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When can a tenant break a lease agreement in California?

When a tenant signs a lease agreement for a rental unit, they hope to stay for the entire time indicated in the contract. However, despite their best intentions, a tenant might want to leave before their lease is up. 

Breaking the lease comes with its share of consequences. Depending on the nature of the contract, one of the consequences may involve the payment of rent for the entire lease period. However, there are important exceptions to such rules. 

Here are some of the situations when a tenant can move out before the end of their lease period:

When the tenant or their family member is a victim of a specified crime 

California law gives tenants the right to early lease termination if they are victims of certain crimes such as sexual abuse or domestic violence. And a tenant may terminate their lease not only if they are a victim of such crime but also if an alleged perpetrator targeted an immediate family member. 

When they are starting a military duty

The federal law allows tenants to break the lease early if they enter active military service while their lease is still in effect. However, they must inform the landlord in writing about their intention to end the tenancy for military reasons. Once they have mailed or delivered the notice, the tenancy contract will terminate 30 days after the date the next rent is due. 

When the property becomes unsafe for habitation

Under California law, every tenant is entitled to a safe and habitable rental unit. If the landlord fails to provide a safe and habitable property that meets the state’s housing codes, the law would probably consider the tenant “constructively evicted,” meaning that by failing to provide a livable unit, the landlord has for all practical purposes “kicked them out.” Hence, they have no obligation to continue honoring the lease agreement. 

Examples of things that can make the property unsafe for habitation include:

  • Pest control issues
  • Unrepaired damages
  • An extreme level of criminality in the property

A lease contract obligates both the landlord and the tenant to uphold its terms for a set time period, which is usually 12 months. However, if you must walk away from the lease, you must understand California’s rental laws to avoid getting into conflict with your landlord.