Tenants' Security Deposit Rights in California

State Laws Landlords and Tenants Must Follow

Picture of Tenants' Security Deposit Rights in California
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California tenants need to understand their security deposit rights so they do not get taken advantage of. These rules include how much a landlord can collect, reasons the landlord can keep your deposit and how long after move out a landlord has to return your security. Here are eight basic security deposit rules in the state of California. 

What Is the Security Deposit Limit in California?

California's landlord tenant law sets a maximum amount landlords can charge tenants as a security deposit. This amount will differ depending on whether the rental is furnished or unfurnished.

  • Unfurnished Units- In California, you can ask for a maximum of two months’ rent if the apartment is unfurnished.
  • Furnished Units- If the apartment is furnished, you can ask the tenant for a maximum of three months’ rent as a security deposit.

Can California Landlords Charge Nonrefundable Deposits?

No, in California, you cannot make a security deposit as nonrefundable.

Are There Specific Rules for Storing a Tenant's Deposit?

California landlords are responsible for storing the tenant’s security deposit during the tenancy, but there are no specific rules for doing so. The landlord does not have to hold the security deposit in a separate bank account and is not required to pay the tenant interest on the security deposit.

Do Tenants Have Right to Notice After Receipt of the Deposit?

No. Under California law, the landlord is not required to provide the tenant with written notice after receipt of the security deposit.

5 Reasons California Landlords Can Keep a Tenant's Security

In California, a landlord may be able to keep all or a portion of a tenant’s security deposit for the following reasons:

  1. Tenant defaults on rent payment.
  2. Damage to the apartment in excess of normal wear and tear.
  3. Cleaning costs to restore the unit to the condition it was in at the beginning of​ the tenancy.
  4. To pay any future debts that may be incurred due to tenant's violation of​ the lease.
  5. Other breaches to the lease

California landlords cannot make deductions from the deposit for the following reasons:

  • To cover ordinary wear and tear.
  • To pay for conditions that existed before the tenant moved into the unit.

Do California Tenants Have a Right to a Walk-Through Inspection?

Yes. Landlords in California can perform walk-through inspections. The purpose of this inspection is to allow the landlord to point out any potential reasons he or she may withhold a portion of the security deposit and to allow the tenant to fix the problems before the final inspection. To perform a walk-through inspection, the following conditions must be met:

  • The landlord must notify the tenant in writing within a reasonable time before the end of tenancy of the landlord's intention to inspect the property prior to the tenant’s move-out.
  • The tenant does not have to agree to a walk-through inspection.
  • If a tenant agrees to a walk-through inspection, the inspection should take place no sooner than two weeks before the end of ​the tenancy.
  • The landlord is required to give the tenant 48 hours written notice prior to the inspection, of the date and time of inspection, unless both parties agree, in writing, that written notice is not necessary.
  • The landlord must present the tenant with a list of any and all repairs that need to be made before the final inspection.

Rules for Returning a Tenant’s Security Deposit in California

21 Days

A California landlord must return the tenant’s security deposit within 21 days of tenant move-out. This notice must include an itemized statement indicating:

  1. The amount of security deposit received.
  2. Any itemized deductions-
    1. If deductions have been taken from the security deposit, the landlord is required to provide documents and receipts showing the actual charges that were incurred- materials, labors, cost of hiring someone to do the work, etc.
    2. If the work has not yet been completed, the landlord is required to deduct a good faith estimate as to the cost of the work.
  3. The amount of security deposit that is being returned to the tenant.

What If California Landlord Sells the Rental Property?

If a landlord sells the investment property, the landlord has two options for the tenants' security deposits:

  1. Transfer the security deposit, minus any deductions, to the new owner.- The landlord is then responsible for:
    1. Notifying the tenant in writing of:
      1. The name, address and phone number of the new owner.
    2. Providing written notice to both the new owner and to the tenant of:
      1. The amount of security deposit .
      2. Any deductions that have taken from the security deposit.
  2. Return the security deposit, minus any deductions, to the tenant.- The landlord must still notify the new owner in writing of:
    1. The amount of the security deposit,
    2. Any deductions that have been taken and
    3. The landlord’s decision to return the deposit to the tenant.

    What Is California’s Security Deposit Law?

    California Security Deposit Law can be found in California Civic Code 1950.5.