Security Deposit Information
Q: What are my rights to my security deposit?
A: According to California Civil Code §1950.5, a landlord is obligated to return a tenant’s security deposit in full. However the landlord may deduct for unpaid rent, repair of damages and cleaning of the unit. A landlord has 21 days to return the security deposit with an itemized statement and receipts if deductions made.
1. California Department of Consumer Affairs – Refunds of Security Deposit
2. California Department of Consumer Affairs – Guide to Small Claims Court
3. California Department of Consumer Affairs – Inventory Checklist
➢ California Civil Code
➢ FHNV Formatted Security Deposit CCC 1950.5.doc
• Please click below for the security deposit demand form.
Form_SD_05 15 07 FINAL English.doc
Form_SD_05 15 07 FINAL Spanish.doc
The money you handed over as a deposit for the apartment is your money.
Your landlord must return your deposit to you when you move out and must agree to do a pre-move-out inspection; and can only withhold your deposit for certain specific reasons according to 1950.5
If your landlord does not return your security deposit, you will need to sue in small claims court. This is an easy process see: http://www.napa.courts.ca.gov/Civil/civil_smallclaims.htm
When you move in, your landlord will ask for some type of deposit. Whatever it's called, the law treats this initial payment as security deposit subject to California Civil Code Section 1950.5.
According to CA state law:
• There is no such thing as a “nonrefundable” security deposit. No matter what it’s called—a key deposit, cleaning fee, move-in fee, closing costs, last month’s rent, etc.—all money you pay in addition to your first month’s rent is refundable. Since “nonrefundable” deposits are illegal. This section will not be valid even if you have signed the rental contract or agreed to it.
• The total amount the landlord can charge for all the deposits (including last month’s rent) is twice the amount of one month’s rent for an unfurnished place or three times one month’s rent for a furnished place.
Protecting Your Deposit When Moving In Take some of these basic precautions when you move in, in case you need evidence to make a demand for your deposit in Small Claims Court. • Get an itemized receipt for your deposit. This receipt will identify each charge (for example, pet deposit, last month’s rent, cleaning fees, etc.). • When moving in, take careful inventory of the condition of the place. Record any existing damage and check all appliances to make sure they work properly. Ask the landlord to sign and date the inventory and be sure to keep a copy (if s/he won’t sign, send a copy to them and mail one to yourself—which you save unopened). Pictures or videos of the existing condition of the apartment can also be helpful later.
Moving Out The law stipulates that a landlord do a pre-move-out inspection with you, let you fix identified deficiencies and limits what can be withheld. It also says how long the landlord has to return your money and what he must do to justify any withholding.
According to California Civil Code Section 1950.5:
• The landlord must notify you in writing that you have the right to an inspection and must conduct an inspection of the apartment with you. The inspection should be done in the last 2 weeks of tenancy. The landlord must let you fix anything which is wrong and the landlord is limited to taking deductions for unfixed deficiencies, damage which occurred after the inspection, or damage not found at the time of the inspection.
• Your deposit must be returned to you within 21 days after you move out. If your security deposit is not returned or accounted for in writing within 21 days, you can sue the landlord in Small Claims Court for the amount of the deposit.
Money can be withheld only for:
• Unpaid Rent
• Damage caused by you beyond normal wear and tear
• “Reasonable” cleaning charges
Landlords must provide receipts documenting the costs of claimed repairs or estimates, unless the landlord does the work themselves (in which case they must describe the work done. In either case, if materials are purchased, copies of the purchase receipts must be provided (or estimates).
Protecting Your Deposit When Moving Out As when moving in, you can take some basic precautions when you move out.
• Be sure to give at least 30 days written notice before you move out. Technically, you are responsible to pay rent for these 30 days and your landlord can deduct “unpaid rent” from your deposit.
• On the day you move out, have the landlord or manager do a final inspection of the apartment with you. Try to arrange an exchange of your keys for your security deposit. Or have the landlord/manager sign and date a statement that the place is clean and in good condition. If the landlord won’t exchange keys or sign a statement, take pictures/videos of the condition of the apartment (hold up a copy of the day’s newspaper to show the pictures weren’t taken earlier).
Unreasonable Landlords If your landlord does not return your money on time or if he unjustly withholds some of it, be prepared to assert your rights. Remember, many landlords withhold all security deposits knowing that many tenants will not take the steps to get back their money.
Go To Small Claims Court..
• Send a letter to your landlord requesting the money. Refer to the Security Deposit Laws (CCC Sec. 1950.5). Give the landlord a deadline date of when you expect the money.
• If the landlord doesn’t respond within a reasonable time, you can take him/her to Small Claims Court. In addition to the disputed money, you can sue for statutory damages for your landlord’s illegally withholding your deposit. Small Claims Court is informal and no lawyers are allowed. A few weeks after you file a claim, a hearing will be held. You will tell your side of the story and the landlord will tell his/her side. Your written documentation (receipts, inspection report, photos, etc.) will help your case. You must sue in the city where the rental was—if you rented in Napa County then you must sue in Napa County Court.
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