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Legal Information: California

California Housing Laws

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Housing Laws

Ending a Lease

Basic info

What housing laws can protect me if I need to break my lease?

There is a housing law in California that allows you (the tenant) to terminate your lease before it expires if you or a member of your family/household is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, abuse of an elder or dependent adult or human trafficking. However, the family member must live in the same household as you (the tenant).1

If you are not sure if you qualify as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, abuse of an elder or dependent adult, or human trafficking, you can click on each highlighted term to read the definitions. For the purposes of this housing law, “sexual assault” is defined as any of the following crimes: rape, unlawful sexual intercourse with person under 18, rape of a spouse, sodomy, oral copulation, or forcible acts of sexual penetration.1

Note: If you are a victim of one of these crimes mentioned above, and you are not asking to terminate your lease (meaning you want to stay in your apartment), there still may be reasons why a landlord can terminate your tenancy even if you are a victim. To read what the law says about when a landlord can terminate a victim’s tenancy, go to our Selected California Statutes page.

If you are not a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, abuse of an elder or dependent adult, or human trafficking but have questions about your housing rights, here are some links that may be useful: for information on an anti-discrimination law called the Fair Housing Act, click here; for basic tenants’ rights with contact info for legal assistance, click here.

1 Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.7(a)

Who is protected under this housing law?

You can get protection if you meet both of the following:

  1. You (the tenant) were a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, abuse of an elder or dependent adult, or human trafficking or a member of your family was a victim of one of these acts and s/he lives with you;1and
  2. You must have one of the following documents that was issued within the last 180 days:2
    • a temporary restraining order, emergency protective order or protective order from the court that protects you or your household member from further domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or abuse of an elder or dependent adult or human trafficking; or
    • a copy of a written report from a peace officer stating that you or your family member filed a report due to domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or abuse of an elder or dependent adult or human trafficking; or
    • documentation on official letterhead from a qualified third party (such as a counselor, case worker, psychologist, doctor, etc.) based on information s/he received while acting in his/her professional capacity, which says that the tenant or household member is seeking assistance for physical or mental injuries or abuse resulting from an act of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking, elder abuse, or dependent adult abuse.3  Note: To see the complete list of who could be a “qualified third party” and to see what the documentation that s/he writes must include, look at section (b)(3)(B) of the law where it says “Qualified Third Party Statement,” here.

1 Cal.Civ.Code §1946.7(a),(g)
2 Cal.Civ.Code §1946.7(c)
3 Cal.Civ.Code §1946.7(b)

If I get my lease terminated, how will this affect my roommates?

If you have a roommate(s) who is listed as a tenant on the lease, your roommate(s) will not be affected if your lease obligations are terminated under this law. Your roommate is still bound by the lease even if you are allowed to get out of your lease.1

1 Cal.Civ.Code §1946.7(e)

If I reveal that I am a victim to my landlord, can s/he tell other people?

A landlord is not allowed to share any information that you provide unless:

  • you consent in writing;
  • the law or a court order requires the landlord to so do; or
  • the person that the landlord is talking to is the “qualified third party” who provided the written documentation for you that states that you are a victim; the landlord is allowed to call that person to verify what is written in the documentation.1

1 Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.7(h)(1)

Breaking a lease/moving out

What documents or proof do I need to give to my landlord to get out of my lease if I am a victim?

You have to complete the following 2 steps to terminate your lease:

Step #1: You must make sure that you have one of the following:

  • a temporary restraining order, emergency protective order, or protective order from a court that protects you or your household member from further domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, abuse of an elder or dependent adult, or human trafficking; 
  • a copy of a written report from a peace officer stating that you or your family member filed a report due to an act of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, abuse of an elder or dependent adult or human trafficking; or
  • documentation on letterhead from a qualified third party (such as a caseworker for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or human trafficking or a nurse, physician, etc.) that verifies that you or your household member is seeking help for physical or mental injuries or abuse resulting from an act of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking, elder abuse, or dependent adult abuse.1   There is a very specific format that this letter from a qualified third party is supposed to be in – see section (b)(3)(B) of the law where it says “Tenant Statement and Qualified Third Party Statement.”

