Tenants often face problems recovering their security deposits after moving out of their apartment units. For this reason, California has heavily regulated the housing industry, creating strict rules for landlords. To shed some light on exactly what a landlord can deduct for, we have outlined some of the rules for retaining security deposits. In addition, we have provided some guidelines on what a tenant should do if they believe a landlord is illegally withholding their security deposit.
Legitimate Basis Permitting Landlords To Make Deductions
The law is clear on this issue; a security deposit is the tenant’s property, unless it is used for one of the reasons outlined in California Civil Code section 1950.5. (Civ.Code § 1950.5(d)). In other words, a landlord does not have unlimited discretion to use security deposits as they please or to retain deposits when tenants vacate. Pursuant to California Civil Code Section 1950.5, a landlord may keep only those amounts of security as are reasonably necessary for the purposes of: (1) recovering rents the tenant did not pay; (2) repairing damages caused by the tenant or the tenant’s guests, excluding ordinary wear and tear; (3) cleaning the premises upon the termination of the tenancy in order to to return the unit to the same level of cleanliness it was at the inception of the tenancy or; (4) remedying future defaults by the tenant under an obligation in the rental agreement to restore, replace or return personal property or appurtenances. (Civ. Code 1950.5(e); 1950.5(b).)
If a landlord retains or claims a portion of the security deposit in bad faith, the landlord may be subject to damages of up to twice the amount of the security in addition to actual damages. (Civ. Code. § 1950.5 (i)).
Timeframe For Return of Security
A landlord must, within 21 days after the tenant has vacated the premises, provide the tenant with the remaining portion of the security deposit along with an itemized statement indicating the basis for and amount of any deductions. (Civ. Code. § 1950(g)).
Tenant Options Where Landlord Illegally Retains Tenant’s Security Deposit
If a tenant believes that their landlord is in violation of any of the above rules, the tenant should first write a stern demand letter to the landlord explaining the violation and demanding the landlord return whatever portion of the security deposit is being illegitimately retained. We advise the tenant to keep a copy of the letter for the tenant’s records.
If the landlord refuses, the tenant should consider filing a lawsuit to recover their security plus damages. However, the tenants’ decision to file a lawsuit should be heavily influenced by a detailed analysis of the terms of the lease, preferably conducted by an attorney with experience in these matters.