Can My Landlord Keep My Security Deposit for Any Repairs He Claims are Needed? Generally, no. California Affords Tenants Substantial Protections to their Residential Security Deposits.
Moving is a hassle. You have to find a new place, pack up your belongings, pick up and carry all your stuff, enlist friends and family to help, and then scrub the place down in the hopes of getting some of your security deposit back. Then after waiting for weeks, you finally get an email or letter from the landlord telling you that they are keeping your deposit for “cleaning” and “painting.” When you dispute the charges, they tell you “We charge everyone” or “We clean and paint no matter what.” Many tenants are left to feel like no matter how clean they leave their apartment or home when they vacate, the Landlord will simply keep whatever portion of the security deposit he or she wants. Fortunately for Californians, the law provides substantial protections against such unfair practices by unscrupulous landlords.
Security deposit administration in the State of California is governed by Civil Code section 1950.5 which provides strict requirements that landlords must adhere to in order to keep any portion of a security deposit. And, if they do not, they are required to return the entire security deposit back to their former tenants.
Among the various provisions, the following are some critical limitations placed on a Landlord or Property Manager’s administration of security deposits:
- Security deposits can only be used for limited purposes. In California, a landlord can only deduct the following four items from a security deposit: (a) rent in arrears, (b) to clean the premises to bring the leasehold to the same level of cleanliness that existed at the start of the tenancy, (c) to repair any damages beyond normal wear and tear and (d) to replace or repair any furnishings provided by the landlord in the unit.
- The landlord has 21-days to return the security deposit and provide certain proof of work. 21-days after the tenant has vacated the premises the landlord must return the security deposit with and an itemized statement detailing any deductions they made. The itemized statement must provide sufficient evidence of the work performed.
- Proof of work means invoices from vendors and a record of hours worked. The law specifies that if the landlord deducts $125 or more from your security deposit, it must provide the following proof:(a) if vendors did the work, the landlord must provide the invoice provided from the vendor; and (b) if the landlord did the work, they must provide a reasonable description of the work performed that includes the hours spent working and the hourly rate charged.
- Standardized deductions disclosed in a lease do not satisfy the code. The landlord can only charge for work that was reasonably necessary and actually performed— “standard move-out charges” pursuant to the lease are unlawful. The lease cannot make any aspect of a security deposit non-refundable.
- Your rights under the law cannot be waived unless you agree after giving notice of your intention to vacate. The lease cannot waive your rights under law with respect to the administration of security deposits. However, the law does allow a waiver of your rights if you execute one with proper disclosures, while or after giving your notice to vacate. Nonetheless, you can reinstate your rights under the law upon written demand.
- You have a right to a pre-move out inspection and opportunity to cure any issues. The law mandates that you have a right to a pre-move out walkthrough with the landlord, and that the landlord must identify any potential reasons that may result in a deduction from the security deposit. Further, you have an opportunity to address any issues they identify during that inspection in order to avoid being charged.
The following are best practices when dealing with your landlord in order to protect your security deposit:
- Film, take photos and take notes during the move-in inspection, make sure to note the conditions of the unit and document as much as possible.
- Request a pre-move out inspection when you get notice of your intent to vacate.
- Film, take photos and take notes during the pre-move out inspection; follow up with an email to the landlord making a record of the items they identified that need be addressed.
- Film, take photos of the unit when you have removed all your belongings and cleaned the unit.
- Document all interactions with your landlord in writing. (Even when you have an in-person interaction or telephone call with the landlord’s agent, the best practice is to write an email immediately after the interaction memorializing what was said and who it was said to.)
- Request your security deposit back and the accounting required under Civil Code section 1950.5 when 21-days have lapsed since your move-out.
Whether you have taken all or none of the above steps, if you feel that a landlord has wrongfully retained your security deposit in violation of the law, do not hesitate to contact us. Hogue & Belong’s attorneys are experienced lawyers in the field who have secured millions of dollars in recovery of wrongfully retained security deposits for tens of thousands of renters in California.
For a FREE consultation with one of our experienced attorneys, please call us at (619) 238-4720 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If we agree to take your case, we will likely take it on contingency – meaning you pay us nothing up front and we only get paid if and out of any recovery we obtain for you.
 Civil Code § 1950.5(b)
 Civil Code § 1950.5(g)
 Civil Code § 1950.5(g)(2)
 Civil Code § 1950.5(b), (m)
 Civil Code § 1950.5(g)(4)(B)
 Civil Code § 1950.5(g)(5)
 Civil Code § 1950.5(f)
 Granberry v. Islay Investments (1995) 9 Cal. 4th 738, 745.