In California, landlords and tenants are protected by federal and state landlord-tenant laws. As a landlord in California, you need to be knowledgeable about the rules and regulations that surround breaking a lease.

Here at Castle Management, we have put together this article to help you become well-informed about your rights and the rights of your tenants when it comes to breaking a lease in California. This article covers the unjustified and justified reasons for early lease termination.

Rental Agreements in California

It is important to write an extremely clear rental agreement that leaves nothing up to interpretation. Before letting tenants sign the agreement, find time to discuss the terms and conditions of the lease.

Ensure that they are aware of their rights to legally break the contract of the lease and understand the costs of unjustifiably breaking it. Breaking a lease is not the same as evicting a tenant.

The rental agreement should also include how much notice a tenant must give you when ending their periodic lease in California.

Tenants are required to give you seven days' notice if they rent week-to-week and 30 days' notice if they rent month-to-month. During this time, and as long as the tenants are in possession of the rental property, they are expected to pay rent. There is no regulation if the tenant rents on a quarterly or yearly basis.

A couple and their property manager sitting on a couch looking at a document

California tenants are not required to provide notice for fixed-end-date leases. It is understood that the lease will expire on the last day of the lease. There should also be a paragraph in the rental agreement about your duty as a landlord to re-rent the unit.

As a landlord in California, you are responsible for taking reasonable attempts to re-rent your rental property when tenants break their lease. This is your duty to mitigate damages.

If you successfully re-rent the property, the rent received from the new tenant will apply to the previous tenant’s debt. The tenant who left the lease early will be responsible for covering rent during the time that the property was vacant.

Ultimately, a comprehensive lease agreement should also include the tenant’s rights to sublet in California.

California tenants may be allowed to sublet the property unless otherwise explicitly stated in the rental agreement. As a landlord, you have the liberty to include a section in the lease that tenants must obtain your permission before they can sublet.

The request for approval should be in writing and would ideally be sent through certified mail.

The written request should include the following pieces of information:

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

Person dangling a key over someone else who is signing a document

As the landlord, you can approve or reject the tenant’s request to sublease. However, you can only deny the proposed sub-tenant due to justifiable reasons. Under California law, landlords cannot legally refuse the sublet without reasonable cause.

Unjustified Reasons to Break a Lease in California

The below reasons are generally insufficient justification on their own to release a tenant from the lease early, and as a result, provide no legal protection against penalties for not honoring the lease.

  • The tenant is relocating for a new job or school.
  • The tenant is moving in with a partner or housemate.
  • The tenant is downgrading or upgrading.
  • The tenant is moving closer to family.
  • The tenant purchased a house.

If a tenant breaks the lease early for any of the above reasons without court approval or in any conditions not previously established there can be a tangible impact on the tenant. 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 California landlord, you must know the legal reasons for a tenant to break a lease early. Below, you will find justified reasons for the early termination of a lease:

Early Termination Clause

As a landlord in California, you can allow a tenant to terminate a lease early for a penalty fee. If you agree to this, you should specify this in the lease or rental agreement.

Two people entering their new rental and taking the keys from their landlord who is standing in the doorway

Unit is Uninhabitable

As a landlord, you know that there is a standard of habitability. In California, it is reasonable for tenants to break a lease if the health and safety codes are violated and if the minimum requirements for rental properties are not met. The following should be provided and maintained to make your rental property livable:

  • Sanitary and clean property.
  • Hot and cold running water.
  • Working heating, lighting and plumbing systems.
  • Garbage collection and disposal.
  • Waterproofing and weatherproofing.
  • Safe stairways, floors, and railings.

Active Military Duty

Active service members who are relocated due to a permanent change of station or deployment are protected. The protection begins on the date of entering duty and ends between 30 to 90 days after the discharge date.

Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Stalking, or Elder Abuse

Under California law, tenants are given special termination rights if they are victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, stalking, or elder abuse given that specified conditions are fulfilled.

Landlord Harassment or Violation of Privacy

California state law requires landlords to respect tenants’ privacy by providing a 24-hour notice before entering the property. Changing the locks or cutting off utilities is considered harassment and can be a legal reason for early lease termination.

Relaxed woman holding a cup of tea, sitting on the floor surrounded by moving boxes

Bottom Line

Now you are well-versed when it comes to breaking a lease in California. If you have any questions, please reach out to us! We are the leading property management company in the Bay Area and have been working with landlords and investors for decades. We’d love to work with you, too! Contact us today at (925) 328-1240.

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 regard to this content, or any other aspect of your property management needs.