Step #2: You must give your landlord written notice that you are terminating your lease based on domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, abuse of a dependent adult, or human trafficking along with a copy of one of the documents described in Step #1 (i.e., the restraining order, emergency protective order, protective order or documentation).  This must be given to the landlord within 180 days of when you received the temporary restraining order, emergency protective order, or protective order or within 180 days of when you reported the domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, abuse of an elder or dependent adult or human trafficking.2 

Note: If you have a month-to-month lease, the notice may be given within the regular timeframe for terminating a monthly tenancy, which is at least 30 days’ written notice.3  In this case, you may decide not to reveal your status as a victim to your landlord and simply terminate your tenancy in the time allotted by law.  For legal advice on whether or not to use this law to terminate a monthly tenancy, you may want to seek advice from a lawyer.  Go to our CA Finding a Lawyer page for legal referrals.

You may also want to check out our Staying Safe page for more information and ideas on how to keep yourself and your family safe.

1 Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.7(b)
2 Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.7(c)
3 Cal.Civ.Code §§ 1946.7(c); 1946

Once I notify my landlord that I want to end my lease, do I still have to pay my rent?

Yes – but only for the next 14-day period after giving notice.  Once you send the written notice to your landlord, you still have to pay your rent for the next 14 calendar days unless the landlord rents the premises to someone else during that 14-day period (and then the rent you owe will be prorated.)1  For example, let’s say you give notice and you leave on September 30th and you pay rent through October 14th.  Then the landlord gets a new tenant who moves in October 7th.  You can ask to be reimbursed half (½) of your rent that you paid for October.

See I am afraid to stay in my apartment. How can I get out of my lease if I am a victim? for the proper way to end your lease.

1 Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.7(d)

If I end my lease under this law, will I lose my security deposit?

Not necessarily. The same laws that apply to all tenants for security deposits apply to you as well.1 In general, a security deposit can be kept by a landlord, in whole or in part, to reimburse the landlord for damage you cause to the apartment (aside from ordinary “wear and tear”), cleaning, key replacement, or back rent owed.2 The landlord cannot decide to keep your security deposit to penalize you for breaking your lease under this law.

1 Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.7(d)
2 See CA Courts website

If I want to end my lease, will my roommate or family members be kicked out of the residence?

Not necessarily. If your roommate or family members are listed as “tenants” on the lease, their tenancy still continues, even if you end yours.1

1 Cal.Civ.Code §1946.7(e)

I still have questions about this housing law and if it applies to me. Where can I go for help?

If you have read through the information above and still have questions, you may want to talk to a lawyer - go to our CA Finding a Lawyer page for free and paid legal referrals.  To connect with a domestic violence organization, see our CA Advocates and Shelters page.

Protection from Retaliation for Calling Law Enforcement (nuisance protections)

Who is protected under this housing law?

You could be protected under this law if you are a tenant and are also a:

  • victim of abuse;
  • victim of crime; or
  • person in an emergency.1

If your landlord is trying to keep you from calling law enforcement or punish you for calling, you may be protected.1

1 Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.8

Who is considered a “victim” or a “person in an emergency” under this law?

You are a victim of abuse if you have been subjected to:

You are a victim of crime if someone has committed a misdemeanor or felony crime against you.2

You are considered a person in an emergency if you believe that immediate action is needed to prevent the loss of or damage to:

  • life
  • health; or
  • property.3

1 Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.8(a)(5)
2 Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.8(a)(6)
3 Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.8(a)(1)

Can a landlord prohibit me from calling the police?

Your landlord cannot state in your lease that you are unable to call the police. Specifically, your lease cannot include any language that would ban or limit you, another resident, or another person’s right to call law enforcement or emergency assistance for:

  • a victim of abuse;
  • a victim of crime; or
  • a person in an emergency.

The person who calls the police must believe that law enforcement or emergency assistance is needed to:

  • prevent or deal with an act of abuse, a crime, or an emergency; or
  • stop the heightening or worsening of an act of abuse, a crime, or an emergency.1

If your landlord does include language in your lease that would keep you from calling law enforcement or emergency assistance, it will be void and unenforceable.1

1 Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.8(b)

Can a landlord punish me or evict me for calling the police?

A landlord cannot punish, or threaten to punish, you or another resident for exercising your right to request law enforcement or emergency assistance on behalf of a:

  • victim of abuse;
  • victim of crime; or
  • person in an emergency.1

Your landlord also cannot put any penalties in place if a person who is not a resident or tenant calls law enforcement or emergency assistance to your residence.

