California law does not go far enough to protect tenants’ security deposits. But California tenants do have rights. Here are steps you can take to let your landlord know that It’s Your Money!
- Deposit cannot exceed two months’ rent for unfurnished unit
- Tenant can demand pre-move out inspection
- Tenant is entitled to deposit back within 21 days of move out
- Legitimate deductions must be documented in writing by landlord
- Landlord cannot withhold for ordinary wear and tear
How much? A deposit cannot exceed two months’ rent for an unfurnished unit or three months’ rent for a furnished unit. Civil Code 1950.5(c).
What about Interest? California law does not require landlords to pay interest on security deposits. Some tenants are entitled to interest under local laws in the following locations: Berkeley, Hayward, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Cruz.
When You Get It Back? Deposit must be returned, or withholdings documented, within 21 days of the tenant’s departure. Civil Code 1950.5 (g)(1).
What Can the Landlord Withhold? Deductions from the deposit may be made for unpaid rent; costs to repair damages caused by tenant or tenants’ guests; cleaning of unit to return the unit to the same level of cleanliness it was in at the inception of the tenancy; and other limited bases. A landlord cannot deduct for ordinary wear and tear. Civil Code 1950.5(b).
What if Property Ownership Changes? If the owner sells your building, Civil Code Section 1950.5(l) requires the landlord to either transfer the remainder of the security deposit to the new owner or return the remainder of the deposit to the tenant. The new owner assumes the same rights and obligations with respect to the security deposit as applied to the prior landlord. Civil Code sec. 1950.5(k). Both the original landlord and subsequent landlords are liable to the tenant if the deposit is not returned.
What to Do Before Moving to Avoid Repair Charges? A tenant can demand a pre-move out inspection. See Civil Code 1950.5(f) for more information. If the landlord doesn’t agree with the date the tenant selects, then the landlord must provide forty-eight hours notice of the inspection. After the inspection, the landlord must provide you with a detailed list of damages or cleaning needs that would result in withholding portions of the deposit . The purpose of the process is to allow the tenant to fix the damages or provide the cleaning rather than lose portions of the deposit.
What to Do When the Landlord Doesn’t Pay? If the deposit is not returned, consider writing a certified letter to the landlord demanding the deposit and/or filing a lawsuit. The landlord may be liable not just for the amount of the deposit, but in cases of bad faith for up to two times the amount of the deposit as a penalty. Civil Code sec. 1950.5(k)(1). You can sue in small claims court for up to $10,000.
Tips for protecting your deposit:
- Document the unit’s condition when you move in. Use a checklist and take photos.
- Request a pre-move out inspection to give yourself an opportunity to fix things before moving.
- Provide proper written notice specifying when you are going to vacate in order to avoid rent being deducted from your deposit.
Live in California and need more help? Call the Tenants Together renters’ rights hotline at 1.888.495.8020.
Is your deposit being unfairly withheld? Download our sample letter to assert your rights.