How To Break A Lease In California With No Penalty

How To Break A Lease In California With No Penalty

Abraham Elmahrek

Life doesn't always go as planned. We lose or change jobs. A loved one dies and we take on more responsibility. We get stuck in abusive relationships and we just need to get out. What ever the reason is, sometimes we need to move before our lease is up.


If you're not interested in reading the entire article, here's a summary of the steps to take to get out of a lease early:

4 steps to break a lease in California
4 steps to break a lease in California

Tell your landlord you want your security deposit back

Generate a letter to make sure you get your security deposit back using the right words.

Get started


If a lease allows subleasing, then it can't really be broken. However, you can sublease the unit until the term of the lease ends.


If a lease doesn't allow subleasing, then follow these steps:

  1. Send a 30-day notice.
  2. Find a replacement tenant for the landlord to help them mitigate damages.
  3. Pay the difference of what the new renter pays and what you were paying (if more).

Duty To Mitigate Damages

Housing leases are designed to:

  1. Give owners security that their unit will be filled for a period of time.
  2. Provide tenants and owners price stability.
  3. Outline responsibilities of each party.
  4. Fulfill duties required by law.

Unfortunately, leases also limit the mobility of tenants quite a bit. Lucky for us, California law makers had the foresight to help renters overcome this issue: Duty To Mitigate Damages.


The following definition was borrowed from Cornell Law:

In a breach of contract case, upon receiving notice that one party to a contract does not intend to perform, the other party is required to mitigate damages, meaning that it must take reasonable efforts to avoid further losses from the breach.

Plain English: The landlord needs to find a replacement tenant.

When the market is stable or prices are increasing, this is pretty easy. However, if the market is unstable or crashing, it may be difficult for a landlord to find a replacement tenant.

Find A Replacement Tenant

Landlords have a duty to mitigate damages, but there is no guarantee that they'll find something quickly. You can remedy this by finding a replacement tenant yourself.

Here are the important things to remember when looking for a replacement tenant:

  • They must be able to pass the landlord's normal application process including background checks, proof of income, credit checks, etc.
  • Owner occupied places are a bit tricky since the owner may have different renting criteria. They aren't required to follow fair housing laws.
  • If the unit is allowed to be subleased, then finding a replacement tenant won't work. However, the unit can be subleased until the end of term.

Discuss An Exit Strategy With The Landlord

Some landlords are open to ending a lease early and working with their tenants to mitigate damages. Though, it's not always the case, it generally doesn't hurt to talk to the manager in an informal setting first.

Early Termination Clauses In Leases

Sometimes property managers have clauses in leases that are actually illegal. Early termination clauses that charge renters fees are actually not allowed.

There are situations that California law readily accepts as reasonable reasons to terminate a lease early. There are no repercussions for doing so. Here's a brief list of them:

  1. Military Duty: A person who starts active military duty has a get out of rent free card.
  2. Domestic violence: Victims of domestic violence are allowed to leave harmful situations whenever they'd like.
  3. Privacy Violations and Harassment: Tenants can leave without issue if a landlord harasses them or violates their right to privacy.
  4. Habitability Concerns: If the unit is unliveable or unsafe, the tenant is "constructively evicted". Basically, the tenant can seek safer living conditions.

Final Thoughts

If you're stuck in a lease, don't worry. Read your lease carefully and find out if you can sublease your unit. If you can't sublease, then you can risk breaking the lease. If you feel the landlord may have difficulty finding a replacement tenant, you can help them out by finding one for them.

Even the odds with your landlord

Sign up for free to get access to a bunch of tools.

Join Padfever

© 2021 Padfever