Have you ever been stuck in a lease agreement you desperately want to break? Whatever the reason, early lease termination can be a daunting task, especially if you're unfamiliar with your state's laws and regulations. In California, tenants and property management agents have legal rights when it comes to breaking a lease, but navigating the early lease termination process can be tricky.

This guide will provide an overview of the steps you need to move from your rental in California before the fixed term lease expires.

Rental Agreements in California

A California lease agreement is a legal contract between a landlord and tenant that outlines the terms and conditions of a property. The lease agreement sets out the responsibilities and rights of tenants and landlords, including the amount of rent, when to pay rent, the length of the lease, and any other provisions that may be relevant to the tenancy. Unclear leases can scare off prospective tenants.

In California, a rental lease can be either oral or written, although a written lease agreement is recommended for most landlords as it provides a clear record of the terms of the agreement for the tenant. The agreement must comply with California landlord tenant law and regulations, which govern the relationship between landlords and tenants and provide protections for both parties.

Tenant carrying a large cardboard box

Some common provisions that may be included in a California rental agreement include the following:

  • Rent: The agreement should specify the amount of rent to be paid by the tenant when it is due and the accepted rent payment methods.
  • Security Deposit: The amount of the security deposit for the property, the conditions for its return, and any allowable security deposit deductions should be specified in the agreement.
  • Length of the Lease: The agreement should specify for the tenant the lease length, whether it is a month-to-month lease or for a fixed term, and the date that the lease ends.
  • Occupancy: The agreement should state who can live in or rent the California unit and any restrictions on the number of occupants, including the rules surrounding subletting.
  • Repairs and Maintenance: The agreement should specify who is responsible for repairs and maintenance of the rental.
  • Termination: The agreement should specify the conditions for lease termination, including notice requirements and any penalties or fees for early termination in an early termination clause.

Unjustified Reasons to Break a Lease in California

Tenants need to understand the obligations of their lease and California law before attempting to end their lease. If a tenant breaks their lease term without proper legal justification, they should provide written notice to their landlord and work with their property manager or landlord to minimize any penalty fee associated with breaking a lease early.

Two people reviewing documents at a table

If a tenant breaks their California lease early by using any of the below reasons, they must still provide written notice and may have further rent obligation. This means the tenants could be responsible for paying the remaining rent for the rest of the entire lease term.

  • Moving to a new city.
  • Buying a home.
  • Disliking the landlord or property.
  • Roommate issues.
  • Loss of a job.

Justified Reasons to Break a Lease in California

In California, tenants may be able to legally break their lease before its expiration date if they have a justified reason. Justified reasons for breaking a lease are typically related to issues that make the unit uninhabitable or create an unsafe or untenable living situation.

Here are some examples of justified reasons to stop paying rent and break a lease early in California:

Uninhabitable Conditions

As a landlord in California, you have a responsibility to provide tenants with a habitable property. If the rental is in such poor condition that it is not fit for human habitation, the tenant may have a justified reason to break the lease. This could include issues such as:

  • Mold: If the rental has a significant mold problem that the landlord fails to address, the tenant may have a legal reason to break the lease. The mold may be caused by water damage, poor ventilation, or other factors and could pose a serious health risk to the tenant.
  • Pest infestation: If the rental unit has a severe infestation of pests such as rodents, cockroaches, or bed bugs that the landlord makes no action to fix, the tenant may have a justified reason to break the lease. These pests can carry disease and can make the unit uninhabitable for tenants.
  • Lack of heat or hot water: If the rental does not have functioning heat or hot water, the tenant may have a justified reason to break the lease. This can make the unit unsafe and uncomfortable, especially during winter.

Exterior of a light blue apartment building with white doors and black iron balconies

Health and Safety Concerns

If the property threatens the tenant's health or safety, the tenant may have a justified reason to break the lease early. This could include structural problems, inadequate security, or dangerous or unsanitary living conditions.

Landlord Breaches the Rental Agreement

If the landlord breaches the rental agreement significantly, such as failing to make necessary repairs, the tenant may have a justified reason to break the lease. For instance:

  • Failure to make necessary repairs: If the landlord has been notified of a problem with the rental unit that requires repairs and has not taken action to fix it upon the tenant's request, the tenant may have a justified reason to break the lease.
  • Illegal entry or landlord harassment: If the landlord repeatedly violates a tenants privacy by illegally entering the property or harassing the tenant, the tenant may have a justified reason to break the lease due to landlord harassment.
  • Violation of tenant privacy rights: If the landlord has violated the tenant's privacy rights, such as entering the rental unit without notice or sharing the tenant's personal information without permission, the tenant may have a justified reason to break the lease.

Military Service

If the tenant is called for active military duty or receives orders to move to a new location, they may have a justified reason to break the lease. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protects active service members from certain things.

  • Active duty: If the tenant is called up for active military duty and is required to relocate, they may have a justified reason to break the lease.
  • Permanent change of station: If the tenant is a military member and receives orders for a permanent change of station, they may have a justified reason to break the lease.

A military service member wearing fatigues and a black beret standing in front of an American flag

Domestic Violence or Stalking

If the tenant is a victim of domestic violence or stalking, they may have a justified reason to break the lease under California law. The tenant that is a victim of domestic violence may be required to provide their landlord with documentation of the abuse, such as a police report or permanent or temporary restraining order. Then, the domestic violence victim will be legally allowed to vacate.


Breaking a lease in California can be complicated, but knowing your rights as a landlord is important. If your tenant has a justified reason to break the lease early, it is important to document the issue and communicate with your tenant in writing.

At Action Properties, we understand that navigating California law as a property owner can be difficult. As a leading property management company in the Mountain View area, we have worked with landlords and investors for over four decades. If you have any questions about leases or need assistance with property management, please don't hesitate to contact us today! We're here to help.

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