Landlords in California have a myriad of responsibilities outlined by the state’s Landlord-Tenant Law. Key among them is knowing what to do when your tenant breaks their lease.

Usually, when a tenant signs a lease, they live in the unit until the lease runs its course. A California lease agreement usually lasts anywhere between 6 months and a year. Unfortunately, life can happen, and your tenant may need to break their lease by moving out early.

As a landlord, you should base your next actions on whether the tenant’s reason for ending a lease early is legally justified. In today’s article, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about California lease termination.

Rental Agreements in California

If your lease is comprehensive, your expectations will be clear to your tenants. Review the rental agreement with your tenants to ensure they understand their obligations. Going over the lease with your tenant will help you let them know the penalties they may face if they break their lease.

The state of California requires tenants to notify their landlords before they move out. To terminate a week-to-week lease, your tenant must serve you seven days' written notice. (Civ. Code §§ 1946).To terminate a month-to-month lease, your tenant must serve you thirty days’ written notice.
Two tenants sit together and one tenant in a black and while striped shirt writes notice to their landlord indicating they want to break their lease as they need to relocate for school
Your responsibility as a landlord is worth noting, as you must re-rent the unit after a tenant has moved out. Unlike some states, California requires landlords to re-rent when tenants break their leases. This requirement means you must take reasonable steps to re-rent the unit after a tenant leaves. If you’re successful, your tenant will only be liable for paying rent when the rental was unoccupied. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1951.2).

You’ll also want to state whether or not subletting is allowed in the lease. In California, if the lease doesn’t prohibit it, your tenant may be able to sublet the unit. Avoid potential issues with your tenant. If you allow subletting, let your tenant know about any rules you may have.

Unjustified Reasons to Break a Lease in California

Sometimes, tenants can break a lease without penalty. However, this isn’t often the case. The reasons for breaking a lease that are listed below are common but not legally justified, which means tenants are still liable for any early termination penalties.

  • The tenant is moving into a house they recently bought
  • The tenant is seeking to downgrade or upgrade
  • The tenant is moving in with their partner
  • The tenant is moving closer to family and friends
    A tenant in black pants and socks lifts one side of a grey couch off a hardwood while moving out of their rental
    If your tenant decides to break their lease for any of these reasons, the best option for both of you is to seek a mutual termination.

Legal Reasons to Break a Lease in California

Per California lease laws, tenants have a right to break their lease early for certain legally justified reasons. The reasons are as follows.

The Lease Allows Early Termination

Some lease agreements contain early termination clauses that allow tenants to move out early. Generally speaking, these terms require the tenant to do the following things.

  • Paying a penalty fee equivalent to two months’ rent
  • Providing advance notice at least 30 days in advance

Active Military Duty

Tenants who are servicemembers starting active military duty have a legal right to break their lease early without penalty. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) guarantees this right. The act requires that a tenant does certain things before terminating their lease. These include delivering a written notice of their intention with an official letter from their commanding officer.

The earliest a lease can end is 30 days after the next rent period has begun. Suppose your tenant delivered notice on the 22nd of April. If rent payments are due on the 1st of every month, the lease ends on the 1st of June. In this instance, your tenant would still be liable for May rent.
an american flag waves in the wind against the backdrop of a clear blue sky
In California, a servicemember is a member of any of the following military cadres:

  • Marine Corps
  • Air Force
  • Navy
  • Army
  • Coast Guard
  • National Guard
  • Naval Militia
  • State Military Reserve

Domestic Violence

In California, domestic violence victims have special rights under California state law (Cal. Civ. Code § 1946.7). These rights include early lease termination. The law applies to domestic violence, elder abuse, stalking, or sexual violence victims.

The Rental is Uninhabitable

As a landlord in California, you know that keeping your property habitable is vital. If your rental falls into disrepair, it may become unsafe for tenants and cause an early lease termination. Make sure your property has all of the following:

  • Effective weatherproofing and waterproofing
  • Running hot and cold water
  • Properly functioning heating, electrical, and plumbing systems
  • Properly maintained stairways and railings
  • An adequate number of garbage receptacles

Landlord Harassment

As a successful landlord, you know that treating your tenant fairly and respectfully is crucial to the success of your investment. Part of this is familiarizing yourself with Fair Housing Laws, however you will also want to steer clear of engaging in the following actions.

  • Entering your tenant’s premises without advance notice
  • Locking your tenant out
  • Removing the renter’s belongings from the unit
  • Threatening the tenant

Bottom Line

Now you know what rights and obligations you and your California tenant have regarding early lease termination. If you want expert help managing your rental properties, get in touch with Paradise Property Management. We offer professional and effective property management services in Ventura County and the surrounding areas.

Disclaimer: 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.