Under California law, there is a very specific timeline that the landlord must follow regarding your security deposit after you have completely vacated the unit (and turned in the keys). Under California Civil Code Section 1950.5(g)(1), the landlord MUST, WITHIN 21 DAYS, either:
Return your security deposit in full; or
Provide you with an itemized accounting of deductions made from the security deposit and refund you the difference.
If the landlord does not do this, he is entitled to retain NONE of the security deposit (no matter how in the wrong you are). Furthermore, you may be entitled to receive twice the amount of the security deposit if the landlord withholds it in "bad faith."
What Can be Deducted from the Security Deposit
A landlord cannot simply deduct anything from the security deposit that he so desires. In fact, there are very specific rules under California law dictating what can and cannot be deducted from the deposit. First and foremost, the landlord can never charge for cleaning a unit that is as clean as it was when the tenant moved in. Routine cleaning, such as shampooing the carpets, cannot be charged to the tenant if the carpets are as clean as they were when the tenant moved in. Second, a landlord cannot charge a tenant for "normal wear and tear." This means that even if a wall, for example, is dirtier than it was when the tenant moved in because the couch was constantly rubbing against it, the landlord cannot charge to clean this, since this would be expected normal wear and tear. Third, all paint is presumed to have a normal life of 2 years. That is, if you lived in the rental unit for more than 2 years, the landlord cannot charge you for repainting the walls.
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