Having a clear rental agreement is essential when running a rental property business. When your tenant signs their lease, it’s your responsibility as a landlord to make sure they are aware of the penalties for unjustifiably breaking a lease, and of their rights for justifiably breaking a lease. 

In this article, we will cover unjustified and justified reasons for early lease termination, so that you will be well informed when it comes to your rights as a property owner.

Rental Agreement in California

A lease or rental agreement is a legal document that both the landlord and their tenant’s sign at the start of the tenancy. In addition to your general rental policies and the right and responsibilities of both parties, your rental agreement should include how much notice a tenant must give you when ending their lease. 

In the state of California, your tenant must give you a 7 days notice if they rent weekly and a 30-day notice if they rent on a monthly basis. There is no statute if the tenant rents on a quarterly or yearly basis. The tenants must pay their rent during this notice period and as long as they are in possession of the rental unit. 

While California tenants are required to provide a written notice, they are not required to provide notice for fixed end date leases because the lease automatically expires on the last day of the lease.

landlord showing lease agreement to tenant

You should also include your responsibility as a landlord to re-rent the unit when drafting the lease. As a California, landlord, you must take reasonable steps to re-rent your rental property when tenants break their lease. This is your duty to mitigate damages. 

If you re-rent your property quickly,  the rent received from the new tenant will apply to the previous tenants’ debt. This means that the tenant who pre-terminated the lease will only be responsible for paying rent for the time the property was vacant.

Finally, a solid lease agreement should also include the tenant’s rights to sublet in California. Unless you clearly prohibit subletting in the lease agreement, California tenants may be allowed to do so.

As a landlord, you have the right to include a clause that requires tenants to obtain your approval before they can sublet. The request for approval should be in writing and must be ideally sent through certified mail. The request should include the following information:

  • Name and permanent home address of proposed assignee or subtenant
  • Sublet term
  • Reason for subletting the property or leaving permanently
  • The tenant’s new address during the sublease
  • The written consent of other co‑tenants, if applicable
  • Copy of the proposed sublease

As the landlord, you have the right to approve or reject the request to sublease. However, you can only refuse the proposed subtenant due to legitimate factors. According to California law, landlords cannot legally refuse the sublet without reasonable cause.

statue of lady justice on a lawyers desk

Unjustified Reasons to Break a Lease in California

The below reasons are generally not enough justification to release a tenant from the lease, and as a result, provide no legal protection against penalties for not honoring the lease:

  • The tenant bought a house
  • The tenant is relocating for a new job or school
  • The tenant is upgrading or downsizing
  • The tenant is moving in with a partner or to be closer to family

Breaking a lease for any of the above reasons without court approval or in any conditions not previously outlined can have consequences for tenants.  If a tenant would like to break a lease for any of these reasons, they should ask the landlord to agree to a mutual termination.

Justified Reasons to Break a Lease in California

As a landlord in California, you must know the justified reasons to break a lease early. They are as follows:

Early Termination Clause

As a landlord in California, you can allow a tenant to terminate a lease early for a penalty fee. If you are agree to this, you should include this clause in your rental agreement. Make sure to note the notice period a tenant must abide by and the amount of the fee.

Active Military Duty

Active service members who are relocated due to deployment or permanent change of station are allowed to end their lease early. This begins on the date of entering duty and ends between 30 to 90 days after the date of discharge.

military service member in uniform tasking to person in suit

Unit is Uninhabitable

As a landlord, the habitability of your rentals is important. In California, it’s justifiable for tenants to break a lease if the health and safety codes are not complied with. The following should be provided and met to make your rental property habitable:

  • Clean, running water
  • Waterproof and weatherized units
  • Heating, plumbing, gas, electricity, and lighting
  • Garbage receptacles
  • Clean and sanity premises

Landlord Harassment or Violation of Privacy

You should provide a 24-hour notice before entering the property. Also, removing doors and cutting off utilities are considered serious harassment and can be a legal reason for breaking the lease.

Domestic Violence or Abuse

According to California law, tenants have early termination rights if they are victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, stalking, or elder abuse. Specific conditions must be met, including securing a temporary restraining order. 

Bottom Line

Now you are well-versed in the law when it comes to breaking a lease in California! You should also make note of the state’s landlord-tenant laws, the legal California eviction process, and security deposit rules. 

If you have any questions, please reach out to Keyrenter Property Management San Diego today. We are a leading property management company in San Diego and have helped countless landlords and investors. We’d love to work with you too! Contact us today at 619-404-4000.

Disclaimer: This blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. Laws frequently change, and this post might not be updated at the time of your reading.