Answers to your frequently asked questions
Can the landlord contract with the tenant for a “nonrefundable” security deposit?
Residential: No. No lease or rental agreement may contain any provision characterizing the security deposit as "nonrefundable" (Cal.Civ. Code § 1950.5(m).)
Commercial: Maybe. The statute doesn't contain the same explicit prohibition as Section 1950.5. Thus, it would be up to a court to decide if a nonrefundable security deposit would be deemed unreasonable in a non-residential context. (Cal.Civ. Code § 1950.7(c).)
What are the time frames for the return of the security deposit?The landlord must send to the tenant a detailed accounting (see question 11 for what information the landlord must provide to the tenant) of the security deposit as well as any security deposit remaining after deductions, or the whole deposit if there are no deductions, within 21 days after the tenant vacates the property. The deposit may be mailed on the 21st day and it is a good idea, although not legally required for the landlord to mail it by certified mail or at least obtain a proof of mailing from the post office to show compliance. As of January 1, 2013, after either party gives a notice of termination of tenancy the parties may mutually agree to have both the accounting and required receipts emailed to an email address provided by the tenant and may allow for the security deposit to be sent to an electronic funds transfer to an account designated by the tenant. (Civil Code section 1950.5(g).)
What is a "security deposit"?
Residential:A security deposit is any payment, fee, deposit or charge, including those imposed as an advance payment of rent. It includes any charges imposed at the beginning of the tenancy to reimburse the landlord for costs associated with processing a new tenant, other than "application screening fees." (Cal.Civ. Code §1950.5(b).) See Question 3 below for a discussion of "application screening fees."
Commercial: A security deposit is defined to be "any payment or deposit of money the primary function of which is to secure the performance of a rental agreement. . . including an advance payment of rent". (Cal.Civ. Code §1950.7(b).)
What is the maximum amount of "security" a landlord may require a tenant to pay??
Residential: Residential landlords may collect a security deposit not to exceed the monetary equivalent of 2 months rent for unfurnished units, and 3 months rent for furnished units. For example, for an unfurnished residential property at $800 per month, the maximum amount that the landlord can collect up front is $2,400: This consists of $800 rent for the first month, plus $1,600 as a security deposit. If the landlord charges any other general processing fee or pet deposit or cleaning deposit, that amount is considered part of the $1,600 security deposit. (Cal.Civ. Code §1950.5(b).)
The landlord may not collect or demand any additional amount of money at the beginning of the tenancy, except as follows:
- A landlord is permitted to increase the deposit by one-half of one month's rent when a landlord is accepting a tenant with a waterbed or water-filled furniture. (In that situation, the landlord is also permitted to charge a reasonable fee for administrative costs, and can require the tenant to provide waterbed or water-filled furniture insurance.) (Cal.Civ. Code §§1950.5(c).1940.5(g).)
- In addition to the security deposit, a landlord may collect the first month's rent in advance.
- A landlord may collect six months or more of advance rent payment on leases of at least six months duration. (Cal.Civ. Code §1950.5(c).) Collecting two, three, four or five months of advance rent would violate the law.
- A landlord may charge a nonrefundable application screening fee for actual, out-of-pocket costs for obtaining information about a rental application, such as credit reports and reference checks (Cal.Civ. Code § 1950.6(j).) See Question 3 below for additional details.
- A landlord may include additional charges if there is a separate mutual fee agreement between the landlord and tenant for structural, decorative, furnishing, or other similar alterations, but not for cleaning or repairs (Cal.Civ. Code § 1950.5(c)).
Commercial: The specific monetary limitations on the maximum amount of a security deposit do not apply to commercial landlords. However, the statute refers to charging "only those amounts as are reasonably necessary to remedy tenant defaults." (Cal.Civ. Code § 1950.7(c).)
When I move out, what do I need to do to receive my full security deposit back?We advise that you remove all personal belongings and clean the house thoroughly including floors, walls, trim, windows, bathrooms, counters, cabinets, appliances. All carpets should be professionally shampooed. Gutters should be cleaned out. The roof should be free of leaves and debris. If you are responsible for lawn maintenance, then the grass and hedges need to be trimmed to a reasonable height and all planting beds should be free of weeds.