|Get Your Security Deposit Back!
Chances are that you have handed over a lot of money in order to move into your
apartment. This is your money. The landlord must agree to do a pre-move-out
inspection and can only withhold your deposit for certain specific reasons.
If your landlord does not return your security deposit, you can sue in the
California small claims court.
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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
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. Your
landlord must give you a written, itemized statement of the reason for any
amount withheld from your deposit. Money can be withheld only for:
–Unpaid Rent (talk to a counselor if you are breaking a lease or giving less than
30 days’ notice).
–Damage caused by you beyond normal wear and tear.
–“Reasonable” cleaning charges.
•If your security deposit is not returned or accounted for within 21 days, you can
sue the landlord in Small Claims (limit is $10,000; if higher,
then lawsuit would be in Superior Court Limited Jurisdiction)
court for the amount of the deposit, plus twice the amount
of the deposit if you can show bad faith, plus any actual
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. If you need to move quickly because of
conditions in your apartment or if you are breaking a lease, talk to one of the
Tenants Union counselors.
•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).
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.
Again, smallclaimsdepartment.com’s Platinum Package (for only $165 plus court
filing fee) will process everything needed before your hearing date.
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•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. For a small filing fee, you can sue for up to $10,000.
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. Approximately 60-90 days after we file your 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.
Some Helpful hints:
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 this 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, don’t worry if your rental agreement
includes a section about a “nonrefundable” deposit. This section will not be valid
even if you have signed the rental contract or agreed to it.
•No matter what it’s called, 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. Many tenants end up
going to Small Claims Court to get their deposits back and these precautions can
give you needed evidence.
•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.