Question: I was renting an apartment on a one-year lease. I made plans to move to another community and had no intention of renewing the lease. On the day I went to turn in my keys to the resident manager, she told me I could not vacate because the lease had automatically been renewed for another year. I don't remember being told about any automatic renewal clause when I signed the original lease. Can they hold me to another lease term?
Answer: A lease can contain an enforceable automatic renewal, if the requirements in California Civil Code Section 1945.5 have been met. You will need to carefully read the lease agreement you signed, because the answer to your question rests on the language there.
First, check to see whether there is an explicit renewal clause. Absent an explicit clause, you have no continuing obligation unless you remain in the rental unit after the date that the lease expires. In that case you are "holding over" and become a month-to-month tenant, responsible for continuing rental until you give a 30-day notice of termination to your landlord.
If there is an explicit automatic renewal clause, look at its exact requirements. Many of these clauses require the tenant to give a 30-day notice before the lease expiration date if the tenant does not wish to renew. If you had such a notice requirement, you should have given the 30-day notice. If you failed to do so, you may be responsible for the additional term specified in that clause, which in some cases is an additional 30 days and in other cases a longer term.
To determine whether the clause is enforceable, check whether this automatic renewal clause in your lease meets the requirements of Section 1945.5. This statute requires that the automatic renewal clause be set out in at least 8-point boldface type. Additionally, just before your signature line, there must be an 8-point boldface warning that there is an automatic renewal clause in the agreement. If your lease doesn't meet these requirements, you can treat the renewal clause as void.
If the lease meets all these requirements, you are responsible for the additional period of renewal unless you negotiate a break lease agreement with the landlord or unless the unit is rented by a replacement tenant.
Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a mediation service based in Sunnyvale, Calif. To submit a question, go to http://www.housing.org.