The most common problem a landlord will likely encounter is the security deposit refund accounting after tenancy ends. If not addressed properly, the landlord can face the risk of being sued and taken to small claims court by their tenant.

To understand the laws and calculations associated with the security deposit return, one must first understand what a security deposit may be used for.

California Civil Code 1950.5 specifically allows the landlord to use a tenant’s security deposit for only four purposes:

  1. For unpaid rent;

  2. For cleaning the rental unit when the tenant moves out, returning the unit to as clean a condition as it was when the tenant first moved in;

  3. For repair of damages caused by the tenant or the tenant’s guest in excess of normal wear and tear, and

  4. If the lease or rental agreement allows it, for the cost of restoring or replacing furniture, furnishings, or other items of personal property (including keys), other than deterioration due to normal wear and tear.

Since “normal wear and tear” is a recurring theme, it is smart for property owners and landlords to have a sense of how long certain improvements and appliances in a rental are likely to last – or, at least, what the courts might consider a fair and reasonable lifespan. A landlord should only charge tenants for costs to repair, clean, or replace any items that suffered excessive damage, shortening the expected lifespan. While many items in a rental will periodically need repair or replacement, landlords will consistently spend money on certain projects, including paint, carpet, and linoleum.

In terms of cost and frequency, interior paint is the most recurrent expenditure property owners have to deal with when a tenant moves out. There are many finishes of paint. “Finish” describes both the appearance and durability of paint. Flat or matte paint has no reflective sheen; this finish is typically found through most of a newly constructed house.  High gloss or enamel is extremely reflective; sighegloss is frequently used in commercial settings, or hospital and school hallways, for example. There are numeroum gradations between matte and enamel, including satin, eggshell, semi-gloss… For the best bslance between appearance and  durability, we recommend eggshell or semi-gloss finish to our sdlords.  and property owners.emi-gloss paint has a lifespan of five years compared to matte which only has two years and it’s easier to maintain and touch up. For example, if a tenant leaves a scuff mark you can simply wipe off the scratch compared to having to retouch with more paint. Although semi-gloss appears runnier at first, its shine makes your walls look brighter and fresher.

Typically a tenant can only be charged for this treatment if they caused damage to the walls that was above the normal wear and tear. Excessive mistreatment can include a large amount of holes in the walls that require filling with plaster and/or repainting.

Another costly expense for landlords when a tenant moves out is carpet and linoleum. Normally carpet and linoleum can last approximately ten years, so if a tenant moves out after 11 or 12 years you can’t realistically charge them.

Once again the only exception, however, is if there are excessive stains or damages made to the carpet or linoleum after tenancy. For instance, a tenant had a pet that continuously urinated on the carpet and now the floorboards need to be sanded, re-lacquered, and sealed due to smell. That would be considered a justified withholding and remember; only treated floors can be charged, but the carpet cannot because of its age.

In order for the tenant to receive the full security deposit they must return the property to its condition prior to move-in. If they do not have the entire deposit returned to them then an itemized statement must be sent noting what work was done, which vendor was used, and how much it costs.

California law states landlords have 21 calendar days to return the security deposit to the tenant. If they do not return the deposit within that time period they risk being taken to small claims court by the lessee.

 If you have any questions please feel free to contact us at DeDe’s Rentals. We will be happy to help you.


By Dede’s Rentals