Can I break my lease, get back my full deposit and be compensated for partial rent due to inconvenience and unihabitable conditions caused by a slab leak?

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Can I break my lease, get back my full deposit and be compensated for partial rent due to inconvenience and unihabitable conditions caused by a slab leak?

I had to wake up every 2 hours to wipe out the water leak to prevent the house from getting more damaged until the plumber came and fixed the leak. The whole process took about a month, and for that 4 week period, I had to take time off from work several times to meet the appointments due to the slab leak and for the restoration. I have decided to break the lease contract and move out.

Asked on May 5, 2012 under Real Estate Law, California

Answers:

S.L,. Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Although you may be able to negotiate with the landlord and obtain compensation for partial rent, you would not be able to break the lease now and get your full deposit returned because the repairs have been made.  During the period when the slab leak had not been repaired, then you could have broken the lease and moved out and terminated your obligation to pay rent because the slab leak constituted a breach of the implied warranty of habitability.

In every lease, there is an implied warranty of habitability which requires the landlord to maintain the premises in a habitable condition by complying with local and state housing codes.  When there is a breach of the implied warranty of habitability, the tenant notifies the landlord and the landlord is required to respond within a reasonable time by making the necessary repairs.  When the landlord fails to respond within a reasonable time by making the necessary repairs, the tenant has the following options: The tenant can make the repairs and deduct the cost from the rent or the tenant can move out and terminate the obligation to pay rent for the balance of the term of the lease or if the tenant stays on the premises, the tenant can withhold rent and defend against eviction.  Another alternative is to sue the landlord for breach of the implied warranty of habitability.

Now that the repairs have been completed, there is no longer a breach of the implied warranty of habitability.  If you move out now, you will remain liable for the rent for the balance of the term of your lease or until the place is re-rented.  The landlord has to mitigate (minimize) damages by making reasonable efforts to find another tenant.  The landlord cannot allow the place to remain vacant for the balance of the term of your lease without making reasonable efforts to find another tenant.  If the landlord fails to make reasonable efforts to find another tenant, the landlord has failed to mitigate damages (the amount of compensation the landlord is claiming you owe for breaking the lease) and the landlord's damages will be reduced accordingly.  Reasonable efforts by a landlord to find another tenant are determined by what other landlords in the area are doing to attract tenants; for example, posting a sign on the premises advertising the vacancy, advertising the rental in the newspaper, online, in a local rental guide, etc.  Once the place is re-rented, your obligation to pay rent ends; however, if the new tenant is paying less rent than you were paying, you may be liable for the difference in rent for the balance of the term of your lease.  The landlord has to have a valid reason, such as market conditions, for charging the new tenant less rent than you were paying.  If the landlord does not have a valid reason, the landlord has failed to mitigate damages and the landlord's damages will be reduced accordingly.


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