A Landlord’s Obligation to Return a Security Deposit

A Landlord’s Obligation to Return a Security Deposit

Updated on September 21, 2021

Landlord Obligations in Returning a Security Deposit to a Tenant in a Residential Property

A frequent problem that arises between a landlord and tenant is how to ensure the proper return of a security deposit once the tenancy has ended. A security deposit is a sum of money that is received by a landlord to protect him or herself in the case that a tenant breaches the rental agreement by not paying rent or causes damage to the property.

A landlord who requests a security deposit from a tenant must request it on or before the tenant begins to occupy the residential property. Code Civ. Proc. § 798.39(a). A landlord may charge a tenant the equivalent of up to two months’ rent for the security deposit if the residence is unfurnished and up to three months’ rent if the residence is furnished. Code Civ. Proc. § 1950.5(c).

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In addition, the state of California recently passed Senate Bill 644, which amended California Rule of Civil Procedure §1950.5 as it is applied to active service members. Under Senate Bill 644, a landlord may only charge an active service member a security deposit that is up to one month’s rent if the residence is unfurnished and up to two months’ rent if the residence is furnished.

A landlord may not make a security deposit non-refundable. In addition, once a landlord has collected the security deposit, the landlord bears the burden of storing the tenants’ security deposit. However, unlike other states, California does not have specific requirements on how a landlord must keep the tenants’ security deposit.

A landlord is allowed to deduct from a tenant’s security deposit for:

1. Unpaid rent;

2. To repair the residence for damage that was caused by the tenant or the tenants guests, excluding ordinary wear and tear;

3. To clean the residence to the condition it was in at the commencement of​ the tenancy; and

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4. To pay any future debts that may be incurred due to tenant’s violation of​ the rental agreement. Code Civ. Proc. § 1950.5(b).

Moreover, once a tenant has vacated the residence, a landlord has 21 calendar days to:

● Return the entire security deposit to the tenant, or

● Mail or personally give the tenant:

o An itemized statement that provides a basis for a deduction in the security deposit;

o Any remaining refund of the tenant’s deposit, and

o Provide copies of receipts for the charges/deductions from the security deposit. Code Civ. Proc. § 1950.5(g)(1).

If a landlord does not provide the tenant with a written accounting for the portion of the security deposit that he or she plans to retain within the 21 days, the landlord must return the entire deposit to the tenant. See Granberry v. Islay Investments (1995) 9 Cal. 4th 738.

At Schorr Law, we understand that landlord-tenant disputes can be very stressful. Our real estate attorneys have a great deal of experience in dealing with landlord-tenant disputes. To schedule a 30-minute consultation, contact us today!

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