Security Deposits, Part III: The Return of the Security Deposit


Posted by Richardson Griswold March 29, 2011

In our last article in this series, we provided some recommendations for what a tenant should look for in a rental unit before the rental period begins.  Now let’s focus on what happens when it’s time for the security deposit to be returned.

At the end of the tenancy, the landlord may lawfully elect to use part or all of the security deposit to pay for:

* Any rent the tenant owes;

* The cost of cleaning the apartment (to restore it to the same condition it was in at move-in);

* The cost of repair of damage (beyond normal “wear and tear”);

* The cost to replace personal property, such as keys, furniture, appliances (again, beyond normal “wear and tear”).

However, the landlord must return any unused portion of the security deposit, and must provide tenants with a clear accounting of how the security deposit funds were used.

California law requires that within 21 days after move-out, the landlord either:

1)      Sends the tenant a full return of their security deposit, or

2)      Sends the tenant an itemized statement of deductions that shows what the money was spent on and how much was spent to remedy each problem, along with the remaining portion of the security deposit (if there is any amount not accounted for in the statement).   The landlord must include receipts to back up the itemized statement with the return of the security deposit.

If the landlord did the work himself, the receipt could simply be a handwritten summary of the work done and the time it took to perform the work, but he should include the receipt for any materials he bought to make the repairs.

If the landlord could not finish the repairs within the 21 day period, he can potentially make a “good faith” estimate and deduct the estimate amount from the security deposit.  Within 14 days of the completion of the work, the landlord must comply with the rules above again, sending the tenant a new itemized statement, the receipts and refunding any overpayment, if necessary.

NOTE- The landlord is not required to send any receipts or itemized statement when the cost of the repairs is less than $126.


It is recommended you consult with a real estate attorney about your landlord-tenant concerns and inquiries.


This entry was posted in Security Deposit Info and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.