What Is California Law On Security Deposits?

Image from Flickr.com
Image from Flickr.com

Note: this blog post was inspired by MovingBlog.com, “How to Get Your Security Deposit Back from Your Landlord.” Please read their post for more general information. This blog will specifically pertain to California.

California renters are some of the most fortunate in the nation, well, if you forget about the price of renting. California has some of the most renter friendly laws anywhere. Still, there are a lot of things landlords can do to make a renter’s life difficult and there are a lot of things you can do to make sure that you move out on good terms, get your security deposit back and ensure that you have a great reference for future rental situations.

According to the California Department of Consumer Affairs, there are four things for which a landlord can withhold part or all of a security deposit:

  • For unpaid rent
  • For cleaning the rental unit when the tenant moves out, but only to make the unit as clean as it was when the tenant first moved in
  • For repair of damages, other than normal wear and tear, caused by the tenant or the tenant’s guests
  • If the lease or rental agreement allows it, for the cost of restoring or replacing furniture, furnishings, or other items of personal property (including keys), other than because of normal wear and tear.

Of course, there are ways to protect yourself.

Before moving in – Camera phones are your best friends. Take lots and lots of pictures. If there is a spot on the carpet, document it. If the place is dirty, take pictures. If there is a scratch on cupboards, take a picture and then email all your pictures to your landlord. Keep the email so you have a record.

As you’re moving out –  If you are breaking a lease, you are sort of at the mercy of the landlord. Offer to help find a new tenant, but let the landlord do the actual screening. Offer to pay for the background check, if that’s something the landlord, and not the applicant, generally pays for. 
If you aren’t on a lease, it’s expected that you give 30 days notice before moving out. During that time, your landlord has the right to enter your home to show it to prospective tenants, but only after giving 24 hours notice. It’s best if you keep the unit clean during that time. Of course, normal moving disarray is to be expected.
Personally, I always leave a place cleaner than when I moved in, but wear and tear is natural. If there are damages, fix them. 
Again, take pictures. 
Once you’ve moved your landlord has 21 calendar days to send you your security deposit with an itemized list of any deductions.