A rental agreement is another word for what is commonly known as a lease. This is a legally binding document created by a property owner, or landlord, and tenant, the person who will pay for use of the property. A rental agreement will explain the terms in the lease and will state the specific period of time the least should run. Usually that period of time is for a year, but sometime leases can run for six months, month-to-month, two years, or even longer.
Different states have different laws for when it is permissible to break a lease. In California, a tenant can legally break a lease if they are leaving the apartment to be deployed for active military duty. If the conditions in which they live are unsafe, the lease is can be broken without legal repercussion to the former tenant.
A tenant can also legally end a lease if they are the victim of any kind of abuse: stalking, elder abuse, sexual abuse, or domestic violence. If a tenant needs to leave the premises for his or her own safety, the tenant is not liable for the remainder of the lease term. Finally, if the landlord has harassed the tenant or engaged in tortious conduct toward the tenant, the tenant can claim legal justification for breaking the lease.
The California Civil Code puts the burden on the landlord to find a suitable tenant in order to mitigate damages on the broken lease. This means the tenant doesn’t have to find a replacement tenant, and if the landlord is able to find a suitable tenant, the former tenant will not have to pay for the remainder of the lease.
However, if the landlord is not able to find another suitable tenant, the former tenant is liable for the remainder of the lease money owed. To mitigate these damages, the tenant who is breaking the lease can find a suitable replacement to protect themselves from small claims court.
It is a good idea to talk to a real estate attorney if you are thinking of breaking your lease. An attorney can help advise you of your best options to minimize risk of legal repercussion for lease termination.