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, a member of your household, or an immediate family member is a victim of any of the following crimes:
- domestic violence;
- sexual assault, which means 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;
- abuse of an elder or dependent adult;
- human trafficking;
- a crime that caused bodily injury or death;
- a crime that included the showing, taking out, brandishing, or using a firearm or other deadly weapon or instrument; or
- a crime that included the use of force against the victim or a threat of force against the victim.1
You will not be considered to have violated (breached) your lease if you properly terminate your lease under this law.2
Note: If you are a victim of one of these crimes mentioned above, and you are not asking to terminate your lease, there still may be reasons why a landlord can terminate your tenancy. 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 have questions about your housing rights, you can get information on an anti-discrimination law called the Fair Housing Act here and information on basic tenants’ rights with contact info for legal assistance here.
1 Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.7(a)
2 Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.7(f)
How does the law define "immediate family member" and "household member"?
If you are the tenant, your “immediate family member” is defined as your parent, step-parent, spouse, child, child-in-law, step-child, sibling, or any person living in your household who has a relationship with you that is substantially similar to that of a family member. Your “household member” is defined as a member of your family who lives in the same household as you.1
1 Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.7(h)(1), (h)(4)
What documents or proof do I need to give to my landlord to get out of my lease?
If you (the tenant), a member of your household, or an immediate family member is a victim of any of the qualifying crimes listed in What housing laws can protect me if I need to break my lease?, you must do the following:
- You must have one of the following documents that was issued within the last 180 days:
- a temporary restraining order, emergency protective order, or protective order from the court that protects you, your household member, or your immediate family member from one of the qualifying crimes;
- a copy of a written report from a peace officer stating that you, your household member, or your immediate family member filed a report due to domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or abuse of an elder or dependent adult or human trafficking;
- 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 you, your household member, or your immediate family member is seeking assistance for physical or mental injuries or abuse resulting from one of the qualifying crimes – you can find the “qualified third party statement” form in section (b)(3)(B) of the law; or
- any other form of documentation that reasonably verifies that the one of the qualifying crimes occurred; and
- You must give your landlord written notice that you are terminating your lease due to one of the qualifying crimes along with a copy of one of the documents described above. 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 crime.1
If your immediate family member was the victim of a crime but s/he did not live with you at the time the incident occurred and no part of the crime happened in your home or within 1,000 feet, you will need to provide additional documentation to be able to break your lease. Look at section (c) of the law for more information.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.
1 Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.7(a), (b), (d)
2 Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.7(c)
3 Cal.Civ.Code § 1946