Property Management Blog

Breaking A Lease In CA


Bob Preston - Wednesday, April 14, 2021
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Owning rental properties is generally seen as a strong investment choice. However, there are some concerns that prospective property owners have that can prevent them from entering the market. 

What happens if a tenant stops paying rent and defaults on their lease agreement? The idea of something like this happening and the headaches that could ensue can deter some people from what would otherwise be a lucrative and satisfying investment. 

While it's relatively rare for a tenant to break their lease or default on their rent payments, the circumstances in a tenant's life can change and put them in a difficult situation that leaves them with few options.

This creates a chain reaction, wherein a landlord's cashflow is interrupted, leading to a situation that can necessitate legal action. Let's take a look at ways to mitigate the risk of tenants breaking their leases or defaulting on payments. 

What Happens When Tenants in California Break Their Leases?

One of the most common issues that can unexpectedly arise when you're a property owner with tenants is that your tenant will undergo an unforeseen change in their life that threatens their ability to make rent payments, or otherwise requires the termination of a lease. 

tenant break lease

For example, a tenant could get in touch with you to say they've been offered an excellent job opportunity in another part of their country with an upcoming start date. What should you do in this circumstance?

As a landlord, you'll likely form relationships with your tenants and want them to succeed in their lives. When a positive opportunity comes their way, it's common to want to support them in reaching their goals. 

When you make an effort to accommodate the needs of your tenants, they'll be more likely to treat your property with respect.

Breaking a Lease During COVID

The ongoing global pandemic has caused a number of issues for landlords and tenants alike over the past year. 

For landlords, it can be difficult to conduct many tasks associated with successful rental property ownership—including rent collection, marketing, showing properties, communicating with tenants—purely in the digital realm.

Times are tough for many tenants as well. Job loss, medical troubles, and unexpected changes in family circumstances have made it difficult for many tenants in California to pay their rent on time each month, leading to new legislation and the necessity for adaptable solutions.

Rent Forbearance

One workable option for landlords with tenants who have suffered loss of income due to COVID-19 and find themselves unable to make rental income is rent forbearance

rent forbearance

You can make a contract that allows tenants to pay their rent at a later date, based on a schedule. 

It's important to remember to be sympathetic and kind with tenants who are dealing with difficult financial situations as a result of the pandemic. At the same time, you'll want to carefully document the arrangement to avoid troubles down the road.

Many renters find themselves faced with circumstances they could not have anticipated, and creating a workable solution based on empathy is always the best course of action.

Keep in mind that local or state legislation pertaining to rent forbearance may be in place, and must be followed.

Early Lease Termination

Early lease termination is just what it sounds like—an offer for tenants to break their lease early and without penalty, so that they can find accommodation that fits their new financial circumstances or other alternate living arrangements. 

An early lease termination will typically include forgiveness of the rent due, in addition to the return of the tenant's security deposit, minus the amount required to pay for any damages caused by the tenant that require repair.

Of course, neither rent forbearance or early lease termination are ideal circumstances and neither are required. After all, both go against the terms described in the lease that the tenants signed. 

However, if your tenants are currently unable to pay but will be able to make rent payments at a future date, rent forbearance can provide them with relief and ease the headache of tracking down missing payments. 

If your tenants are unlikely to be able to make rent payments in the foreseeable future, it may be best to offer a penalty-free lease termination so that both parties can move on.

Active Duty Tenants

According to The Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act—a federal law—tenants who are in the military have the right to break their leases if they're called to active military duty. 

military service tenant

In California, this is taken a step further, as renters who are active military members also have the right to break their leases if they're transferred.

Whether a tenant is an active member of the military is information you should make yourself aware of during the application process of prospective tenants. By being aware of which of your tenants could need to break their lease to serve our country, you'll be able to plan for if such a situation emerges. 

Domestic Violence and Other Specified Crimes

According to California's landlord-tenant law, if a tenant is a victim of certain crimes, they have the right to terminate their lease in order to protect their safety. This right is also extended to those who live with victims, and family members of victims. 

Victims of crimes such as domestic abuse, stalking, elder abuse, assault, and more have the right to end their leases at any time to seek safety. 

To break a lease in this manner, certain police documentation is required in addition to other paperwork. For a full overview of the legal circumstances that can protect tenants in this fashion, read more about the full law here

Eviction Protection

No landlord wants to find themselves in a situation where it becomes necessary to evict a tenant. It can seriously disrupt a landlord's financial plans and cause a large amount of stress. 

That's why many San Diego landlords enlist the help of experienced property management companies. Some property management companies—including North County Property Group—provide eviction protection as part of their property management services.

Under an eviction protection offer, a property management company will reimburse the landlord for expenses relating to the eviction process up to a fixed amount. When you have an excellent property management team on your side, evictions are rare in the first place. 

When you are protected against the cost and stress of the eviction process, you'll have more flexibility in making decisions that pertain to your property. 

Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that while this article is a helpful overview of the termination of leases in California, it doesn't constitute legal advice. For specific legal help, get in touch with a local expert in landlord-tenant law.



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