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Questions on Breaking a Lease

Legally, a tenant may break the lease for any reason — moving to another, change in marital status, wanting do upsize or down size, etc. — however, they may have financial obligations to the renter. Typically, the terms and conditions of break a lease would be included out in the lease agreement. Once the tenant notifies the renter of his/her intentions to break the lease, both parties are must make an honest attempt to re-rent the unit in order to mitigate the damages — the sum owed by the tenant. Listed below are some of the top questions on laws related to breaking a lease agreement.

My tenants are breaking the lease saying that they object to the police coming to the house to search for drugs based on an anonymous tip. Can they legally do that? Can I keep their deposit since the lease has not expired?

The police visit cannot be legal grounds for them to break the lease. Having said that, if they are determined to move out, you may negotiate a month’s rent in return for annulling the lease agreement. This will help cover for the time that you find another tenant. However, if they reject your offer and decide to move out, you may sue them in court for any rent that they owe till the end of the lease and adjust the amount when you find a tenant. Please remember that you have a reasonable duty to find another tenant through due diligence to mitigate the losses.

Since my ex-husband violated the restraining order for domestic violence and has found out my address, I was advised by the police department to move out. I left after a 30-day notice period. However, the landlord has kept my security deposit and also charged me $550 for breaking the lease. What is my course of action?

Civil Code 1946.7(d) states that a “tenant terminating a lease based upon a domestic violence restraining order is responsible for a maximum of 30 days rent from the date that the notice is given to the landlord.” Unless you fail to pay rent for this period of time, the landlord may not withhold your security deposit. Also, the landlord has no rights whatsoever to charge a lease breaking fee to the tenant.

You may go ahead and file a case with the small claims court without a lawyer. Under Civil code 1950.5(l), if the court finds that the landlord acted in bad faith, it may even ask the landlord to pay twice the amount of the security deposit.

I was renting an apartment for a “special provision rate of $831” instead of the prevailing rate of $839. Now that I am breaking the lease after 8 months, the rental agent wants me to pay one month’s rent at $839 as well as pay the difference between the prevailing rent and the rent I was paying so far. I have also been asked to pay a reletting fee. Is this legal?

The rental agent should not automatically charge you for the payment of the months that you opt out of the lease agreement. They are obliged to show due diligence in finding a tenant—including advertising the property and showing it to prospective tenants—for the period that you quit the lease. If they find a tenant to replace you, they cannot collect rent for the remaining period from you. However, you are obliged to continue paying rent till a new tenant is found. Also, if the charges you mention are spelled out in the lease agreement you signed, you are obliged to pay them. If they are not part of the lease agreement, you may argue that you are not obliged to pay.

The landlord has not followed through with the repairs after one month of us shifting to the current house. How can I break the lease even though it provides no such provisions for doing so?

You may argue that your landlord has breached the contract by not providing premises that are habitable. Lease agreements have an implied warranty of habitability, which obligates the owner to ensure that the rental property meets the basic standards to be occupied. You may serve the landlord a 10-day written notice to rectify the conditions or else risk termination of the lease without penalty.

My tenants are breaking the lease claiming health problems due to the basement being damp, though the Board of Health has found no violations. After serving a notice, the tenants requested that I refrain from removing dampness from the basement as it would worsen their health. Can I still go ahead with the sanitizing?

In such a case, the tenants would be obliged to prove that your repairing the basement is indeed worsening their health. Also, since the Board of Health found no violation, they would have the burden of proof to show the mold. By contract law, the tenants would have to prove that you breached your implied warranty of habitability by renting an apartment with toxic mold present. Unless the tenants can sustain their claims, they would be in breach of contract in terminating the lease.

Upon the breach of a lease agreement, the landlord must seek to mitigate damages by seeking to rent the property. A landlord who rejects a tenant with whom he/she has entered a lease agreement may not collect rent due for that lease period. Conversely, a tenant breaching the contract would owe the landlord rent for the lease period. It would thus be wise to have a water-tight lease agreement with the help of Legal Experts.
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