Attorney Zak Fisher's Top Four Tips for California Tenants To Avoid Security Deposit Disputes
These are some important tips to keep in mind and put into practice to maximize your chances of getting your full deposit back and avoiding any disputes with your landlord. These tips apply all throughout California. See California Civil Code § 1950.5 for more detailed information.
Request a Pre Move Out InspectionBefore you move out, request an inspection with your landlord or property manager the last two weeks you live there. During the inspection, your landlord must point out any damages to the unit or justification for potential deductions from your security deposit. After the inspection, your landlord should provide you an itemized statement of repairs or cleaning that you could complete to avoid deductions from your security deposit. Remember, your landlord is not legally allowed to deduct "ordinary wear and tear."
Leave The Unit As Clean As PossibleMake sure to clean the unit to leave it in an acceptable condition. Landlords cannot charge you for "ordinary wear-and-tear." Try to leave your unit in the best condition possible to maximize your chance of avoiding a dispute.
Document The Condition You Leave Your Apartment In As Thoroughly As PossibleTake lots of clear pictures of how you leave your unit. Document the condition in which you left the apartment in as thoroughly as possible. It is best to take any pictures and/or videos with a clear, verifiable time stamp. A cell phone camera app is generally sufficient.
Take Action If You Do Not Receive Your Deposit Within 21 Days From When You Vacate Your UnitYour landlord has 21 days to return your deposit to you along with a list of deductions. If you feel that you are entitled to a larger amount of your security deposit, let your landlord know. If possible, it is best to consult with a Tenants' Rights attorney for help. Most security deposit disputes play out in Small Claims Court. Lawyers cannot represent parties at their initial Small Claims Court trial, but they can provide coaching and guidance before the litigant goes to court. If you lose at Small Claims Court as a defendant, you can appeal to Superior Court, where an attorney can represent you.