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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    San Francisco

    Default Landlord Withholding Security Deposit

    (Apologize about the length in advance)

    I was renting an apartment in san francisco on a month-to-month lease. I lived there for 2 months and gave the landlord a full 30 days notice prior to moving out. The apartment was in good shape at move out and I even offered to have a maid service do a general cleaning before vacating the unit. The landlord told me to hold off until she inspected the unit - she did so on my last day of possession in my absence (legally she should have offered me a walkthrough a week or so prior to the move to give me time to address any issues).

    Anyway, she called me to tell me the condition of the unit was unacceptable. She sited a footprint on the carpet, loose floor board, chipped mirror and unclean bathrooms. I told her my offer of $75 for a cleaning service, and we agreed to meet the following day to walkthrough together (this is the day after my last day of possession).

    As we walked through the unit it became clear she had a motive. I told her that the items she had mentioned were general wear and tear as well as the cumulative wear and tear of moving in and out of the unit. For example, if the floor board was loose, it became loose do to normal use, not due to my irresponsible use of the unit. Additionally, the chipped mirror was unnoticable (1/8" chip in the corner). Once again, I told her a cleaning service should be able to clean the place (1000 sq ft apartment) for $75 and that was a reasonable offer. She turned the tables at this point and said that per the lease, I was to turn the apartment over to her in the same condition at move out and since I had not done so I would lose my entire deposit. I reminded her that she induced me to hold off on cleaning until we met to see the place together but she wouldn't hear it.

    Now it is decision time. Per CA code 1950.5, no portion of a deposit can be considered "non-refundable". My full deposit is $3000, and in SF she legally has 21 days after my move to either refund me my money or send me an itemized list of expenses to justify holding all or part of my deposit. Based on the fact that I am a busy professional who was hardly in the apartment (to sleep at night basically) and was only there for 2 months, I would hope a judge would find that the minimal items she claims are nothing more than normal wear-and-tear, and therefore holding anything more than a nominal amount for general cleaning would be considered bad faith. I also have photos of the apartment from the last day I was there showing the place was in good shape.

    So my question is, what is the minimal amount that I should be willing to go to small claims court for (i.e. if she with holds more than $200 or $250)? Also, based on what I have written here, is there anything else I should think about or consider for my case?

    thank you

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Behind a Desk


    The amount that triggers your decision to go to court? That's really a personal calculation - your time, versus the time and bother of court and the chance of loss. But from what you've said, it seems likely that she will try to keep the full $3,000, and may not even send you the itemization.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2006

    Default Re: Landlord Withholding Security Deposit

    Dear aa909: you landlard is trying to "hose" you. Here's a cut and paste from a Google search....try your own internet search.

    In California, a security deposit for residential property unfurnished, the security deposit may equal 2 times the rent. If furnished, the landlord may charge up to 3 times the rent.
    In California, there is no such thing as a “nonrefundable” security deposit. No matter what it’s called—a key deposit, cleaning fee, move-in fee, closing costs, last month’s rent, etc.—all money you pay in addition to your first month’s rent is refundable. Since “nonrefundable” deposits are illegal, don’t worry if your rental agreement includes a section about a “nonrefundable” deposit. This section will not be valid even if you have signed the rental contract or agreed to it.

    There is no restriction on the amount of the security deposit for the rental of a commercial property.

    The Return of the Deposit
    If a tenant damages the property, the landlord can deduct the cost of fixing it from the security deposit. But if the tenant returns the rental in substantially the same condition in which it was rented (less reasonable wear and tear), the landlord must return the deposit. A landlord can't make tenants pay for painting, new carpets or curtains, unless there was serious damage. The landlord is allowed to deduct the cost of cleaning if necessary to put the unit back to the same level of cleanliness it was in at the time the property was leased (less reasonable wear and tear).

    Within 2 weeks of the tenant's move-out date, the landlord must advise the tenant, in writing, of the right to be present at a walk-through with the landlord. The purpose of the inspection is to allow the tenant an opportunity to repair damage pointed out by the landlord.

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