Rental Security Deposit

I’ve received a handful of phone calls recently from both homeowners and tenants with questions regarding the rental security deposit.  I will try to address most of the questions in this post.  Please understand that I am not giving legal advice, but rather insight on the topic from what I know and have had experience with.  

In the State of California, the maximum rental security deposit allowed by law is an amount equal to two months rent for unfurnished units and an amount equal to three months rent for furnished units.  

More specifically, California law allows the property owner to use a tenant’s rental security deposit for the following purposes:

  • For unpaid rent.
  • To clean the unit when the tenant moves out, but only to make it as clean as it was when the tenant moved in, not including normal wear and tear.
  • To repair damages, other than normal wear and tear, caused by the tenant or the tenant’s guests.
  • To restore or replace furniture, furnishing or other items of personal property (including keys) if the lease or rental agreement allows it, and not including normal wear and tear.  

What is Normal Wear and Tear?

The biggest question here is: “What is normal wear and tear?”  Basically, the tenant is required to return the property to the landlord in the same condition it was received in when they moved in, with the exception of normal wear and tear.  For example, it is normal that the walls are going to be slightly dirty in some places, with a few small holes from pictures being hung.  However, if the dirt is everywhere and the holes are big that is not normal wear and tear.  

When the Tenant Moves Out…

The State of California requires that after a tenant gives 30 days written notice to move out, the landlord must offer a pre-move out inspection 2 weeks prior to the move out date.  During this inspection, the tenant and landlord walk through the property together to address necessary repairs to be made, if any.  The tenant then has time to correct these repairs before the cost is deducted from the rental security deposit.  Some examples of repairs to be made can include: holes in drywall, stained carpet, broken window, etc.  This opportunity for the tenant makes handling the rental security deposit accounting process much easier in an event that the landlord would have to keep some or all of the deposit for repairs.  The tenant has been informed and knows what to expect.  

Accounting for the Rental Security Deposit:

After the tenant vacates, the landlord has 21 days to account for the rental security deposit.  This means that the landlord must either return the entire rental security deposit with 21 days, or provide an itemized statement detailing where the rental security deposit was spent and either return the difference or ask for more money if needed.  If the landlord fails to do this accounting within the 21 days, he/she forfeits their right to charge anything against the tenant’s rental security deposit.  

For the most detailed information, please refer to California Civil Code 1950.5 – Security Deposits and the California Department of Consumer Affairs – Refund of Rental Security Deposits

CA Dept. of Consumer Affairs - Rental Security Deposit