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Statute of limitations for landlord tenant dispute in California? Thinking about taking former LL to small claims for deposit

Los Angeles, CA |
Attorney answers 3


The statute of limitations for a claim based on breach of a lease agreement will depend on whether the lease with your former landlord was written or oral. If the lease was in writing, you have 4 years from the date the claim "accrued" to bring a lawsuit. If the lease was oral, you will have only 2 years from the date of accrual.

Security deposits are governed by CA Civil Code section 1950.5. Per the statute, a claim for failing to return a security deposit "accrues" on the 22nd day after you move out (because the landlord has 21 days to return the deposit).

Sorry about the situation, and best of luck.

The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, and should not be construed, as legal advice for a particular case. This posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author, and Pham Law Group does not represent you as your attorneys until retained by a written retainer agreement signed by both parties.


In California you have 4 years on a written lease and 2 years on an oral lease from the date the claim arose. You do not give the date or the facts giving rise to the claim, so it is difficut to tell you if you still have time? Good Luck and don't wait to find out if you can still file or it may be too late if it is not already!

Legal disclaimer:This message does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. Any statements are made for general informational purposes and do not constitute legal advice. No attorney-client privilege is created by this communication. Attorney is licensed in California only.


I agree with my colleagues. If you have a written contract (lease or rental agreement), you have 4 years from breach to sue.

If you do not receive your security deposit back within 21 days after you moved out, you can file your small claims lawsuit.

Under California Civil Code section 1950.5, within 21 calendar days after a tenant moves out, the landlord must either send a full refund of the security deposit, or mail or personally deliver to the tenant an itemized statement that lists the amounts of any deductions from the security deposit and the reasons for the deductions, together with a refund of any amounts not deducted.

Pursuant to Civil Code section 1950.5, the landlord may only use the tenant's security deposit for four purposes:

1) For unpaid rent;

2) 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);

3) For repair of damages, other than normal wear and tear, caused by the tenant or the tenant's guests; and

4) If the lease or rental agreement allows it, for the cost of restoring or replacing furniture, furnishings, or other items of personal property other than because of normal wear and tear.

A tenant who does not receive a return of the security deposit from the landlord will often need to sue the landlord in small claims court to get the security deposit back. However, the risk is that the landlord will likely countersue the tenant for damages above and beyond what the security deposit covered.

According to the California Supreme Court decision in the case of Granberry v. Islay Investments (1995) 9 Cal.4th 738, 745, after the 21 days have transpired, the landlord loses the right to keep any of the security deposit and must return the entire deposit to the tenant.

Frank W. Chen has been licensed to practice law in California since 1988. 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 your own attorney.

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