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Landlord-tenant issues: security deposits

Of all the landlord-tenant issues, security deposits can be the most contentions. Attorney Joe Richardson offers some tips on how to avoid problems.

Landlord-tenant obligations once rental is over; return of deposits, responsibility for cleaning and more

Many tenants (and sometimes landlords) are confused over what is supposed to happen once it is time for a tenant to move out of a residential unit rental. Here are some rules of the game.

ComptonHerald.com | Joe Richardson

“Legal Learning” is commentary by Joe Richardson, Esq. The column does not constitute legal advice, as individual cases turn on their particular facts.

The security deposit

The security deposit, true to its word, is supposed to “secure” the landlord, providing funds on hand to deal with issues on the back of a rental such as, among other things, unpaid rent, repairing damage to the unit, or restoring the unit (through cleaning) to its pre-rental state.

Once a tenant moves out, a landlord can withhold only the amounts reasonably necessary to deal with the above issues. California law states that, 21 days after a tenant moves, the landlord must either to (1) fully refund the security deposit, or (2) get the tenant an itemized statement (mail or personal delivery) listing the amount of deductions, reason(s) for deductions, and refunding the difference.

Further, generally the landlord must include copies of receipts of the charges incurred by the landlord to repair and/or clean the unit. The landlord must send the foregoing to the new address given by the tenant, or the unit address itself (if no forwarding address is given).

If a tenant disagrees with the deductions, the tenant should inform the landlord of the tenant’s disagreement, either having or confirming this conversation in writing. Included should be the tenant’s belief of what amount should be reimbursed. If a landlord fails to provide a full refund, or to send a statement showing deductions and refund the amounts not used, the landlord must return the entire security deposit (and more) to the tenant for punitive reasons. (Source: California Department of Consumer Affairs Website “Refunds of Security Deposits”)

Tips Going Forward

The tenant should communicate with the landlord about the status of the unit at all times and even have the landlord inspect during tenancy to identify issues bearing on the security deposit. This can avoid misunderstandings later. Further, when it is time to go, a tenant that knows the landlord has missed the 21-day deadline should still seek a resolution that is predictable and saves time.

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Joe Richardson, Esq. is a native son of South-Central Los Angeles, and an attorney practicing tort, contract, and labor, and employment law in Southern California for more than 15 years. He also teaches and speaks on legal issues.

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