Below are questions asked by rental property owners regarding California property management, followed by answers provided by the law firm of Simone and Blevins.
Q: I rented my condo in La Mesa to a tenant. I recently remodeled the kitchen and bathrooms and want to make sure I protect my investment. Can I charge the tenants two times the rent as a security deposit?
A: Yes, you can charge a security deposit of two times the monthly rent for unfurnished units or three times the monthly rent for furnished units. Please keep in mind, if your security deposit for an unfurnished unit is already two times the rent, you cannot require the tenant to pay the last month’s rent upon move-in since collecting last month’s rent is seen as an additional security deposit.
Q: I rented my single family home in Imperial Beach to a couple five years ago. When I rented the property, I only required a $750.00 security deposit. I recently replaced the flooring and kitchen cabinets in the home. Is it possible to increase the tenant’s security deposit?
A: It depends. If you are in a fixed-term lease, you must either wait until the tenancy is on a month-to-month or your tenant must mutually agree to the increase by signing an addendum to the lease. During a month-to-month tenancy, you can increase a security deposit by serving the tenant with a 30 day notice of change in terms of tenancy. After the 30 day notice expires, if the tenant does not pay the increase in deposit, you can serve the tenant a Notice to Perform Covenant or Quit.
Q: A tenant who rented a house from me in El Cajon just moved out. He left behind some broken window screens, a sofa, his bike and stained carpets. What am I supposed to do with his security deposit?
A: You will need to itemize the security deposit within 21 days of the date the tenant vacated. The security deposit can be applied to the following: 1.) Unpaid rent; 2) Repair of damages to the premises, exclusive of ordinary wear and tear, caused by the tenant or the tenant’s guest or licensee; and 3) Cleaning of the premises on termination of the tenancy. The security deposit may also be applied to the cost of restoring or replacing furniture, furnishings, or other items of personal property (including keys), exclusive of normal wear and tear, if your rental agreement specifically permits this.
Q: I have been a landlord for over 40 years. Over the years, I have had numerous issues with the return of the security deposit and no longer want to deal with it. Can I start charging my tenants a non-refundable security deposit?
A: No, security deposits are always refundable. The only way to avoid itemizing the security deposit is if you do not require a deposit. I recommend always requiring a security deposit as it is an incentive for your tenant to keep the property in good and clean condition. If you want to
avoid issues with the security deposit at the end of the tenancy, you can always return the deposit in full to the tenant within 21 days of the date they vacated.
Q: My tenant destroyed the property when they left and it is going to take longer than 21 days to make all the necessary repairs. How can I do an accounting of the deposit when I don’t know how much it is all going to cost yet?
A: A “good faith” estimate is acceptable if repairs cannot be completed in 21 days, or services or materials are being provided by a vendor and the Landlord will not have the invoices within 21 days. You must, however, give a final accounting within 14 days of completion of repairs and receipt of invoices. If there is a refund, it should be returned within this time frame as well.
Q: I don’t know where my former tenants moved after vacating my property. Where do I send them the security deposit itemization and what happens if I don’t send the itemization on time?
A: If your tenant does not provide you a forwarding address, then you are required to mail the security deposit itemization to the tenant’s last known address via regular mail. So you should send the security deposit itemization to your property the tenants just vacated. Most tenants will have their mail forwarded by the post office to their new address. If the accounting comes back to you as undeliverable, keep the undelivered document in the tenant’s file so that if the tenant ever tries to sue in Small Claims court, you will have proof that you handled the accounting in “good faith.” If you do not send out the security deposit itemization within 21 days, you may have to return the entire security deposit and are subject to “treble damages,” which may be more than two times the security deposit.
Attorney Franco Simone, of Simone & Blevins, has been doing evictions for over 28 years. He is also an adjunct law professor at the University of San Diego. Mr. Simone’s office is open Monday – Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Tel: 619-235-6180, website: www.landlordslegalcenter.com or email [email protected].