California Civil Code Section 1950.5; Law Regarding Tenant Security Deposits

California Security Deposit Limits and Deadlines

A security deposit is money that a landlord takes from a tenant other than the advance payment of rent. California security deposit protects the landlord in case a tenant violates the lease terms or rental agreement. The money can be used to cover back rent, key replacement, cleaning, or property damages.

California security deposit law states that any payments besides the application fee are considered as part of the security deposit. Even if the costs are labeled something different, like a pet fee or an administrative fee, they must be refundable since they are part of the security deposit.

A security deposit belongs to a renter for the entirety of their lease. California law considers this a strict rule, and even if the landlord declares bankruptcy, they have to give the deposit back to the tenant. Landlords are also not allowed to hold security deposits in particular accounts or mix the deposits with personal or any other business funds.

California security deposit law allows landlords to charge a security deposit equivalent of two months’ rent for unfurnished residential units or three months’ rent for furnished ones. However, tenants who are active service members receive a security deposit of a month’s rent for unfurnished units and two months’ rent for the furnished units.

Under the California law, a landlord has to return the tenant’s security deposit, with an itemized statement of deductions, within 21 days from when the renter surrenders the rental property to the landlord. Additionally, landlords in California have to provide renters with advance notice before they take any deductions out of the security deposit.

If a landlord breaches any of the California security deposit rules, they can be liable for double the amount of the security deposit, plus any actual damages sustained by the renter. If a landlord acts in bad faith, they may also be liable for attorney fees and punitive damages. However, the tenant must provide proof that the landlord acted in bad faith.  

Tenants and landlords who have security deposit disputes may take their claims to Small Claims Court if the claim is for less than $10,000. Suing in the Small Claims Court is more comfortable, faster, and cheaper than in regular courts. 

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