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.
Emil Dixon is the founder of the Davis Legal Center, a private law office located in Davis, California.