Security Deposits: Limitations on Landlords Reinforced by New Settlement

The landlord/tenant relationship can be tricky and difficult to navigate. Many tenants inherently feel like they are at the mercy of their landlord if they want to be able to remain in their home. They do not feel like they are in a position to challenge their landlord’s behaviors or dispute landlord fees. One area in which tenants may be charged fees – and feel powerless to fight those fees – is the security deposit. Often, a tenant moves out only to receive an itemized receipt detailing the various deductions from the security deposit, and believes that he or she has no way to challenge those deductions. tightened-100-dollar2-roll-1377964-m

Class Action Requires Landlords to Repay Fees from Security Deposits

According to NBC, thirty-one apartment complexes from Southern California have reached a settlement with tenants from as far back as 2008, who argued that the complexes inappropriately deducted fees from security deposits. Specifically, the renters asserted that fees for normal wear and tear – new paint, replacing carpet or flooring – violated California’s law which specifies what can and cannot be deducted from a security deposit. About 10,000 tenants and former tenants have been notified of the settlement, and may be entitled to a payout from the settlement.

California Security Deposit Limitations

California law provides very specific parameters for the use of a tenant’s security deposit. A landlord is only allowed to use a security deposit for four purposes:

  • Unpaid rent
  • Cleaning the rental unit
  • Repair of Damages
  • Replacing or restoring furnishings or other personal property

Within these four purposes, there are more specific limitations on a landlord’s ability to use the security deposit.

A landlord is allowed to use a security deposit for cleaning the rental unit, but can only to bring the unit to the condition it was in when the tenant moved in. For example, if the carpet had a stain when the tenant moved in, the landlord cannot use the security deposit to clean that stain.

A landlord is also allowed to use a security deposit to repair damages to the unit. However, the security deposit cannot be used to repair damages that are due to normal wear and tear. If the paint in a unit gets chipped or faded through normal use, the security deposit cannot be used to touch-up or repaint the unit. However, if a tenant makes a hole in a wall, the security deposit may be used to repair that damage.

Finally, a landlord can only use the security deposit to replace or restore furnishings or other personal property (such as keys) if that was a part of the lease or rental agreement. Even if the rental agreement allows that a security deposit can be used for those purposes, landlords cannot use the security deposit to replace or restore those items due to normal wear and tear. For example, if an apartment is furnished, and the cushions on a couch become misshapen due to regular use, the landlord would be unable to use the security deposit to restore or replace the couch.

When Landlords Take Advantage

When a landlord does something that seems wrong, it can be difficult to challenge them. Laws regarding renting a home are complex, and many tenants are unfamiliar with their rights. Particularly when dealing with security deposits, once a tenant receives an itemized list of charges and a bill or a check for the remainder of their deposit, he or she may not know where to turn. Call our office and let our landlord/tenant attorneys help you understand and advocate for your rights.

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