Here is the law on return of security deposits. The best resource for answers to LL/T questions is the CA Dept of Consumer Affairs publication "California Tenant's
A Guide to Residential tenants’ and Landlords’ Rights And Responsibilities"
Here is the link: http://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/landlordbook/catenant.pdf
common problems and how to avoid them
the most common disagreement between landlords and tenants is over the refund of the tenant’s security deposit after the tenant has moved out of the rental unit. California law therefore specifies procedures that the landlord must follow for refunding, using, and accounting for tenants’ security deposits.
California law specifically allows the landlord to use a tenant’s security deposit for four purposes:
For unpaid rent;
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 in;214
For repair of damages, other than normal wear and tear, caused by the tenant or the tenant’s guests; and
if the lease or rental agreement allows it, for the cost of restoring or replacing furniture, furnishings, or other items of personal property (including keys), other than because of normal wear and tear.215
A landlord can withhold from the security deposit only those amounts that are reasonably necessary for these purposes. the security deposit cannot be used for repairing defects that existed in the unit before you moved in, for conditions caused by normal wear and tear during your tenancy or previous tenancies, or for cleaning a rental unit that is as clean as it was when you moved in.216 A rental agreement or lease can never state that a security deposit is “nonrefundable.”217
under California law, 21 calendar days or less after you move, your landlord must either:
send you a full refund of your security deposit, or
Mail or personally deliver to you an itemized statement that lists the amounts of any
214 This practical standard was codified in Civil Code Section 1950.5(b)(3) for tenancies for which the tenant’s right to occupy the unit began after January 1, 2003. As with any statutory provision, this provision should be given “a reasonable and common sense interpretation
consistent with the apparent purpose, which will result in wise policy rather than mischief or absurdity.” (7 Witkin, Summary of California Law (10th ed.2005) Constitutional Law, Section 115.) Notwithstanding this new standard, the tenant is not responsible for damages resulting from normal wear and tear (Civil Code Section 1950.5(b),(e)), and the rental must, at a minimum, be fit to live in at the beginning of each tenancy (Civil Code Section 1941; see discussion of “Habitability,” pages 37–40).
215 Civil Code Section 1950.5(b),(e). 216 Civil Code Section 1950.5(b),(e). 217 Civil Code Section 1950.5(m).
deductions from your security deposit and the reasons for the deductions, together with a refund of any amounts not deducted.218
the landlord also must send you copies of receipts for the charges that the landlord incurred to repair or clean the rental unit and that the landlord deducted from your security deposit. the landlord must include the receipts with the itemized statement.219