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Old 10-28-2007, 08:59 AM
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Post Breaking a lease without breaking the bank

Q:My fiance and I need to break the one-year lease we signed in April. Since we moved here we have had nothing but issues. We hadn't lived here two weeks before our car was broken into and the radio was stolen and the dashboard damaged.

Our downstairs neighbors neglected their cat and we found our apartment infested with fleas. They were evicted, but now our new downstairs neighbors are so loud they keep us awake at night. Our upstairs neighbors turn their music up loud and when I go knock on their door to ask them turn it down they won't answer and instead turn it up more. We have also had issues with mold and broken windows.

There are also personal reasons. After we moved in we found out I am expecting another child and am due in December. A small two-bedroom apartment for all five of us isn't enough room. My fiance and I will be getting married this month. Is there anything I can do to get out of this without it hurting our credit?

Landlord's attorney James McKinley replies: Because you and your fiance signed a lease, which is a contract, you are both legally obligated to perform your obligations under the contract.

While you may have personal reasons for wanting to break the lease, there does not appear to be any valid legal reason for you and your fiance to be relieved from these obligations.

You have listed many minor inconveniences one will experience when living with many people in close proximity; however, you have not stated a valid legal reason to break the lease. In fact, it appears that the landlord has responded to your complaints about the neighbors and conditions in the apartment in a timely manner.

Your landlord is not responsible for the criminal acts of third parties, and has apparently performed his obligations under the contract. It appears that the real reason you want to move is to rent a bigger apartment. Under California law, if you and your fiance were to break the lease, you both would be responsible for the rent until the lease expired or the landlord found a new tenant, whichever came first.

If you failed to pay the rent, your landlord could pursue a judgment through small claims court or collections through a collection agency, either of which would negatively affect your credit. Your best option is to negotiate an early termination of the tenancy and lease with the landlord. Many landlords have a policy regarding early termination of leases involving a fee to cover the costs of lost rent, advertising and cleaning.

Tenant's attorney Steven R. Kellman replies: Leases, like some rules, seem like there is someone out there just waiting to break one of them. Of course, rules or leases are better broken when you have a good reason.

I would call what you have endured as a major disruption to your lives. You suffered vandalism (lack of security), insect infestation, broken windows and mold (lack of maintenance), and excessive noise from neighbors (lack of enforcing rental agreements). These are not minor inconveniences.

Anyone dealing with these things on a routine basis would be understandably upset and ready to move out. You are not prisoners and may move if it is just not livable there. The law allows you, under certain conditions rendering the unit significantly uninhabitable, to vacate and be relieved from the obligation to pay any further rent. In this situation, and under certain conditions, the lease could be "broken" with no penalty and no 30-day notice would be needed.

Now, if you really feel you need to move because you simply need a bigger place, then your termination of the lease is without legal grounds and you could be responsible for lost rent and advertising costs. You can protect your credit simply by arranging an agreed-upon move-out date with the landlord and cooperating with the rerenting process. Your liability could then be kept to a minimum and your credit left intact. Remember to seek legal counsel before breaking any lease.

The authors are property manager Robert Griswold and attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenants' Legal Center, and James McKinley, of Moffitt & Associates, a law firm that represents landlords. Send questions to Rental Roundtable, 5703 Oberlin Drive, Suite 300, San Diego, CA 92121-1743, or by e-mail to

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