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What Will Happen If a Tenant Leaves Before the Lease Term Ends?

Understanding the Consequences of Breaking the Lease Early 

“What will happen if a tenant leaves before the lease term ends?” This question often arises when tenants find themselves facing circumstances that require them to break their lease early. When a tenant decides to leave a rental property before the agreed-upon lease term comes to an end, it can raise various questions and concerns for both the tenant and the landlord.

Breaking a lease early can have legal and financial implications, and the specific outcomes can vary depending on the terms of the lease agreement and the laws of the jurisdiction. Understanding the potential consequences and rights of both parties is essential in dealing with this situation effectively. Our San Francisco landlord-tenant attorneys at Steven Adair MacDonald & Partners, P.C., can help you navigate the legal complexities, protect your rights, and minimize potential financial losses.

In this article, we will explore what might happen when a tenant leaves before the lease term ends.

  • Landlord’s Duty to Mitigate Damages
  • Early Termination Agreement
  • Early Termination Fees
  • Lease Assignment or Subletting
  • Rent Responsibility
  • Releasing the Tenant
  • Security Deposit

Landlord’s Duty to Mitigate Damages

Under California law, the landlord has a legal obligation to make reasonable efforts to mitigate the financial impact of the tenant’s early departure – rather than charge you for the total remaining rent due under the lease. This typically involves actively seeking a new tenant to minimize losses. Once a new tenant is found, the departing tenant’s responsibility for rent may end.  

A landlord’s duty to re-rent has some limitations, however:

  • Landlords must take reasonable steps to re-rent. They don’t have to give special priority to a unit to re-rent it, nor do they have to lower the rent for the unit.
  • Landlords can sometimes hold tenants responsible for the costs of advertising and showing the unit.
  • Landlords are not obligated to accept every applicant who shows interest in renting a property. To mitigate their losses, landlords only need to apply the same set of criteria used during the original tenant selection process. However, you can significantly improve the situation by presenting your landlord with a potential replacement tenant who possesses the same positive attributes, such as a strong credit history and rental track record, that you had when you initially rented the property.

If the landlord fails to attempt to mitigate the damages and decides to sue the tenant instead, the tenant can use the defense of failure to mitigate damages to offset what they owe. However, this defense can be challenging since the burden of proof lies with the tenant, who must demonstrate that the landlord did not exert reasonable efforts to find a new tenant and that a suitable tenant could have been secured if the landlord had made such efforts.

Early Termination Agreement

Many tenants who sign a lease for their apartment or rental unit plan to stay for the full amount of time required in the lease, such as one year. But despite your best intentions, you might want or need to leave before your lease is up.

The tenant and landlord may agree to terminate the lease early through a written agreement. This agreement could specify any conditions, such as a notice period or financial settlement, and outline the responsibilities of both parties.

Early Termination Fees

The tenant may face financial consequences for breaking the lease before the term ends. Some lease agreements include clauses that outline specific fees or penalties for breaking the lease early. The terms and conditions regarding early termination should be clearly outlined in the lease. 

These fees are designed to compensate the landlord for expenses incurred due to the tenant’s early departure. The enforceability and legality of such fees may vary, so it’s important to review the lease agreement and consult with a San Francisco CA landlord-tenant lawyer.

Lease Assignment or Subletting

The tenant might have the option to find a qualified replacement tenant to take over the lease. This process could involve obtaining the landlord’s consent and fulfilling any requirements outlined in the lease agreement.

Rent Responsibility

Until a new tenant is secured, the departing tenant may still be responsible for paying the rent as specified in the lease agreement. This obligation continues until the lease ends or a new tenant assumes the tenancy.

Releasing the Tenant

If the landlord successfully re-rents the property before the original lease term expires, the departing tenant may be released from further financial obligations. The landlord cannot collect rent from both the departing tenant and the new tenant for the same period.

Security Deposit

The security deposit, paid by the tenant at the beginning of the lease, is typically held by the landlord to cover unpaid rent or damages when the condition exceeds normal wear and tear. 

Most states require the landlord to return the deposit and provide the tenant with an itemized list of deductions within 14 to 60 days from the date that the tenant moved out. If the tenant leaves early, the landlord may deduct any outstanding financial obligations from the security deposit and refund the remaining balance, if applicable.

How Can a San Francisco Landlord-Tenant Attorney Help If a Tenant Leaves Before the Lease Term Ends?

Breaking a lease early can be a complex and challenging situation for both tenants and landlords. However, seeking the assistance of our San Francisco landlord-tenant lawyers at Steven Adair MacDonald & Partners, P.C. can greatly benefit all parties involved. From understanding the legal implications and obligations to navigating the process of lease termination, our landlord-tenant law firm can provide the necessary guidance and support.

Our landlord-tenant law firm can help landlords and tenants explore their options, negotiate with the parties involved, and ensure their rights are protected when needing to break a lease early. We will analyze the lease agreement, local laws, and specific circumstances to advise you on the best course of action and mitigate any potential legal or financial consequences.

When faced with the situation of breaking a lease early, contact us now to schedule an initial consultation and get effective legal help and representation for your landlord-tenant dispute and real estate law case in San Francisco, CA, and the Bay Area. We are here to help you navigate the complexities of lease termination with greater confidence and ensure that your rights and obligations are properly addressed.

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