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When Does My Landlord Have to Return My Security Deposit?


Tenants in the State of California are protected by several laws regarding the return of rental security deposits. If you are currently renting, or looking to put down a deposit on a new apartment in SoCal’s hot rental market, it is imperative to understand the legal basics of security deposits.

What Is a Security Deposit?

A security deposit is any money a tenant pays to a landlord as financial protection in case of any damage to the property, violation of the lease, or failure to pay rent during the tenancy.  A security deposit does not include money paid by the tenant for advancement of rent.  This money is paid before the tenant moves into the rental unit.

How Much Can a Landlord Charge for a Security Deposit in California?

There are limits to how much a landlord can require a tenant to deposit for a residential rental, but there are no restrictions for commercial rentals.  If the security deposit is for a residential property without furniture, the security deposit may equal 2 times the rental amount.  If the residence is furnished, the landlord may charge up to 3 times the rental amount.[1]

When Do I Get My Deposit Back?

After a tenant moves out of their unit, a landlord has 21 days to return the deposit, or provide the tenant (by mail or in person) a written letter explaining why they are keeping part of the deposit.  The landlord must provide the tenant an itemized list of all deductions taken from the security deposit and copies of receipts for the deductions if over $126.  Tenants must check their lease agreements to ensure sure they did not waive the right to receive a copy of the deduction receipts.

If the repairs cannot be finished within the 21-day period, the landlord can send the tenant a good faith estimate of the cost of repairs. Then, within 14 days of the repairs being done, the landlord must send the tenant copies of the actual receipts.[2]

What Can My Landlord Deduct from My Security Deposit?

California law allows a landlord to use a security deposit for four specific purposes which are as follows:

  • To satisfy any due and unpaid rent[3]
  • 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[4]
  • For repair of damages, other than normal wear and tear, caused by the tenant or the tenant’s guests; and[5]
  • 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.[6]

What Happens If I Don’t Agree with My Landlord?

A landlord can only withhold money from a security deposit for reasonably necessary reasons as detailed above.  If your landlord does not follow the law, or makes deductions that you do not agree with, you can submit a request in writing for return of the funds.  If you are unable to work out the security deposit dispute with your landlord, then you can file in small claims court for the deposit, additional costs, penalties and interest if applicable up to $10,000.  If the disputed amount is over $10,000, you must file in superior court.  In a security deposit lawsuit, the landlord has the burden of proving that their deductions from the security deposit were reasonable.[7]

If you believe that your landlord has acted in bad faith by withholding your security deposit or made unreasonable or unlawful deductions, contact our office or a local attorney.


[1] Civil Code Section 1950.5(c)

[2] Civil Code Section 1950.5(g)

[3] Civil Code Section 1950.5(b)(1)

[4] Civil Code Section 1950.5(b)(3)

[5] Civil Code Section 1950.5(b)(2)

[6] Civil Code Section 1950.5(b)(4)

[7] Civil Code Section 1950.5(l)




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