Breaking a lease is not something California landlords take lightly. It can be a complicated and expensive process, especially if it involves evicting the tenant. If you are a landlord, it is important to be kept up to date on the legalities of breaking a lease.

This article will provide an ultimate guide for landlords in California who are considering breaking a lease. We'll cover the common reasons and legality of lease termination. Additionally, we will cover the potential consequences of breaking the lease and how to avoid them.

How to Break a Lease in California: A Step-By-Step Guide for Landlords

Breaking a lease in California can be complicated. It is important for landlords to understand the reasoning and legality of terminating a lease, as well as the potential consequences. Use this guide to help you make an informed decision and avoid potential consequences.

Understand the Terms of the Lease

It is critical to read and understand the terms of the lease agreement before attempting to break it. In California, a landlord can terminate a lease early for a valid reason, such as a breach of the terms of the lease, or if the tenant has failed to pay rent. However, the landlord must make sure to adhere to landlord-tenant laws.

Provide Notice

California requires the tenant to provide written notice to the landlord before breaking their lease.
cardboard boxes and stacked books on a table
The notice must be given at least 30 days before the tenant plans to move out. However, if the landlord wishes to end the lease early they must follow the rules of an eviction.

Negotiate with Both Parties

In some cases, it may be possible to negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement between the landlord and tenant. For example, as a landlord, you may be willing to waive the remaining rent or allow the tenant to sublease the unit.

Pay for Breach of Contract

If the tenant breaches the contract, the landlord can require them to pay for any damages, including unpaid rent and the costs included in finding a new tenant.

Consider Early Termination Clauses

Some leases in California include an early termination clause. This clause allows the tenant to terminate the lease early without penalty, provided they give the landlord proper written notice.

As a landlord, it is your choice to include an early termination clause or not.

Understand the Costs

You may charge a fee for early termination, which may vary depending on how long the tenant has been living in the rental. When determining the cost of the fee, consider the amount of time and money it would take to re-rent the property.

Seek Legal Assistance

If your tenant wants to break their lease, it is best to seek advice from a lawyer. A lawyer can review the lease and determine if there are any legal grounds for breaking the lease.

California has some exceptions where it is legally allowed to break a lease. For example, if the property needs repairs and the landlord does not make the repairs in a timely manner. This is why it is important to practice open communication with your tenant and respect landlord-tenant law.
a group of professionals talking in a circle
Let's understand all the situations when your tenant can break a lease early.

Legal Reasons for Tenants to Break a Lease

Ending a lease early is sometimes necessary. Although it is not always legal. In the state of California, a tenant may terminate a lease if they have valid reasons.

Military Relocation

Your tenant can legally break a lease if they are moving due to military orders. The tenant must present written notice of the lease termination and a copy of their military orders to the landlord. That said, they can also terminate the lease if they are to move permanently for 90 days or more.

Domestic Violence

If the tenant is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, then they may also break the lease. In such a situation, the tenant must provide the landlord with a written statement, including a copy of a police report or restraining order, stating that the tenant was a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

The tenant may alternatively provide a signed statement from a qualified third-party professional.

Uninhabitable Rental Property

In California, a tenant may be able to break the lease if the landlord fails to provide a habitable living environment. Under California law, habitable premises includes the following:

  • a structurally sound building
  • weather proofing that keeps out the rain, wind, and cold
  • access to hot and cold running water
  • working electrical, gas, and plumbing systems

Additionally, the premises must be free of dangerous conditions, such as lead-based paint, infestations, and structural hazards. You are required to adhere to a set of minimum standards. Some of these standards include ventilation, adequate lighting, heating, and sanitation.

Rent Increase

If the tenant believes that the rent increase is excessive, they may be able to break the lease. In California, tenants are able to break the lease if the rent increase is more than 10% of the current rent. However, the tenant must provide a written 30-day notice to the landlord.
a stack of bills, notepad, and hand using a calculator
Additionally, the tenant must also continue to make all rent payments. If the tenant fails to meet the requirements, they may be liable for any unpaid rent that remains due until the end of the lease period. As a landlord, you can use their security deposit to cover unpaid rent.

Insufficient Justification for Breaking a California Lease

In California, a tenant may not break a lease without sufficient justification. Examples of insufficient justification for breaking a lease include:

  • To pursue a job or educational opportunity outside of the state
  • To move in with a significant other
  • To move closer to family members
  • To purchase a new home
  • They are unhappy with the terms of the lease
  • They do not want to live in the property anymore


Breaking a lease in California can be a difficult situation for both the tenant and the landlord. California law does not allow a tenant to break a lease without significant consequences. If your tenant has decided to break the lease, they must follow the guidelines stated in the lease.

We can help you understand all of the legal aspects of the lease and advise you on the best ways to reach a resolution. Graf Property Management can help you avoid costly disputes and costly litigation. Contact us today!

Please note that the information provided in this blog is intended for general guidance and should not be considered as a replacement for professional legal advice. It is important to be aware that laws pertaining to property management may change, rendering this information outdated by the time you read it.