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California Tenants: Don’t Leave Your Security Deposit Behind When You Move Out

California Tenants: Don’t Leave Your Security Deposit Behind When You Move Out

There are a large number of tenants in California, according to a 2011 survey that identified 2.5 million occupied apartments in the state. In early May of 2013, some of these tenants marshaled their forces and organized a protest at the State Capitol to demonstrate their support for California Senate Bill SB 603. This bill would have prevented landlords from comingling security deposits with their own funds, imposed penalties on landlords for failing to return deposits and mandated interest payments on deposits. The bill did not pass.

Things you need to know

According to one California tenant’s group, a landlord’s failure to return a tenant’s security deposit is the main source of contention between landlords and tenants — with many tenants resigning themselves to relinquishing their deposit, thinking of it as a non-refundable cost of apartment occupancy.

Before shrugging your shoulders and leaving your money in your landlord’s pocket, you need to consider the following:

  • A security deposit can never be made nonrefundable.
  • A landlord cannot demand that the security deposit be paid in cash.
  • Under ordinary circumstances, the deposit cannot exceed two months’ worth of rental payments for an unfurnished unit or three months’ rent for a furnished unit. 
  • Security deposits are only intended to cover unpaid rent, cleaning bills, repair bills and restoration of the landlord’s personal property.
  • Defects that were present in the apartment before you moved in, normal wear and tear and unnecessary cleaning cannot be deducted from the security deposit.

Where disputes arise

If your landlord agrees that your rent is fully paid, that you left their apartment in good condition and returned the keys and anything else that belonged them, then you should get your deposit back within 21 days of the day you moved out. At the very least, you should receive an itemized list of the repairs your landlord made or bills for any cleaning that was done, as well as a check representing the balance, if any, due to you. This isn’t always what happens, and disputes often arise over deductions, landlord delays, or failure to refund the security deposit.

How to prevent or minimize disagreements

To prevent or minimize disagreements, be sure to inspect the premises with your landlord or his agent before you move in and before you move out — preparing an inventory each time. An inventory protects you and the landlord by providing information about the fixtures in the apartment on a room–by-room basis. For each item listed, note the initial condition of the item, including any existing damage or wear and tear, and its condition before you move out, noting any deterioration that has occurred beyond normal wear.

If you have not received a satisfactory response from your former landlord, landlord tenant lawyers in Riverside can help you resolve the issues through negotiation rather than litigation, whenever possible. Negotiation can save you time and money while steering your case toward favorable resolution. 

Landlord-tenant law and your lease determine your legal relationship with your landlord in ways that may not be readily apparent. Therefore, it is important to consult with an attorney before you unknowingly jeopardize your position and undermine your rights. The experienced lawyers at Schlecht, Shevlin & Shoenberger, A Law Corporation are well versed in landlord-tenant law and provide excellent guidance and advice. 

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