Breaking a Lease

A lease obligates both you and your landlord for a set period of time. Under a typical lease, a landlord can’t raise the rent or change other terms, until the lease runs out (unless the lease itself provides for a change).

A landlord can’t force you to move out before the lease ends, unless you fail to pay the rent or violate another significant term, such as repeatedly throwing large and noisy parties. In these cases, landlords in California must follow specific procedures to end the tenancy. For example, your landlord must give you three days’ notice to pay the rent or leave (California Civ. Proc. Code § 1161(2)) before filing an eviction lawsuit. If you have engaged in any illegal activity on the premises, your landlord may give you an unconditional quit notice, giving you three days to move out. (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 1161(4)).

Tenants are legally bound to pay rent for the full lease term whether or not you continue to live in the rental unit—with some exceptions.

If you don’t have a legal justification to break your lease, under California law (Cal. Civ. Code § 1951.2), your landlord must make reasonable efforts to re-rent your unit rather than charge you for the total remaining rent due under the lease. You need pay only the amount of rent the landlord loses because you moved out early. California requires landlords to take reasonable steps to keep their losses to a minimum or to “mitigate damages”.

You can help the situation by providing as much notice as possible and writing a letter to your landlord explaining why you need to leave early. Ideally you can offer your landlord a qualified replacement tenant, someone with good credit and excellent references, to sign a new lease with your landlord.

Because there is a level of uncertainty when it comes to the landlord finding a suitable replacement tenant, some tenants prefer to negotiate an early termination agreement with the landlord. Sometimes a landlord is difficult to deal with, and that’s where I can step in to help move negotiations along and avoid the time and expense of going to court.

If you’re thinking of breaking your lease, feel free to book a free, no obligation consultation with me here.

Read more: Tenant’s Right to Break a Rental Lease in California