CA Civil Code `1950.5(l) - treble damages/penalty for bad faith retention of security; applies to all residential rentals in CA.

Asked over 1 year ago - Rosemead, CA

Pursuant to CA CC 1950.5(l) if landlord is found to have unlawfully withheld tenant's security deposit (SD), but a judge also finds that something should be deducted from SD (i.e. for cleaning not covered under normal wear and tear), than that amount would be deducted from the treble/triple damages. (For argument's sake let's say judge allows $100 for cleaning) For example if your SD was $1000, &landlord didnt follow the requirements of CC 1950.5 &/or did not return any of your security, & judge found in tenants favor that security was unlawfully withheld, the judge should start making deductions from $3000, since penalty for unlawfully held security deposit is treble damages (SDx3-deductions for repairs to unit=net judgement); ($1000x3-$100=$2900 net judgement to tenant). Comments?

Additional information

CA Supreme Crt -Granburry v. Islay - if landlord hasnt complied w/requirements of CA CC 1950.5 in21 days, &fails to return tenant's security deposit, its sufficient to show bad faith on landlord's part, so as to entitle tenant to the treble/triple damages stated in Civil Code 1950.5(l), although, "proving" bad faith by landlord is not an element of CC 1950.5. Also, CC 1950.5 states that landlords failure to comply with CC 1950.5 can "subject landlord..to statutory damages of up to twice the amount of the security, in addition to actual damages". The accurate calculation for punitive damages pursuant to CC 1950.5, is double the amount of deposit plus damages suffered by tenant {so if deposit was $1000&landlord wrongfully kept$500, judge should award tenant $2500}. Its not calculated in manner suggested by attorney Kane. CC 1950.5 is meant to discourage landlords from wrongfully withholding/keeping tenant's security deposits-a consistent problem-the fact that it may result in a win-fall is irrelevant

Attorney answers (3)

  1. Brad S Kane

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    Answered . I agree with my colleague's excellent answers. I respond to note that even assuming bad faith retention, you should only treble the portion withheld in bad faith, not the entire security deposit. In other words, you deduct the amount properly withheld before trebling. $1,000 - $100 = $900 * 3 = $2700.

  2. Frank Wei-Hong Chen

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    Answered . It is pretty rare for a court to award the bad faith treble damages in the first place, especially if the landlord had any basis to withhold any portion of the security deposit.

    Just because the landlord failed to comply with Civil Code section 1950.5 by returning the deposit within 21 days is definitely not sufficient to show bad faith. Think about it. Otherwise, every landlord who doesn't refund or provide an itemized statement within 21 days would be liable for treble damages. The tenant would have to demonstrate specific facts showing the landlord acted in bad faith.

    Frank W. Chen has been licensed to practice law in California since 1988. The information presented here is... more
  3. Malosack Berjis

    Contributor Level 20

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    Answered . Are you asking if you properly applied the law in your example? (I don't see a question in your post.)

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