Unexpected Moves: Unraveling the Cost of Breaking Your Lease Early  

Sometimes, because life is just unpredictable, you might find that you need to move prior to the end of your lease. This naturally begs the question: how much will this cost you? The answer will depend on the terms of your lease and how you are able to negotiate with your landlord. 

The first step is to take a look at your lease. Knowing when your lease ends will tell you what the maximum amount you could theoretically owe might be. This is defined by Civil Code Section 1951.2, which makes a tenant responsible for unpaid rent through the end of the lease term or when the landlord finds a replacement tenant, as well as reasonable costs incurred by the landlord to find a new tenant. Importantly, the damages can be reduced if the tenant demonstrates that the landlord failed to mitigate their damages: for example, not advertising the unit for rent or rejecting qualified applicants who try to rent the property.  

Reviewing the lease will also reveal what, if any, limitations there are on subletting the property. Subletting is the practice of renting out some or all of the property you are renting to another person, basically turning the tenant into what is referred to as a “master tenant,” or a sort of mini landlord. Most leases prohibit subletting or require a landlord’s permission. Notably, if a landlord’s permission is required, it cannot be unreasonably withheld. If moving is necessary and the lease allows it, subletting might be the easiest way to reduce the cost of moving out early. 

Another option found in some leases is an early termination fee. This term basically sets a predetermined penalty to pay when a tenant gives notice that they are terminating their tenancy. This fee will vary but can often range from one to three months’ rent. While this is a large amount, it can be worth the cost to avoid the possibility of having to pay several additional months’ worth of rent if the rental unit sits empty until the end of the lease term. 

If there is no set early termination fee and subletting is not permitted, it might be possible to negotiate an early lease termination with the landlord. This will depend on what the tenant can offer balanced against how easy the landlord believes it will be to find a replacement tenant. Having replacement tenants available to propose can ease this process along. 

 The reason for needing to end the lease early may also play a part in what you owe. Regardless, it might be helpful to discuss your situation with an attorney to choose the best path forward.