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When can a landlord keep a tenant’s security deposit?  

On Behalf of | Jul 22, 2021 | Landlord Tenant Law

Tenants and landlords can disagree on many different issues during a lease. Tenants may want to bring in pets or overnight guests that landlords won’t allow, for example. However, few matters lead to disputes as quickly as money.

The security deposit that someone pays to protect a landlord against damage to their unit or the non-payment of rent often leads to conflict at the end of a lease. Tenants want the money back, but landlords may want to keep the funds. 

When can a landlord in California retain a residential security deposit?

What state laws say about security deposits

California limits security deposits to two months’ rent for unfurnished units. That could represent thousands of dollars, which technically still belong to the tenant. The state limits when a landlord can retain part or all of a security deposit when a tenant moves out to specific situations.

A landlord can keep a security deposit If a tenant breaks the lease by leaving early and does not pay all of their rent. They can also keep the security deposit for documented lease infractions with fees assigned to them, like a daily fee for a pet brought into the unit in violation of the lease. 

Finally, if the landlord documents damage beyond reasonable wear and tear to the unit, they can retain as much of the security deposit as is necessary to make repairs. Typically, landlords have to provide a written notice to their tenants about their intention to keep the security deposit. Disagreements about the deposit or the condition of the unit could require litigation to resolve. 

Those dealing with a security deposit dispute can benefit from learning more about California rental laws. Whatever side of the dispute you are on, it helps to know your legal ground.