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Can I get a bad faith judgment against my landlord when she returned my damage deposit 16 days after the 21 day deadline?

Sacramento, CA |

I had a heated argument with my landlord when I moved out of my apartment. She claimed she could charge me for wear and tear to my apartment. I told her she couldn't and that was against the law. She responded that she didn't care about the law and this was her apartment and she could charge whatever she wants. When it comes to her apartment it's her law. Later, she said she would return my deposit. I didn't receive it for two weeks so I sent an email asking about it. She said she would send it but never did. After 24 days I wrote a demand letter and sent it to her certified mail. She never responded. I waited over a week and then started a small claims action. After incurring filing and service fees I received my refund after 37 days. Can I get a judgment against her?

Attorney Answers 2


Under CA law the landlord has to return the security deposit within 21 days of the tenant moving out. If she fails to comply, you can sue her. However, to prevail on a claim of punitive damages, you have to prove that she acted in bad faith. If you want a legal opinion of whether or not the facts in your case constitute bad faith or not, I suggest you contact a local landlord-tenant attorney.

The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice for a particular case. This posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author. For specific advice about your particular situation, please consult with a local attorney.

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You have to show your landlord's malice in withholding the deposit. This is easier to do under CCP section 1174 than in a typical tort case. (Civil Code 3294) The statutory damages are up to $600. So, you could go for it in small claims if you haven't dismissed the the action yet. It will really depend on the judge whether you get those damages and your costs or not. An attorney can never tell you the outcome - The judge could award you all of it or throw out your claim.

No attorney-client or confidential relationship is created through this communication. Answers to questions are for educational purposes only. You may not rely on this communication as legal opinion. Rather, it is a very broad overview of general legal principals. All facts and circumstances have not been fully examined and different or more nuanced legal principles may apply. Your issue may be time sensitive and may result in loss of rights if you do not obtain an attorney immediately.

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