To be protected under this law, the person who calls the police must believe that law enforcement or emergency assistance is needed to prevent or deal with an act of abuse, or the heightening or worsening of an act of abuse, a crime, or an emergency.1

1 Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.8(c)

What can I do if my landlord evicts me for calling the police?

If your landlord sues to evict you, you can argue as a defense that the landlord violated this law. The judge will assume (presume) that the landlord has violated this law if:

  • your landlord files a complaint to evict you within 30 days of a resident, tenant, or other person making a request for help from law enforcement or emergency assistance; and
  • the complaint alleges that calling law enforcement or emergency assistance is a rental agreement violation, lease violation, or a nuisance.1

The landlord will have a chance to prove that s/he did not violate this law by showing that there was a substantial reason for the complaint other than requesting help from law enforcement or emergency services.2

Additionally, if your landlord violates this law, you can request an injunction. An injunction is a court order that requires a person to stop taking certain actions. The injunction can stop the landlord from:

  • creating or enforcing policies that violate this law; and
  • imposing or threatening to impose penalties against the tenant, resident, or other harmed person based on requesting help from law enforcement or emergency assistance on behalf of a victim of abuse, victim of crime, or person in an emergency.3

1 Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.8(f)(1)
2 Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.8(f)(2), (f)(3)
3 Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.8(g)

Protection from Housing Discrimination

Who does this law protect?

You could be protected under this law if:

  1. you are a tenant in a rental unit; and
  2. you or a member of your household are a victim of:
  • domestic violence;
  • sexual assault;
  • stalking;
  • human trafficking; or
  • elder or dependent adult abuse.1

1 Cal.Civ.Code § 1161.3(a)

Can a landlord refuse to renew my lease or evict me because I am a victim?

If you are protected by this law, your landlord cannot end your lease or refuse to renew your lease if both of the following are true:

  1. the abuse you experienced has been properly documented; and
  2. the person identified as the abuser in your documentation is not a tenant of the same unit as the victim of abuse.1

1 Cal.Civ.Code § 1161.3(a)

What documentation do I need to show my landlord to prove that I am a victim of abuse?

You can use any of the following documentation as proof that you or a member of your household are a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking, or abuse of an elder or dependent adult:

  • a temporary restraining order, emergency protective order, or protective order for domestic violence, civil harassment, or elder or dependent adult abuse that was issued during the last 180 days that protects you or your household member from abuse;
  • a copy of a written report issued within the past 180 days from a peace officer working in his/her official capacity for a state or local law enforcement agency that says that you or a member of your household are a victim of abuse; or
  • documentation from a “qualified third party” working in his/her professional capacity that states that you or a household member is looking for help for physical or mental injuries that resulted from an act of abuse.1

1 Cal.Civ.Code § 1161.3(a)(1)(A), (a)(1)(B), (a)(1)(C)

Who is considered a qualified third party? What type of documentation do I need from a qualified third party?

A qualified third party is a:

  • health practitioner;
  • domestic violence counselor;
  • sexual assault counselor; or
  • human trafficking caseoworker.1

If a qualified third party is providing you with documentation to show your landlord, the third party should include information showing that you are getting or asking for help for physical or mental injuries or abuse resulting from an act of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking, elder abuse, or dependent adult abuse. The law includes a template that the third party can use when creating a document for you.2

1 Cal.Civ.Code § 1161.3(e)(3)
2 Cal.Civ.Code § 1161.3(a)(1)(B), (a)(1)(D)

Can my landlord ever evict me if I am a victim of abuse?

This law does not stop a landlord from evicting you for a valid, legal reason. This law keeps a landlord from evicting you because you are a victim of abuse.1 However, your landlord can end your lease or refuse to renew your lease if:

  1. after you show proper documentation that you are a victim of abuse, you still allow the abuser to visit the property or the landlord reasonably believes that the presence of the abuser is a physical threat to other tenants, guests, or other people invited to the property; and
  2. your landlord gave you three days’ notice to fix the issue with the abuser coming to your property or threatening others but it still continues to happen.2

1 Cal.Civ.Code § 1161.3(b)(1), (b)(2)

Can my landlord tell others about my situation?

Your landlord cannot share information about your situation with others unless:

  • you agree in writing that your information can be disclosed; or
  • the law or a court order requires your landlord to share your information.1

However, your landlord is allowed to speak to the qualified third party who provides your documentation to verify the information.2

1 Cal.Civ.Code § 1161.3(d)(1)
2 Cal.Civ.Code § 1161.3(d)(2)