The Landlord’s Action for Rent and Other Damages upon Tenant’s Abandonment or Other Premature Termination of Tenancy
A common question among landlords is that extent of a tenant’s rent liability where the tenant is evicted or abandons the premises prior to the end of the lease term. This question is often framed as follows: “I served my tenant with a Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit and the tenant quit; is the tenant still responsible for the rent for the remainder of the term of the lease?” The answer is “Yes.” A tenant who stops paying rent before expiration of his or her term, without lawful excuse, has breached the lease. The fact the tenant has vacated the unit, or otherwise been ousted of possession by legal procedures to terminate the lease, does not relieve the tenant of the rental obligation for the balance of the term. This is so even if an unlawful detainer judgment against the breaching tenant adjudicated a forfeiture of the lease. In addition to the rent, the landlord is entitled to recover any other amount necessary to compensate the landlord for all the detriment caused by the tenant’s failure to perform his obligations under the lease including attorneys fees (if lease entitles the prevailing party to an award of attorney fees) and court costs. Provided, however, the landlord has a duty to mitigate its damages by using reasonable efforts to re-let the premises. The tenant is entitled to an offset for any rental loss that the tenant proves could have been reasonably avoided. In other words, the tenant is responsible to pay the rent for the remainder of the term of the lease less amounts the landlord has or will receive during that period from a replacement tenant. Otherwise, the landlord might obtain a double recovery and be in a better position due to the tenant’s breach than if the tenant fully performed the lease. If the lease contains certain language specified by statute, the landlord does not need to wait until the lease expires to file the lawsuit. Instead, the landlord can file a lawsuit immediately upon the tenant’s abandonment or other premature termination of the lease for all past, present and future rent. With respect to month-to-month tenancies, a tenant who vacates on insufficient notice is obligated to pay rent for the minimum notice period beginning when the tenant did give notice or, if no notice was given, beginning when he or she vacated.