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  • Daniel Rodriguez

Security deposits: tenants’ rights and responsibilities

When renting a property, landlords often require tenants to pay a security deposit. This deposit acts as protection for the property owner in case of any damage or unpaid rent. But there are instances when tenants may not receive the full security deposit after the tenancy has ended. If you doubt whether you are receiving the right amount, the California Security deposit law can help you. It outlines the rules for landlords when returning and deducting any money from your security deposit.


Before you move out, landlords should provide written notice about your right to request a pre-inspection. This gives you the opportunity to address any necessary repairs, ensuring a higher chance of getting your security deposit back.

Action timeframe: 21 days

Once you vacate the property, landlords have 21 days to take action regarding your security deposit. They must either return the entire amount or return the deposit with deductions. If deductions exceed $125.00, the landlord must provide invoices or receipts as evidence. For work done by the landlord or their employee, a description of the tasks, time spent, and reasonable hourly rates must be included.

Deductions for cleaning and repairs

If the landlord fails to complete cleaning or repairs within the 21-day timeframe, they can only deduct specific items from the security deposit. These deductions may cover cleaning to restore the unit to its initial condition or repairing damage caused by you or your guests beyond normal wear and tear. Additionally, costs related to furniture, or personal item restoration or replacement may be deducted, as long as it was stated in the rental agreement and the damage isn’t from regular use.

COVID-19 and lease termination exclusions

It’s essential to note that landlords cannot use the security deposit to cover rental debts resulting from COVID-19 or compensate for lease termination due to violence. If your landlord fails to return the security deposit as required, you have options. First, try writing a letter to the landlord seeking an agreement. If that doesn’t work, you can take legal action by filing a lawsuit in small claims court or civil court. In such cases, you can claim the deposit amount and potentially receive damages equal to twice the deposit if the landlord acted in bad faith. Small claims court usually handles disputes up to $10,000.

Remember, being aware of your rights and responsibilities as a tenant is crucial for maintaining a smooth landlord-tenant relationship. Understanding security deposits and the relevant regulations helps both landlords and tenants ensure a fair and satisfactory rental experience.

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