What Damages Are Available If a Tenant Breaks Their Lease?
When a tenant signs a lease in California, they enter a legal agreement with the landlord. In most cases, tenants who sign leases remain in their units for the duration of the lease, typically one year.
However, in some cases, tenants may need to move before the end of their lease term. When this occurs, landlords may wonder how they can recover from the financial loss.
Landlord Rights and Responsibilities in California
California landlords have several important rights and responsibilities with respect to renting their properties to tenants, including:
- The right to question potential tenants – Landlords have the authority to screen potential renters and restrict who can live in their units. As a result, they have the right to question tenants about their smoking habits, any pets they own, and their income.
- The right to charge deposits and other fees – California landlords are entitled to charge application fees and security deposits, which typically equal two or three times the monthly rent.
- The right to increase rent prices – Landlords have the right to increase how much they charge in rent, but these increases are regulated in some localities.
- The right to evict tenants – Landlords also have the right to evict tenants for certain reasons, but they must provide adequate notice before they do.
Tenant Rights and Responsibilities in California
Tenants in California have their own rights and responsibilities when it comes to rental properties, including:
- The responsibility to pay rent on time – When tenants sign a lease, they typically agree to pay a certain amount in rent on a regular basis. Rent due dates and penalties for late payments are outlined clearly in lease agreements, and tenants have a legal responsibility to make their payments on time.
- The responsibility to pay rent for the full lease term – A lease is a binding legal document, and tenants who sign lease agreements are contractually obligated to continue paying rent for the entire term of the lease.
- The right to reasonable notice of eviction – If a landlord wishes to evict a tenant, they must provide reasonable notice first. Depending on the length and terms of the lease, this could mean several days or multiple weeks.
When Can California Tenants Legally Break a Lease?
Tenants are expected to honor their lease agreements for the full term of the lease. But some circumstances might allow tenants to break their leases legally, such as:
- Domestic violence or criminal activity – If a tenant is a victim of domestic violence, sexual violence, or certain other types of criminal activity, they might have early termination rights under California law.
- Military obligations – Active-duty military members may break their leases early when they’re called to military service after signing leases.
- Health and safety issues – If a landlord fails to keep their rental units reasonably safe and habitable for tenants, courts may decide the landlord “constructively evicted” their tenant and allow the tenant to break the lease early.
- Landlord harassment – If landlords violate their tenants’ rights to privacy or harass them in another way, tenants might be entitled to break their leases early.
How Can a Landlord Recover Damages If a Tenant Breaks a Lease?
If a tenant doesn’t have the right to break their lease early, landlords can continue charging rent for the remainder of the lease term, whether or not the tenant is present. As a landlord, this means you still have the right to the money your tenant agreed to pay when they signed their lease.
However, if your tenant does move out early, California law requires you to take reasonable steps to re-rent your unit to a new tenant. This is so you can subtract the new tenant’s rent from the amount your ex-tenant still owes.
Just because you’re must make reasonable efforts to find a new tenant doesn’t mean you have to lower your standards, decrease your rental rates, or neglect other business. Regardless, your ability to continue charging tenants who break their leases will help minimize or eliminate your losses.
Contact a California Real Estate Attorney Today
To discuss your rights as a California landlord with a knowledgeable California real estate attorney, contact Wagner Zemming Christensen, LLP, for a thorough case evaluation.