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Often times tenants come to us because their landlord has refused or neglected to return their security deposit which they are required to provide within 21 days of a tenant moving out per California security deposit law. If you are a tenant renting in California and have not received your security deposit back from your landlord you may want to send them a security deposit demand letter. Not only is it required that you demand payment before you sue in California small claims court, but if it works, you won’t have to escalate the situation further and you get your security deposit back!
When to send your landlord a security deposit demand letter in California
California security deposit law states that your landlord has 21 days from when you move out to return your security deposit. If your landlord has not returned your security deposit within 21 days of you moving out you may want to consider sending a demand letter after the 21 days are over.
Sample California Security Demand Letter
Below is a sample California security deposit demand letter, asking a landlord to return a security deposit.
Here are some important points we added in our demand letter for you to consider:
How much your security deposit was.
How your landlord can reach you and where they can send your security deposit.
The California security deposit code.
By when you expect a reply from the landlord.
A statement about your situation and any contact you have tried to have with landlord.
A statement that you intend to sue if you do not receive your security deposit back.
You may want to consider giving your landlord 14 days to respond to you. Include this in your California security deposit return letter, and state that if they do not respond within that time, you intend to sue them.
How to send a security deposit demand letter to your landlord
You can send your demand letter to your landlord via email or mail. For letters that you mail, consider the following:
Tracking. Make sure to track your demand letter. With tracking, you will know if the letter reached your landlord.
Signature Required. You do not necessarily need your landlord to sign for the letter. When you send a letter with your landlord’s signature requested, the postal carrier must hand deliver the letter. If your landlord is not home, it can be difficult for the post office to obtain the signature.
Overview of California Security Deposit Law
Before sending a security deposit demand letter to your landlord, make sure to understand what your rights are under California security deposit law.
California security deposit law states that your landlord has 21 days from when you move out to return your security deposit. Ca. Civ. Code § 1950.5(g)(1).
If a landlord doesn’t return your full security deposit, then they must provide an itemized statement with a list of security deposit deductions. Make sure you provide your landlord with your new address as they are required to mail your security deposit and the itemized statement to that new address. If you do not provide your new address your landlord is allowed to send you your security deposit and itemized statement to the unit you just moved out of. California Civil Code Section 1950.5(g)
If the repairs will take longer than 21 days, then the landlord has to make deductions to the security deposit based on a “good faith estimate.” Once the repairs are complete the landlord has 14 days to provide you with the final itemized statement and receipts or proof of charges. Ca. Civ. Code § 1950.5(g)(3).
What can my landlord legally deduct from my security deposit?
Here is a list of what your landlord can deduct from your California security deposit per the California deposit return law:
Damages to the unit you rented (but they cannot deduct for “normal wear and tear” or anything that was damaged before you moved in)
Cleaning the unit so that it was as clean as it was when you moved in
What if the landlord is withholding my deposit in bad faith?
In California, if your landlord is keeping your security deposit in "bad faith," you can request up to twice the amount of the security deposit (plus your actual security deposit) in California small claims court. If you claim "bad faith," it then becomes your landlord's duty to prove the reasonableness of the deductions on the security deposit. California Civil Code Section 1950.5(l).
We wrote a whole article about California security deposit laws. Learn more here.
Next steps after sending a security deposit demand letter
You sent your landlord a letter requesting your security deposit back but they haven’t answered you. Now what?
If you are unable to settle your dispute with your landlord out of court, you may want to consider taking your landlord to California small claims over your security deposit. California small claims is an affordable and efficient way for tenants to resolve disputes against landlords. For example, if you want a landlord to return your security deposit and the landlord refuses to return it you can sue for the security deposit in California small claims court. Small claims judges tend to be very experienced with California rental security deposit law as security deposit cases are very common in small claims.
Chief Legal Architect & Co-Founder @ People Clerk. Camila holds a juris doctor degree and is a certified mediator. Her passion is breaking down complicated legal processes so that people without an attorney can get justice.