Guide to Rental Security Deposits in California

Security deposits for rental units in California are heavily regulated. Here are the rules.

Is there a limit on how much security deposit I’m required to put down?

Yes, depending on whether the apartment is furnished or not.

  • Unfurnished apartment: security deposit cannot be more than 2 months rent.
  • Furnished apartment: security deposit cannot be more than 3 months rent.

Does the landlord need to return my security deposit when I move out?

Yes, but the landlord may keep part or all of the deposit for any of the following reasons:

  • You owe rent
  • You leave the rental less clean than when you moved in;
  • You have damaged the rental beyond normal wear and tear; or
  • You fail to restore personal property (such as keys or furniture), other than because of normal wear and tear.

Can the landlord deduct from a security deposit for “wear and tear”?

No. There is no exact rules on what is normal wear and tear, but it includes things like minor nicks or marks on the walls, floors and ceiling. Major holes or gouges are generally beyond normal wear and tear. The longer a tenant has lived in the unit, the more wear and tear would be expected, and thus the landlord would not be able to deduct for such things.

For example, if a tenant has lived in a unit for 3 years or more, it is generally understood that the walls need to be repainted. So the tenant would not be responsible for the cost of the repaint.

Can I require my landlord to do an initial inspection of the apartment before I move out, to tell me what I can clean/fix and avoid deductions from the deposit?

Yes.1Civil Code 1950.5

When does my landlord need to return my security deposit?

Within 21 days after you move out, the landlord must provide you either a full refund of the security deposit, or a partial refund along with an itemized list of deductions.2Civil Code Section 1950.5(g)(1)

The landlord may also provide this no earlier than 60 days before the end of a lease.

Further Resources

For a much more detailed guide to the California state laws for renters, see the publication by the Department of Consumer Affairs Tenants’ Guide.

For assistance with any of these issues, talk to a landlord tenant lawyer.

See more about Laws for Tenants in California.


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