If a tenant breaks a lease, can the landlord automatically keep the deposit?

Our landlords involved us in their domestic violence situation and we found out they have a drug problem. As a result we no longer felt safe in our home and told them that day which, was the 4th of the month, that we were only paying a 1/2  months rent and no longer wanted to be in the home. We did not feel safe and would be out by the 15th. We did have a very basic year lease stating move in/out dates, the amount paid for the deposit and rent amount, but nothing else. There was no part of the lease that stated penalties for breaking it. Do they have a right to keep out deposit?

Asked on March 12, 2011 under Real Estate Law, California


M.T.G., Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

No, they can not keep your security deposit but for the following reasons: damage to the apartment absent normal wear and tear.  But here is the problem with your situation:  your landlord can sue you for a breach of the lease agreement.  In other words, they can sue you for the remainder of the lease each month that the rent is due.  So I would strongly suggest that you seek help from an attorney that specializes in landlord tenant law about bringing an action to terminate the lease agreement because of maybe an unsafe condition (if the law in California will allow same for the reasons that you gave here).  Good luck to you.

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

1) If you breached the lease by attempting to terminate it early without the right to do so (see below), then the landlord may hold you responsible for all remaining amounts due under the lease--i.e. for rent from when you breached the end of the lease.

2) Even without a specific term stating that the landord may due this, under the law, a landlord may apply a security deposit to unpaid rent. So if you owe rent, the landlord may take it out of the securit deposit.

3) IF the landlord did not allow you to safely live in your home, you *may* have had the right to terminate the lease without penalty because of that violation of your right to quiet enjoyment. However, that can be  hard bar to get over; for example, the fact that the landlord had a drug problem does not necessarily breach this right, since someone can use drugs while not disturbing or threatening you. You should consult with an attorney who can evalute your situation in detail and see what rights you may have.

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