Question: When will my security deposit be refunded?
Answer: In California, landlords have 21 days from the time the lease terminates to either refund a tenant's security deposit or provide the tenant with an itemized list of cleaning and repair deductions that reduce the amount refunded. If the landlord withholds any portion of the security deposit, he or she must also prove that the amount withheld was reasonable based on the landlord's costs.
Unlike rent, which is owed to the landlord and becomes the landlord's property, security deposits remain the tenant's property unless the tenant fails to pay his or her rent or damages the property. Landlords are not allowed to require a nonrefundable security deposit and must hold the deposit for the tenant throughout the lease term.
In addition, California law does not give landlords complete discretion over how the security deposit may be used. Landlords may only keep funds from the security deposit to:
Before a tenant moves out, he or she has the right to request an initial move-out inspection. This inspection gives the tenant the opportunity to fix any deficiencies in the property (clean, repair, etc) before having the amount deducted from his or her security deposit.
California law includes many other provisions that clarify and limit these general security deposit rights, so please consult an attorney if you have further questions on this issue.
Question: What is the Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment?
Answer: The Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment is an implied covenant (promise) that is adopted into every residential and commercial lease contract. The covenant was adopted in California to ensure that tenants are not deprived of the full use and enjoyment of their rental property.
In many ways, the Implied Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment is similar to the Implied Warranty of Habitability found in residential leases. Both are implied into lease agreements (meaning they are contained in the lease even if they are not expressly stated) and both are designed to protect tenants from substantial interferences with their use of the leased premises. Moreover, both may apply to the same situation if the problem results from a physical defect in the property such as a leaky roof, faulty plumbing, or failed electricity.
In order for a tenant to be able to seek relief from his or her landlord under the Implied Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment, the interference must substantial affect a material part of the property. Mild annoyances are not sufficient. The interference must also be caused by the landlord or someone under the landlord’s control, including other tenants. Disturbances resulting from neighboring properties, such as a neighboring business not owned by the landlord, are not qualifying disturbances under the covenant.
Tenants suffering from disturbances may have a variety of options, including collecting damages, forcing the behavior to stop, or moving out if the interference is extreme and the landlord fails to take appropriate action.
If you are suffering from a disturbance, you should discuss the matter with your landlord to see if the problem can be remedied. Landlords are often not aware of problems and are generally willing to take corrective steps. If not, you may consider consulting an attorney or other legal services organization for help.
Question: My rental unit is suffering from a serious defect. Can I move out or force my landlord to fix the problem?
Answer: Residential landlords are required to keep their rental units habitable, which means the housing must be fit for human occupation. The housing must also substantially comply with state and local housing codes. Some defects that may render housing uninhabitable include housing that is not weatherproofed, or housing that lacks functioning plumbing, electricity and heat. Landlords, however, are not responsible for repairs that were caused by the tenant and/or his or her guests.
If a problem arises that makes housing uninhabitable, the tenant should notify his or her landlord by phone and in writing. The landlord then has a reasonable period of time to complete the repairs. Repairs completed within 30 days of receiving notification are generally considered reasonable, but serious repairs may need to be completed much faster.
Tenants have several options if a landlord refuses to make repairs within a reasonable time. These remedies may include:
Tenants must comply with specific legal requirements when pursuing the above remedies and should fully understand all of the associated risks. Please be sure to consult with an attorney before taking action.
Emil Dixon is the founder of the Davis Legal Center, a private law office located in Davis, California.