(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?