What to Do When a Tenant Breaks the Lease Agreement

Lease agreements are the backbone of property management, and it is vital that they are drafted and enforced correctly. When a tenant broke a lease agreement, it is necessary to take prompt action to best mitigate losses. Whether you are a seasoned property manager learning California tenant law or a first-time landlord, this guide will help you understand the process of creating and enforcing lease agreements in California.

Understanding the Lease Agreement

The lease agreement is your contract with the tenant and should include specific terms and information. In addition to obvious information such as names of the tenants and occupants, rent amount, security deposits, and term of tenancy, most leases include the following lease terms:

  • Occupancy limits, typically restricted to adults on the lease and their minor dependents.
  • Repairs and maintenance, including the responsibility to repair damages and report landlord maintenance issues promptly to avoid damage.
  • Pet policies, including breed, weight, and size restrictions, as well as pet deposits and any additional monthly charge for pet rent.
  • Utilities, specifically for which utilities the tenant is responsible and those provided by the landlord.

The state of California also requires certain disclosures as appropriate, including lead-based paint, mold, and area sex offenders.

The most common lease violations relate to occupancy, damages, and pets. It is common for tenants to adopt a pet or take in a friend or family member in hard times without notifying the landlord. Prompt response when a tenant broke a lease agreement in this way is vital. California law states that an individual staying on a property for 14 days in 6 months or 7 consecutive nights becomes a tenant and must be evicted. Unapproved pets and tenants can cause significant damage in a short amount of time.

Communicating with the Tenant

You must communicate with the tenant, notify them of the lease violation, and attempt to come to a resolution before filing an eviction in California. The tenant must be given an opportunity to fix the lease breach or move out without going to court. Discussing possible solutions with the tenant before filing the legal cure or quit notice is important for two reasons.

First, coming to an equitable agreement significantly reduces the cost of curing breaches of lease agreements. Second, it will be easier to have the notice accepted and eviction approved if you can prove that you attempted to remedy the situation first. Of course, this is not always possible, and there are procedures for filing a 3-day quit notice for gross violations of lease terms.

Make sure you keep track of all communications and interactions, including through websites, email, phone calls, mail, text messages, and social media. You will need this information to back up your claims if you must go to court for eviction.

Taking Legal Action

Taking legal action is necessary when a tenant lacks the intention or ability to cure the breach of lease terms. California has a specific process for taking legal action when a tenant broke a lease agreement, and it varies depending on the nature of the breach. The failure to pay rent is enforced with a 3-day notice to pay or quit. A 3-day notice to perform covenants or quit requires the tenant to remedy the problem that violates the lease or move out. A 3-day notice to quit can be served for severe lease breaches, such as moving in an individual or pet not on the lease.

A landlord cannot file for eviction until the appropriate legal notice is served and the time has elapsed. The landlord or their attorney can then file an unlawful detainer action to have the tenant evicted from the property. The landlord or their attorney must appear in court to be granted the eviction. If the tenant doesn’t show the court may enter a default judgment against the tenant.

This process can vary depending on the term of the lease and how long the tenant has lived at the residence. The California Tenant Protection Act of 2019 made these procedures even more complex. It is necessary to have an experienced real estate and tenant law attorney ready to take action as soon as a tenant broke a lease agreement.

Mitigating Damages

It is important to assess the true financial impact of a breach of the lease. In addition to attorney fees for an eviction, losses are incurred due to the inability to rent the property to a paying tenant. In addition, damages and past due rent may never be received, even when ordered by the courts. Costs associated with filing an eviction include fees to have the tenant served with the required notice and summons. There is also a filing fee required ranging from $240 to $435 depending on the amount of damages.

It may be cheaper to convince a tenant to leave willingly, but waiting too long to take legal action is costly in itself. The longer it takes to remove the tenant, the longer it will be before you receive rent for that unit. Prompt evictions ensure that your rental income is not interrupted. An experienced tenant law attorney from Stone & Sallus will assist in this process to ensure it is completed swiftly and correctly.

The best way to mitigate damages is to start with a solid lease agreement. Stone & Sallus will help you identify all of the lease terms that should be included in your rental contracts based on your property, location, and other factors. Contact our experienced real estate and tenant law attorneys in California today for more information.