If you’re new to being a landlord in California (or anywhere), there’s a lot to learn. California has greater protections for tenants than many states do. Whether you’re renting your guesthouse or an entire home, it’s crucial to know your tenants’ rights – and your own.
Security deposits are an important insurance for landlords in case a tenant damages their property. However, they can be kept for other non-payment of rent or if the tenant moves out without giving the required notice. Let’s take a look at California law around the return of security deposits.
Security deposits explained
Landlords must return a tenant’s security deposit or explain why they aren’t within 21 days by mail or in-person after they’ve moved out. If they keep part or all of the deposit, they must provide a written explanation of why they are keeping it. This includes an itemized list of the amount(s) deducted. They need to provide receipts for any item or service costing $126 or more.
Wear and tear and cleaning costs
Note that landlords are prohibited from deducting the cost of fixing “ordinary wear and tear” on a space. This would include things like scuffed floors and loose wallpaper.
Cleaning fees can be deducted from the security deposit. However, a landlord can only charge for the cost of returning the unit to the condition of cleanliness it was in when the tenant moved in.
Certainly, there can be room for dispute regarding whether a tenant is leaving a space more or less in the condition they found it. That’s why it’s best for everyone’s protection if landlords do a walk-through with a tenant before they move in and document any issues and then again when they move out. If you find yourself in a dispute with a tenant over a security deposit or any other issue, it’s wise to seek legal advice.