What is a tenant’s right to break a lease early?

UPDATED: Dec 31, 2011

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What is a tenant’s right to break a lease early?

My brother was recently killed by a drunk driver and I now need to move out of state to take care of my elderly parents. I have signed a lease that will not expire for another 9 months that I need to break. Can I find new tenants? There are friends of friends who are interested in renting the house. Can I present them to the landlord that way there is no loss? Will I receive my deposit back? He is an impossible landlord and does not really like to fix anything, very uncooperative, has showed up on the property without notification, and if I present this to him, he will do nothing to assist me in getting relief from this lease.

Asked on December 31, 2011 under Real Estate Law, California


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

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

Sorry to hear about your brother.

If the tenant moves out without the required notice, the tenant remains liable for the rent for the balance of the term of the lease or until the place is re-rented whichever occurs first.  The landlord has to mitigate (minimize) damages by making reasonable efforts to attract new tenants.  The landlord cannot just allow the place to remain vacant for the balance of the term of your lease.  Reasonable efforts on the part of the landlord to find another tenant would depend upon what other landlords in the area are doing to attract tenants; for example, posting a sign on the property advertising the vacancy, advertising in the newspaper or a local rental guide, etc.

Since you have found eligible tenants, when they rent the place, your obligation to pay rent ends. However, if they are paying less rent than you were paying, you would remain liable for the difference in rent for the balance of the term of your lease.  The landlord has to have a valid reason for charging the new tenants a lower rent such as market conditions.  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 in a lawsuit against you.

As for your security deposit, you should be able to recover the security deposit when the place is re-rented. The landlord should provide an accounting of deductions from the security deposit such as for cleaning or repairs, etc.  You can sue in Small Claims Court regarding the security deposit.

As for the landlord showing up without notice during your tenancy, notice is required in order for the landlord to enter your rental unless it is an emergency. In a non-emergency situation, the landlord is required to give notice prior to entry and the entry has to occur during normal business hours.  The amount of notice varies from state to state.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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