When it comes to tenants breaking a lease, you, as a landlord in the state of California, are required to be aware of the rules and regulations surrounding breaking a lease. In this article we will discuss both unjustified and reasonable grounds for early lease termination on both the part of the landlord and tenant. 

Rental Agreements in California

It is important to have a well-defined leasing agreement that follows landlord tenant laws. It is your job as a landlord to ensure that your tenant is informed of the consequences for breaking a lease unjustifiably as well as their rights if they are breaking a lease justifiably. 

In California, a tenant is not required to provide notice for fixed end date leases, the lease terminates on the final day of the lease. Tenants in the state of California are required to give written notice regarding the following lease terms: 

  • Notice to cancel a lease that is paid week-to-week: According to Civil Code section 1946, a written notice of 7 days duration is necessary to be given by either the landlord or the renter. 
  • Notice to cancel a lease that is paid on a month-to-month basis: According to Civil Code section 1946, a written notice of 30 days duration is necessary to be given by either the landlord or the renter. 

two people packing up their belongings

During this time period as well as for the duration of the tenant’s ownership of the rental unit, the renter is responsible for paying rent.

Unjustified Reasons to Terminate a Lease in California

The below reasons are usually not enough to justify the release of a tenant from the lease agreement. Since they are not legally justifiable reasons, they don’t offer any legal protection against fines and punishments for not honoring the lease.

  • The renter is relocating to the new residence that they have purchased 
  • The renter is considering moving to a higher or lower grade rental unit 
  • The tenant will be moving in with their partner
  • The renter is relocating to be nearer to family 
  • The renter is relocating because of a change in employment or education 

Under the legislation governing rentals in California, the renter would still be obligated to abide by the provisions of the month-to-month lease agreement under such circumstances. 

This involves continuing to pay rent for the remaining period of the lease agreement, regardless of whether or not the individual will be living in the property until the contract is up. In this scenario, the landlord might be able to use the security deposit as leverage to settle any additional charges.

someone closing a cardboard box

Breaking a lease for any of the reasons outlined above without the approval of the courts, or explicitly outlined in the lease agreement can have consequences for tenants.  If a tenant wants to terminate their lease for any of these reasons, they must ask the landlord to agree to a mutual termination. 

Legitimate Reasons to End a Lease in California

As a landlord in California, you must know the legal reasons a tenant can break a lease before the contract is over. We have outlined below, the justified reasons for early terminating a lease early:

Active Military Duty

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) helps protect active service members who have to move because they are deployed or because their base is changing permanently. The protection starts when the person goes into service and ends between 30 and 90 days after the person gets out. Under the Relief Act, a tenant must do the following to get out of a lease: 

  • Show that the lease was signed before they entered active duty
  • Show that they will continue to serve for at least the next 90 days
  • Deliver a notice to the landlord which includes the orders to deploy, the Permanent Change of Station (PCS) or a letter from their officer saying they will be deployed

an American flag against a blue sky

Once the notice is sent, the lease can end no sooner than 30 days before the start of the next rent period.

Domestic Violence

Tenants in the state of California who have been the victims of domestic abuse are given the protection afforded by specific renting restrictions. 

Tenants who are victims of domestic or sexual assault, stalking, or elder abuse in California will be eligible for early termination rights under California state law (California Civil Code section 1946.7), provided that certain circumstances are satisfied, such as the tenant securing a temporary restraining order.

The Unit is Uninhabitable

A tenant would be deemed constructively evicted if the requirements are not completed even after adequate notice is provided by the tenant. Given that the landlord has not fulfilled their own commitments under the California landlord-tenant legislation, the tenant’s obligations under the lease are no longer necessary. 

A home will be judged uninhabitable if it significantly lacks any of the items listed below.

  • Maintenance of floors, stairways and railings
  • Electronic things in good working order
  • Water supply with proper sewage system 
  • Weatherproofing

Landlord Harassment

If the action is intolerable, a landlord’s harassment, invasion of a tenant’s privacy, or doing what a landlord isn’t allowed, could be a reason for a tenant to get out of their lease obligations. These include the landlord illegally forcing an eviction on the tenant. 

an open door with a key in the lock

Entry for Landlords

By law, the landlord must give the tenant 24 hours’ notice before coming into your rental. If a landlord repeatedly breaks a tenant’s right to privacy or changes the locks, takes out doors, or turns off your utilities, the tenant would be considered constructively evicted. 

Changing of Locks

In some states, if a landlord changes the locks without the tenant’s permission or without specific language in the lease protecting the tenant, this can be considered as constructive eviction and the tenant may no longer have to follow the terms of the lease.

Contact a Property Manager

For further information Westside Property Management is happy to help if you have any inquiries. We’d be delighted to collaborate with you as well. You can reach us at (310) 310-8063.

This blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. Laws change, and this post might not be updated at the time of your reading. Please contact us for any questions you have in regards to this content or any other aspect of your property management needs.