Security deposits can be a tricky situation after tenancy ends, and the return of the deposit is generally the most common disagreement between landlords and tenants.  As a result, California law states procedures landlords must follow for refunding, using and accounting for tenant’s security deposits.

However, to understand these laws, one must know how California defines a security deposit. According to state law, “security” means any payment, fee, deposit, or charge which is imposed at the beginning of the tenancy to be used to reimburse the landlord for costs associated with processing a new tenant and may be used for four purposes:

  1. For unpaid rent;
  2. For cleaning the rental unit when the tenant moves out, but only to make the unit as clean as it was when the tenant first moved in;
  3. For repair of damages, other than normal wear and tear, caused by the tenant or the tenant’s guest; and
  4. If the lease or rental agreement allows it, for the cost of restoring or replacing furniture, furnishings, or other items of personal property (including keys), other than because of normal wear and tear.

To begin, it’s important to note that the security deposit is the tenant’s money held in trust until move out. Once the tenant moves out, the landlord has 21 calendar days to return the money along with an itemized statement and receipts from vendors.

So, what can and can’t you use the security deposit for?

As mentioned previously, the landlord can only withhold an amount from the security deposit that is reasonably necessary for the four purposes explained above. At the same time, the security deposit cannot be used for repairing defects that existed before a tenancy or for conditions caused by normal wear and tear.

For example, if the carpets were not cleaned before the tenant moved in, then the landlord is not allowed to charge them for a cleaning after they’ve moved out. Same holds true for the overall cleanliness of the rental unit. If the unit was not cleaned prior to move in, then the tenant is not responsible for cleaning it after move out.

Another thing landlords can use the security deposit for is unpaid rent. However, it can only be used after they’ve moved out. Additionally, landlords and tenants cannot use the security deposit as last month’s rent or for any late fees incurred during tenancy. The security deposit is put in place only as a form of protection for the landlord in case of damage to the property or unpaid rent; nothing else.

Lastly, if a tenant causes damage to the walls that is above the normal and wear tear, landlords are in their right to use the deposit to correct it. Excessive treatment typically includes a large amount of holes in the walls which then requires filling with plaster and/or repainting. Basically, if any part of the home has excessive damage done to it, you can use the security deposit to repair that issue.

At Stokley Properties, we suggest you always check your security deposit laws. You can do this by asking your local Contra Costa County property manager, or by going online. Either way, it’s important to understand the legalities involved, so you know how to properly use and return the security deposit.

If you have any further questions, feel free to Contact Us.