A lease agreement spells out the responsibilities of both the landlord and the tenant. It’s a legal document that binds the signing parties to its terms for a certain period. So, when your California tenant breaks it, you may be able to hold them liable both financially and legally.
Generally speaking, most tenants who sign a lease agreement intend to stay for the entire leasing period. But, life may get in the way and the tenant may not be able to stay for the entire time.
The following are some of the common reasons why your California tenant may break their lease:
- They could choose to move in with their partner
- They may need to move closer to family
- They could be beginning an active military duty
- They may need to move for work or school
- The tenant may need to upsize or downsize
The list of reasons why a tenant may need to break the lease is long and varied. What landlords need to be aware of, is which of these reasons is legally justified.
If the reason for breaking the lease is legally justified, all the tenant may need to do is provide you with proper notice and proof before moving out. But if they don’t have a legal justification, then you may have a right to hold them liable for all rent due under the lease.
What Rights and Responsibilities do Landlords in California have When They Sign a Lease?
Just like your California tenant, you have certain rights under the lease agreement and landlord-tenant laws. To begin with, you have a right to require rent from your tenant for the entire time the lease will be active.
So, if the lease is running for a year, your tenant is contractually obligated to pay rent for the entire 12 months. And this is regardless of whether they live in the unit or not.
Next, you have a right to be properly notified by a tenant who is looking to move out. A tenant on a weekly agreement must give you notice 7 days before moving out and they must provide 30 days notice if they have a month-to-month lease.
Similarly, landlords have certain responsibilities under a typical lease agreement. One such responsibility is to respond to maintenance issues within a reasonable period. If the issue impacts your tenant’s habitability and you don’t respond in time, your tenant may have a right to break the lease.
Furthermore, you also have a responsibility to respect the privacy of your tenants. According to California statutes, you must provide your tenant with “reasonable notice” before accessing their rented units.
When is Breaking a Lease in California Legally Justified?
The following are the legally justified reasons a tenant can use to break their lease without incurring any financial or legal burden.
Active Military Duty
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protects active servicemen and women who are deployed or receive a permanent change of station. The protection starts from the day they enter duty and ends between 30-90 days after getting discharged.
To break the lease, your tenant must provide the following per the relief act:
- Show proof that they signed the lease before entering active duty.
- Show proof that they intend to serve in the military for at least the next 90 days.
- Provide you with a written notice and accompany it with a copy of the deployment letters from their commanding officer.
It should be noted that the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act only applies to the following members:
- Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Air Force)
- National Guard
- National Militia
- State Military Reserve
Once your tenant has met all these requirements, their lease will end 30 days after the next rent period begins.
Early Termination of Lease Clause
Some landlords have clauses in their lease agreement that allow their tenants to terminate their lease. In exchange, landlords require tenants to give them proper notice and pay a fee.
Typically, the notice is usually two months and the fee amount is normally equivalent to the rent of two months. The notice allows the landlord ample time to look for a replacement tenant, while the fee helps pay for the tenant qualifying process.
Unit is Uninhabitable
California tenants have a right to live in a unit that meets basic habitability standards. If your unit doesn’t meet them, a court would likely rule that you have “constructively evicted” your tenant. As such, all the tenants obligations under the lease agreement would remain suspended.
Examples of a unit that isn’t habitable are ones that don’t have:
- Code-conforming heating facilities
- Drinkable water
- Working electricity
- Heat during cold weather
- Up-to-date conformity to building codes
- A functioning ventilating system
Landlord harassment is an adequate reason for a tenant to break their lease in California. The following are two examples of how it can occur:
- Entering your tenant’s unit repeatedly and without notice. In California, landlords may only enter a tenant’s unit after serving the proper notice.
- Changing your tenant’s locks. In some states, changing the locks on a unit can amount to “constructive eviction.” There is no statute in California, however, when it comes to lockouts.
Other actions that would be deemed harassment by a landlord include:
- Turning off utilities
- Removing windows or doors
- Removing your tenant’s personal belongings
Issue of Domestic Violence
In California, domestic violence victims have certain special protections. An example is a protection from termination. As a landlord, you cannot refuse to rent to a potential tenant because they are domestic violence victims.
Do Landlords Have a Duty to Re-rent in California?
No. Unlike some other states, landlords in California have no duty to “mitigate damages.”
There are justifiable reasons for a tenant to break the lease, as a California landlord, it’s important that you know and understands leasing laws. It’s also important that you stay informed of security deposit laws, the legal eviction process, squatter’s rights, rent increase laws, and more.
If you would like help keeping track of rental laws or managing your rental properties, contact the experts at Home Choice Property Management today!
Disclaimer: This blog isn’t a substitute for professional legal advice. For help, kindly hire a qualified attorney or an experienced property management company.