California Security Deposits and Small Claims Court
Updated: Jun 5
Question: Can I take my landlord to California Small Claims Court because they didn't return my security deposit?
Short Answer: Yes.
Overview of California Security Deposit Law
We have tried to summarize frequently asked questions regarding California Security Deposit Law. The relevant law section is Ca. Civ. Code § 1950.5. If you don't see an answer to your question below, leave a comment or contact us.
How much can a landlord charge for a security deposit?
If the unit is unfurnished, a landlord can charge up to two months' rent.
If the unit is furnished, a landlord can charge up to three months' rent.
Can a landlord charge nonrefundable fees?
No. In California, a landlord cannot charge nonrefundable fees.
How long does a landlord have to return a security deposit?
Within 21 days after the tenant has moved out, a landlord must return the full security deposit or provide the tenant an itemized statement containing the security deposit deductions and the remainder of the security deposit.
If the deductions are more than $125, the landlord must include copies of receipts for the deductions. If the repairs are $125 or less and the landlord does not include copies of the receipts, the tenant can request copies of the receipts within 14 days of receiving the itemized statement from the landlord and the landlord has 14 days to provide the receipts.
What CAN be deducted from a security deposit?
The cost of fixing damage to the property caused by the tenant. This damage must be in excess of "ordinary wear and tear."
The cost of cleaning the unit to return the unit to the same level of cleanliness as it was when the tenant moved in.
Is a walkthrough of the unit required prior to moving out?
The landlord is required to notify the tenant in writing of the tenant's option to request an initial inspection before the tenant moves out.
The tenant has a right to be present at the inspection unless there isn't a mutually agreeable time for the tenant to be present during the landlord's inspection.
If the tenant requests an inspection, the landlord is required to make an initial inspection of the premises less than two weeks before the tenant moves out. At this time, the landlord can notify the tenant of any potential deductions to the security deposit. The tenant can then fix any damages to the unit before they move out (unless the lease agreement states that certain repairs cannot be done by the tenant).
What if the landlord is withholding my deposit in bad faith?
If the landlord is keeping your security deposit in "bad faith," you can request up to twice the amount of the security deposit. If a tenant claims "bad faith," it then becomes the landlord's duty to prove the reasonableness of the deductions on the security deposit.
What to do if Landlord improperly withholds your Security Deposit?
Write an Intent to Sue Letter
Intent to sue letters are also known as "demand letters." They can be very effective at outlining your rights and making sure someone takes you seriously.
Important points to include in the letter:
How much money you are owed.
Why you are owed money.
Your contact information.
Where to send payment.
Give them 14 days to respond.
State that if they don't respond, you intend to sue.
Sue your Landlord in California Small Claims Court
How much can you sue for? In California Small Claims Court, you can sue your landlord for up to $10,000 (unless you are a business, then you can sue for $5,000).
How much does it cost? It depends on the amount you are suing for but ranges between $30- $75 for the filing fee. If you win your lawsuit, you can ask the court to have your landlord reimburse you for the cost of suing.
How does filing a California Small Claims Court lawsuit work? Check out our How to File your California Small Claims Court Case article.
Why sue in California Small Claims court? California Small Claims Court provides a public forum for quick, efficient, and affordable resolution of disputes. In California, your landlord will not be allowed to have an attorney at the small claims hearing. This is done so that there is an even playing field.
If the case settles before the hearing do I still have to attend? No, if you don't show up to the hearing, the court will close the case.