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Security Deposit

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SECURITY DEPOSITS 

Landlords routinely require a Security Deposit to be posted as a condition of the rental agreement.  In California, for residential tenancies, a landlord may charge up to two times the monthly rent for unfurnished and up to three times the rent for furnished dwelling rental units.  The amount of the security deposit may be proved by any credible evidence. 
The Security Deposit for Residential Tenancies is governed by CIVIL CODE 1950.5 

DEDUCTIONS
Landlords may deduct for cleaning damages caused by use beyond ordinary wear and tear and rent left owing after moving out.  The tenant need only return the unit to the same level of cleanliness it was in at the inception of the tenancy. (This new cleaning rule only applies to new tenancies beginning 1/1/03) Tenants are not liable for wear and tear that occurred before they moved in.
 
INSPECTION
Landlords must notify tenants about their right to have a pre move-out inspection. to give the tenants a chance to clean or make appropriate repairs and avoid deductions (except in the case where a 3 day eviction notice was served).  The initial inspection must be conducted within two weeks of moving.  The tenant must request that inspection or the landlord is not obligated to conduct one. 

REFUND
The deposit is held until the tenant moves out.   The money is then supposed to be refunded within 21 days of moving out, less deductions for rent owing and charges for cleaning or repairing damages caused by excessive wear and tear.    The deposit generally transfers to successive owners.  A non-refundable deposit is not allowed.  Thus, it is refundable no matter what the contract says. 

COPIES OF RECEIPTS
If the deductions will exceed $125.00, the landlord must attach copies of receipts or other documentation supporting those deductions.  If the deductions will not exceed $125.00, the landlord has to provide documentation to support those deductions only on a written request by the tenant.  Such documentation must then be provided within 14 days.  Tenants may waive their rights to receive such documentation.  [Note: tenants should not waive any rights without advice from counsel] 

LABOR CHARGES OF LANDLORD
The landlord may deduct a charge for his/her own labor or for that of an employee but must provide documentation supporting those charges.

INTEREST
In some jurisdictions, the landlord must pay interest on the deposit.  Not so in San Diego.  Here, a landlord may mix the money with their own funds and use it as he/she pleases.  When the money does not have to be held in a separate account, landlords sometimes find it difficult to freely refund the tenant's money when required to do so, especially if they have already spent it!  

PENALTIES
If the landlord keeps all or part of your deposit wrongfully, you may use the small claims court to resolve the matter.   The penalty for improperly handling the deposit refund/accounting (done in bad faith) is now a maximum of TWO times the deposit!! (The limit used to be $600.00)

While many landlords do handle these funds responsibly, there are many who do
not and play some games including the following:

1.  Keep the money.  The landlord simply decides to keep the money without cause to do so.  This is based on the theory that most tenants will not bother to take
legal action to chase after the money.

2.  Let's renovate.  The landlord wishes to improve the rental unit at the tenant's expense.  Items that need simple repair are replaced or improved and the tenant is charged the full cost.

3.   I forgot.  The landlord forgets all the pre-existing problems that existed upon move-in and now blames them on the departing tenant.

4. I made up the numbers.  The landlord did not actually incur charges but feels that he could incur them, someday.  So he makes up charges like $100 for general cleaning, $150 for carpet cleaning, $100 for trash removal etc.  It adds up fast.  You get the idea.

To minimize such problems, the following is suggested;

1.  Do a written check-in summary noting any defects, problems or excessively worn items upon move-in with copies to both parties.
2.  Repair damaged items during the tenancy.  (Check your lease for permission requirements).
3.  Request the pre-move out "initial inspection".
4.  Upon move-out, have the carpets professionally cleaned.  While this seems expensive, the landlord's carpet cleaners will probably cost a lot more.
5.  Upon move-out, have the rental unit professionally cleaned.  Again, you control the cost.
6.  Do a written check-out summary with the landlord.  Many times misunderstandings or improper charges may be avoided in this meeting.
7.  Make a written request for all receipts for any deposit deductions.

Tenants are not permitted to use the deposit as last month's rent without the landlord's consent.

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California law for San Diego is applied in these pages.  Such laws may or may not be applicable in other jurisdictions.  The information provided herein is of a general nature and is not intended to be taken as specific legal advice.  For legal advice in a particular situation, promptly consult with an appropriate attorney.