Breaking a lease - California tenant rights

5 Replies


My question is regarding breaking a lease in California and tenant rights. 

Situation :

Tenant breaks a lease 3 months early. Tenant lived there one year, renewed the lease for a second, but then closed on a house. 

Tenant gave a 60 day notice - Nov 1, saying they’d be out Jan 1 and offered to be out of the house Dec 15th for anyone who might  want to move in early. 

They also were told they need to pay for advertising and work with the landlords Porperty Management company for showings/applications/etc. 

They received an email from the Landlord mid December saying they are still responsible for all rent ($3300) and utilities until the house is rented or less is up (end of March). 

Tenant mailed the rent check for January due to that email and not being able to find anything online that really helps have a stand against the Landlord , but Tenants don’t understand how this can be true - that a tenant would be held to over $9k in rent because they had to break a leasea couple months early after having lived there over a year and a half. 

I’ve had some people tell me tenants are responsible for it all, some say should only be responsible for a flat fee, some say should only be responsible for what “could’ve” been filled (I.e. if someone would sign for $3100 but not $3300, we’d only be responsible for $200 even if the Landlord said no), and also told that in CA if you give 60 days notice you should be let off with no cost. 



Tenants have a legal contract that specifies an beginning and end date; this is known as a lease.  They remain responsible for the rent on such lease until it would normally end OR a replacement tenant is found. 

Management has the obligation to make a reasonable effort to find a replacement tenant.  Effort is on "reasonable"; not heroic.  Unfortunately, this time of year it may be a bit more of a challenge to find tenants.

Some leases will include what is known as an "Early Termination fee" which allows a tenant to "buy" their way out of the lease should they wish/need to end it early.  This might involve providing a 30 or 60 day written notice PLUS a one or two month rent payment to do so.   Did the current lease have this provision?  Doesn't sound like it.

There are some cases where a tenant can legally break a lease; those who are on active duty military status for example.  However, they must also provide the appropriate written notice plus copies of their military orders for transfer.

Unfortunately, buying a house is not a legal justification for breaking a lease.


Gail is correct. While laws may vary slightly by location, a tenant breaking the lease is usually obligated to continue paying rent until unit can be re-rented. If unit is re-rented mid month, you would receive a prorated refund (landlord cannot collect rent for the same day twice).

the landlords obligation is then to provide reasonable efforts to re-rent. if he is not trying to re-rent (no ads online. no property management or real estate agent seeking out renters) you can stop paying and let him prove to a judge he has been trying to re rent.

this assumes there is no provision in your lease for breaking it.

what you should do is first, read your lease in its entirety to find out if there is a clause about breaking the lease. if not, look online and try to find his attempts to re-rent. if none is there, consider stopping payments. if both of those fail, research your local landlord tenant laws. some jurisdictions may put a limit on how much a tenant breaking a lease can be charged.

unfortunately, it is likely you will be on the hook for rent, until unit can be re-rented

@Kayla Shumate   If the tenants left before the term of the lease was up, the landlord has a duty to make a reasonable effort to re-rent it.  However, he's not obligated to lower his standards/qualifications or rent it for a lower amount in order to get it rented.  If he is able to re-rent it before the term of the lease is up, the tenants are essentially off the hook at that point.  On the other hand, if the landlord is not able to re-rent it, the tenants are responsible for continuing to pay rent until the end of the term of the lease.  

I have to agree with the other posters. Here in Texas, the landlord is required to mitigate damages by making a good faith effort to find a new tenant. The previous tenant is responsible for the rent payments up to the point a new tenant moves in.

There are some statutory rights that allow a tenant to break a lease without penalty. These include domestic violence/stalking and military personnel being reassigned out of the area. But buying a house is not one of them.

@Kayla Shumate , I'm a California real estate attorney, broker, and investor.  I'll give you general information on this issue applicable to California but will not comment or advise on your specific situation.  A lease agreement is a binding contract that has requirements of both parties, landlord and tenant.  Thus, if the tenant moves out of the property before the end of the lease contract, the tenant has breached the contract and is subject to all applicable remedies.  In California, this can include keeping the security deposit and seeking a judgment for the amount of rent between the time that the tenant stops paying rent and the time that the landlord is again able to rent the property to a new tenant using reasonable efforts to rent the property.  Your lease agreement may also dictate the process and remedies for the breach and every lease agreement can be different.  Check out this handbook for more information:

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