When Can a Tenant Legally Break a Rental Lease?

When Can a Tenant Legally Break a Rental Lease?While a lease is a legally binding contract, there are several legitimate reasons for a tenant to break a lease early. Here are some circumstances under which you might be entitled to vacate the property before the lease’s expiration date:

Abuse

Tenants who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and certain other crimes have the right to early lease termination under California law. This right extends to tenants if the victim is a member of their household or an immediate family member, even if they do not live with the tenant.

Military Duty

Federal law allows tenants to end a lease if they enlist in the military after signing it, as per the War and National Defense Service Members Civil Relief Act. This includes members of the “uniformed services,” such as the National Guard and the commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). To terminate the lease, you must notify your landlord in writing. The tenancy will end 30 days after the next rent payment is due, even if that date precedes the lease expiration.

Unsafe Living Conditions

If your landlord fails to provide habitable housing, a court may rule that you have been “constructively evicted.” This means you are no longer liable for rent because the landlord effectively forced you out by providing unlivable conditions. According to California law, you must follow specific steps before moving out due to significant repair issues, such as a lack of heat or other essential services (Cal. Civ. Code 1942 and Green v. Superior Court).

Violation of Privacy

California law requires landlords to give adequate written notice before entering a rented home, typically 24 hours (or 48 hours for the final move-out inspection). Repeated infringements on your right to privacy, such as unauthorized entries, removal of windows or doors, cutting off utilities, or changing locks, can be considered “constructive eviction“, allowing you to terminate the lease early (California Civil Code 1954).

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