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