How do I break a California rental lease that hasn't started yet?
June 26, 2007 10:08 PM   Subscribe

How do I break a California rental lease that hasn't started yet? Can an apartment refuse to remove one person from a lease two people signed if both roommates wish the removal?

Hi. I am moving from Southern California to Davis. My current roommate originally planned to move up with me and we signed a lease together for an apartment on June 11th and paid a deposit. The lease on the new apartment doesn't begin until Sept 1st which is also the first day we can move in.

Last week my roommate informed me she had been given a better job offer and can no longer move up with me. We had an agreement where I was to pay less of the rent in exchange for cooking so I can't just lease out her room without taking out loans. I need to move to a different apartment. She agreed that she has a responsibility for her choice and will remove me if the lease if that is our only option but we both prefer to just terminate the lease.

However, the rental company refuses to take me off the lease. As far as termination goes, they say that we will have to pay all the months that they don't find a tenant which could last the whole length of the lease which is a year.

I've been trying to find information on breaking a lease before you move in but I can only find information on breaking a lease after you have lived there. Furthermore, the people I've known a copy of my lease have had different interpretations of what it says.

Under Breach Prior to Lease Commencement: owner may
1. terminate this lease and hold all of the residents liable for actual damaged caused by the breach. In any event said damages shall not exceed an amount greater than the sum of 2 month's rent.
2. not terminate this lease and hold remaining residents jointly and separately liable for all the terms of this lease
3. not terminate this lease and hold those residents not giving said notice liable for the rent stated herein reduced proportionally by an amount equal to the defaulting residents share of the rent remaining to be paid

To me, that says that they can force us to pay the whole amount if they wish. I looked into getting a lawyer but I'm low income and the ones I've found so far are highly priced. I'd prefer to try to find what the actual law on this is before spending money on one. Any help you can give me is greatly appreciated.

Thank you
posted by avagoyle to Law & Government (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Davis is an utterly cutthroat rental market, your property managers are just being assholes.
posted by fshgrl at 10:14 PM on June 26, 2007

If you find yourself unable to break the lease, could you find a roommate and make your friend pay the difference? I don't know how much the total rent is, but that sounds like it still may be cheaper than the best option in your lease.
posted by acoutu at 10:19 PM on June 26, 2007

This website gives advice on how you can advertise for a new tenant and then provide the landlord with both your letter terminating and a ready-to-move in tenant. (Scroll down to the section labelled No Legal Reason.)
posted by metahawk at 10:39 PM on June 26, 2007

Yeah, looks like you're going to have to rely on state law here (eg, metahawk's link). The city's renter protection laws are sparse. (But for people in other cities, look up the relevant city law. In some Just Cause eviction cities, eg, Oakland, landlords basically have to let you sublease if you want.)
posted by salvia at 10:52 PM on June 26, 2007

You're right; you can be held liable for all the rent for the entire apartment for the entire term of the lease. This is why you don't sign a lease together with someone who's not trustworthy. It's also why you don't sign a joint lease on an apartment you can't even afford half the rent on - what were you thinking?

You're going to have to do something creative, and it's probably not going to involve breaking this lease you signed. If I were you, I'd plan to move in and sublet to 2 roommates, not 1; and better hope they will pay what they say they will. You will have an annoying, crowded year living packed tight with strangers - an expensive lesson. A better alternative would be to advertise the apartment yourself, show it, and see if you can't find replacement tenants that would be suitable to the rental company.

That web site metahawk linked above is basically advising tenants to bust their apartment, making it "uninhabitable," and to continue breaking things and demanding the landlord repair them until the landlord gets sick of it and lets them leave.

The website's right; you can annoy a landlord this way. Sometimes an annoyed landlord will evict you or let you go. Other times a really pissed-off landlord will take you to court, attach your wages, ruin your credit report, prosecute you for vandalism, and basically spend a few grand on lawyers to ruin your life for the next seven years.

Since you haven't moved in yet, you'd have the devil of a time with this strategy; the rental company can probably attest that the things weren't broken at the time you moved in, and you haven't had time to put normal wear and tear on them. I don't recommend it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:56 AM on June 27, 2007

Response by poster: ikkyu2, I lived with this person for half a year and I've known them for over two without any issues on their part. The problem only developed in the last month, AFTER I signed the lease with her. I can't read people's minds and as I had been living with her for half a year without a single issue I didn't think there would be a problem. She already pays my entire rent here in exchange for cooking and cleaning so we would just be transferring a current agreement that has worked wonderfully.

Furthermore, my friend says she is willing to take over the entire lease and search for people. I've found a second apartment and need to get off this lease before I can get on that one. Finally, I don't want to be on this lease while my friend is going to be taking over it and dealing with it completely. If she is willing to take care of it all, why should I be stuck on it?
posted by avagoyle at 8:15 AM on June 27, 2007

They may let you off the lease if you find someone to put on in your place. Many landlords consider renting to one person (especially a woman, grrr) to be riskier than renting to two.
posted by acoutu at 8:37 AM on June 27, 2007

Avagoyle, I see you're feeling attacked. I'm not trying to attack you, I'm trying to help you clear up a misconception you seem to have.

When you signed your name on the lease, you were agreeing to a contract between you and your landlord. It doesn't matter who else signed with you. The agreement you signed was that you were going to be 100% responsible for the rent on this apartment for the term of the lease.

You don't get out of a contract that you signed. That's the entire point of signing a contract. If you could get out of it whenever you decided it wasn't convenient any more, it wouldn't be much of a contract, would it? In fact, there'd be no point in having it at all.

why should I be stuck on it?

Because you signed the lease, indicating your agreement with its terms. If you don't want to be stuck in this position, you must not sign.

You're going to have to understand where you are before you can move forward.

my friend says she is willing to take over the entire lease

Well, that's nice of her. Unfortunately it doesn't matter, because you already signed an agreement between you and the landlord. The terms of that agreement prohibit this from ever coming to pass.

I'd be careful about relying any more on what your "friend" says. She's already shafted you once. Used to be, if you worked as someone's domestic servant, they'd treat you a little better than what's happened to you.

You need to know that in the eyes of the law, you're liable for the full rent for the full term of the lease. Don't rely on any more empty promises; protect yourself.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:50 AM on June 28, 2007

« Older Food and other shopping available only in CA?   |   NuvaRing out for 1/2 hour longer than it ought to... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.