may count as “constructive eviction” and entitle the resident to walk away from the lease.

3. Military Service

Federal law protects servicemen and women and allows them to break leases if they are going into active service. When one of these individuals signs a lease, they may fully intend to keep that lease and see it through. However, they have no control over when they are told to return to active service and need to leave a lease early. Since federal law protects these groups, you may have no choice but to accept it if they end their lease early.

4. Abuse Victims

Victims of domestic violence and other forms of abuse may be permitted to break their leases early. If a tenant is in a relationship with their co-tenant and that relationship becomes violent, it may be in the victim’s best interest to leave. California law protects victims of domestic violence, elder abuse, sexual assault, and stalking, allowing them to break a lease early under certain circumstances. In order for this right to trigger, the victim must go through the proper channels, get the required court orders, and communicate their intent to leave before you are required to accept their early termination.

If a lease is broken early without justification, you may typically collect the remaining rent on that lease term. This means that if a tenant leaves a 1-year lease after 8 months, you may collect the final 4 months of unpaid rent from them. However, you are legally required to look for a replacement tenant and work to mitigate the damages. If you can find a replacement tenant to take over the last 2 months of that 1-year lease, you can still ask the tenant who broke the lease to pay rent for the 2 months the unit was left empty.

Roseville Landlord-Tenant Attorneys

If you are a property owner or landlord who needs legal help with a lease dispute or other landlord-tenant issue, contact our Roseville business law and commercial real estate attorneys at the NewPoint Law Group, LLP. Call our Roseville law offices today at 800-358-0305 today for your free consultation.

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