When a tenant moves out of a rental unit in California, the landlord and tenant have to resolve the matter of the tenant’s security deposit. If the tenant hasn’t broken the terms of the rental agreement, the landlord is obligated to return the security deposit.
However, if the tenant has violated the terms of the lease in some way, the landlord is able to withhold part or all of the security deposit to cover the repair of damage to the property, cleaning services, back rent or other expenses.
Landlords and tenants don’t always agree on whether the tenant broke the terms of the rental agreement, leading to security deposit disputes. These types of landlord/tenant matters disagreements can lead to legal problems and lawsuits, and it’s important to understand the basics.
Common areas of security deposit disputes
Perhaps the most common type of security deposit dispute stems from disagreement about whether the tenant damaged the rental unit and, if they did, the extent of the damage.
With disputes of this nature, documentation is key. Photographing evidence of damage (or lack of damage) weighs heavily in any legal findings as to whether the landlord may withhold the security deposit. Doing a walkthrough with both landlord and tenant before the tenant vacates can also help both parties get on the same page.
Another common issue has to do with how much prior notice a tenant gives a landlord before leaving. A tenant needs to give a landlord written notice of their intent to vacate the rental unit. And this notice needs to be at least as long as the rent payment interval.
In other words, if rent is due monthly, the tenant must give at least 30 days. If rent is weekly, the notice must be at least seven days. If the tenant doesn’t give sufficient notice, the landlord is able to take another month/week’s rent from the security deposit.
When it comes to security deposit disputes, the winning party tends to be the one most organized and most able to present concrete proof of their version of circumstances. If you want to be on the right side of a security deposit dispute, make sure to document everything.