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Can a CA landlord deduct carpet cleaning and wall painting expenses from a security deposit if there is no damage?

Los Angeles, CA |

When I rented my 1-bdrm in Los Angeles, CA, it was newly renovated: walls were painted, and the carpet was either new, or almost new and steam-cleaned.

I am now moving out, after 2 years. There is no damage whatsoever to the carpet or the walls. No scratches or marks. Of course, I lived there for 2 years so the carpet is not as clean as when I moved in (I will vacuum it). The landlord is a big management company. They are saying they will charge me $110 for carpet steam-cleaning and another $150 for repainting the walls. They said so without even seeing my unit. It seems they charge this routinely to everybody.

They are telling me that the unit must be "equally clean" as when I moved in. Because it was new, they want to charge me to restore it to that level of cleanliness. Is this legal?

Attorney Answers 2


A security deposit may be used for cleaning the rental unit when the tenant moves out, but only to make the unit as clean as it was when the tenant first moved. (Civil Code Section 1950.5(b)(3).)

It does not seem legal if the management company is telling you that it is going to make the security deposit deductions even without seeing the condition of the unit.

The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice. This posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author (who is only admitted to practice law in the State of California). For specific advice about your particular situation, consult your own attorney.

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Dear Frank -- Thanks for your answer. I was an excellent tenant and if you were to walk into my unit, you'd think my carpet is new even after 2 years. There are no stains, it has seen only light, normal use (single occupancy) -- visually, it looks as good as new. I think I may lose my case in court, however. The landlord can always say that the unit was steam-cleaned / new when I moved in, so all they are doing is "making the unit as clean as when I first moved in". So, if I only vacuum it, they will say this is insufficient to restore to the same level of cleanliness and that more professional cleaning is required to deep clean, even though there are no spills, no stains, no marks, etc. I think this is a loophole that the landlord will use against me. This is a big management company -- they have a team of lawyers and they make such charges routinely. I am sure they have their strategy figured out in detail. Yes, they did tell me in person of these deductions without even seeing my unit. However, this was in a conversation at the management office of which there is no written record or witnesses other than myself. They can always deny it in court.


Frank Chen is correct. The management company should examine the condition of the property before they attempt to deduct from your security deposit. And for additional supporting legal references, please see

Note specifically that a California lease provision that attempts to give the landlord the power to deduct these items automatically may be challenged under California Civil Code Section 1950.5(m), which states that a rental agreement can never state that a security deposit is "nonrefundable."

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Thanks Gregory. In my case, the management company told me in person they will deduct for carpet cleaning and wall painting before they even saw my unit. Such deductions are standard practice with my landlord. However, before they actually do the deduction, they will of course go into my unit and do the "inspection". Actually, I plan to be present, but based on what I heard from other tenants, and based on what they already told me without even seeing my unit, I expect them to insist on the deduction. For the carpet, they simply say that it must be professionally cleaned because they did the same before I moved in. The fact that there are no stains, spots, odors or any damage whatsoever does not seem to matter for my landlord!

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