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Breaking a Lease in Temecula, California – Know the Laws

breaking a lease ca

A lease is a legally binding contract between you and your tenant. A tenant should stay in the rental for the entire lease term.

When your renter breaks the lease, it means they are ending the lease before its natural termination date.

Ideally, before moving out, a tenant must provide the landlord with a proper notice. For week-to-week leases, the tenant must provide you with a 7 days written notice (Civ. Code §§ 1946). And to end a month-to-month lease, the tenant must provide you with a 30 days written notice (Civ. Code §§ 1946).

When a tenant breaks a lease early, they must still continue to pay rent for the remaining period that the lease would be active. Even if they no longer live in the property, it is still their responsibility to continue paying their rent.

Landlords’ Rights & Responsibilities when Signing a Lease in California

As a landlord, you have a right to collect rent for the entire life of the lease. So, even if your renter breaks their lease early, you may still hold them liable for paying rent due under the lease in California.

Additionally, you also have a right to require a proper notice from a tenant looking to end their lease. As already aforementioned, tenants must provide a 7-days or 30-days’ notice to end a lease, depending on the lease type. If they fail to do so, you may sue them for unpaid rent and withhold their security deposit.

Along with rights, the lease also gives you responsibilities. For instance, as a landlord, you must ensure that your California rental unit adheres to the state and local habitability standards. If you fail to do so, your tenant is legally allowed to break the lease without consequence.

It is also your responsibility to ensure your tenants live in a peaceful and quiet space, as well as ensure your tenants have privacy in their rented premises.

signing a lease

Legally Justified Reasons to Break a Lease Agreement in California

A handful of scenarios exist that allow a tenant to legally break their lease.

The following are some of the scenarios:

1. The tenant is a victim of domestic or sexual violence.

California law (Cal. Civ. Code § 1946.7) gives tenants who are victims of domestic violence special rental provisions. Victims of stalking, domestic violence, and sexual abuse can break their lease in California so long as certain conditions are met.

You have a right to request proof from a domestic violence victim. The proof can be a police report, an emergency protective order, or a restraining order.

2. The landlord is harassing the tenant.

Landlord harassment is illegal, and it is a valid, legal reason for a tenant to break the lease early.

Examples of such actions include:

  • Making verbal threats to the tenant.
  • Using physical harassment towards a tenant.
  • Increasing the rent amount without serving a proper landlord written notice.
  • Refusing to make required property repairs.
  • Cutting off amenities that were included in the rental agreement.
  • Shutting off utilities, such as running water.

3. The landlord repeatedly violates the tenant’s right to privacy.

Your tenants have a right to the quiet and peaceful enjoyment of their rented premises. Even as the landlord, you cannot just barge in as you like. If you do, especially repeatedly, your renter could sue you for privacy violation.

As per (Cal. Civ. Code § 1954), you must provide your tenant at least 24 hours’ notice prior to entering their rental.

real estate lease california

4. The rental unit is no longer habitable.

California has specific health and safety standards that every property must meet.

Thus, as a landlord, it’s your responsibility to ensure your property meets all the basic safety, health and building codes.

In your unit, ensure there are:

  • Effective plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems
  • Adequate water supply
  • Effective weatherproofing
  • An adequate number of garbage receptacles

If you fail to provide these, a court would likely conclude that you have “constructively evicted” your tenant by supplying unlivable housing.

5. The tenant is beginning active military service.

Active service members who have been relocated due to deployment or received permanent change of station are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).

The Act protects members of the “uniformed services,” including:

  • Members of the Armed Forces
  • The Activated National Guard
  • Commissioned corps of the Public Health Service
  • Commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

As per the relief act, the tenant must serve you a written notice of their intent to move out. They must also show you copies of the deployment letters, as well as prove they intend to remain on active duty for the next 90 days.

If they do, this is a legal justification to break the lease early.

6. The lease contains an early termination clause.

Some modern California lease agreements allow tenants to terminate a lease early in exchange for a penalty fee. The penalty fee is usually equivalent to the rent of two months.

You can also require your California tenants to provide you proper notice before moving out.

lease agreement contract ca

Landlord’s Duty to Find a Replacement Tenant in California

California law (Cal. Civ. Code § 1951.2) requires landlords to make reasonable efforts to re-rent their units after a renter moves out. So, regardless of the reason for moving out, you must try to re-rent the unit quickly in order to mitigate costs.

Bottom Line: Breaking a Lease in CA

As an overview, when your renter breaks the lease early, it means they are ending the lease before its natural termination date. As a California landlord, it’s important to understand how to act in this situation.

It’s also crucial to know that there are many scenarios that legally allow a tenant to break their lease in California!


Does the legal side of leasing properties stress you out? Are you ready to hand over your rental to the professionals while still enjoying the monthly income? Contact us online to learn more about what we can do for you.

If you have more questions, Realevate Specialists can help. Backed by over 30 years of experience, we’re true leaders in the Temecula and San Diego real estate market.


Disclaimer: This blog about breaking a lease isn’t a substitute for professional legal advice from a qualified attorney. Laws may change, and this blog may not be updated at the time of your reading. For questions or edits, kindly get in touch with us.

We are pledged to the letter and spirit of U.S. policy for the achievement of equal housing opportunity throughout the Nation. See Equal Housing Opportunity Statement for more information.