Q. My tenant paid a security deposit of $2,120 for their one-year lease. At the end of the lease I deducted $650 for cleaning and damages. I sent the Security Deposit Itemization by certified mail to make sure my tenants received it and included a check for the remaining sum. My tenant is suing me in Small Claims Court for the security deposit. Are there any issues with my deductions or how I mailed the Security Deposit Itemization?
A. Yes, there are potential issues with your Security Deposit Itemization and sending the Security Deposit Itemization by certified mail. First, to properly send a Security Deposit Itemization and return any unused portion, the landlord must comply with California Civil Code §1950.5.
You may only deduct from the security deposit for unpaid rent, cleaning and damages beyond normal wear and tear. The proper way to send the Security Deposit Itemization is by regular US mail to the tenant’s last known address, within 21 days of the tenant vacating your property. Additionally, you may want to attempt to settle the matter directly with your tenant prior to the small claims trial. This settlement will take the risk out of going to court and losing due to sending the Security Deposit Itemization incorrectly. If you choose to go to court, then you will need to prepare your defense. This may include gathering items such as any photographs taken of the premises after the tenant vacated, copy of lease/rental agreement, move-in/move-out checklist, copies of all receipts and invoices that support your deductions from the security deposit and having witnesses to the damages to appear in court to testify.
Q. I forgot to send the Security Deposit Itemization within 21 days of the tenant vacating. Can the tenant sue me for more than just the security deposit amount?
A. Yes, if the security deposit is mishandled, then the tenant may be entitled to up to three times the security deposit. However, the total amount cannot exceed $10,000 since this is the limit in small claims court. To request sums more than $10,000, the tenant would have to sue you in Superior Court.
Q. I am a landlord and my tenants vacated two weeks ago. There is so much damage to the property that I will not be able to produce a full Security Deposit Itemization and receipts within 21 days of the tenant vacating. Can I wait until the repairs are done to send the Security Deposit Itemization? What can I do to collect money for all of the damages?
A. If there is an extensive amount of damage to the unit that exceeds normal wear and tear, then the landlord may send an estimated Security Deposit Itemization within 21 days of the tenant vacating. However, the landlord must send an updated Security Deposit Itemization with all receipts and invoices supporting the costs within 14 days of sending the estimated Security Deposit Itemization. If the tenant still owes you money after applying the security deposit, you have the option of filing a claim in small claims court of up to $10,000, for a natural person, against the tenant. You will need to prove the extent of the damages and provide evidence to the judge including, photos, a copy of the lease/rental agreement, move-in/move-out checklist, and copies of all receipts and invoices. You will need to organize these items into a packet for yourself, the tenant, and the judge. Additionally, you may submit a short trial brief to the judge to lay out your position and damages.
Q. I followed California Civil Code §1950.5 and sent a Security Deposit Itemization with receipts to my tenant within 21 Days of them vacating. My tenant sued me in small claims court for twice their security deposit but they owe me for over $10,000 worth of damages and unpaid rent. What can I do to get the judge to award me the money the tenant owes?
A. You will need to file a counter-claim for up to $10,000. The judge may deny the tenants claim for money, but if you do not file a counter-claim, then the judge will only rule on the amount requested by the tenant. In order to receive a money judgment from the court, you must demand the amount in your small claims counter-claim and then present your case to the judge. If you win at your small claims trial, then the judge may award you a judgment. The judge will only award you judgment if you file a claim for such sum.
Q. I went to small claims court with my tenant because they sued me for the security deposit. The judge ruled that I did not have enough evidence or receipts and awarded the tenant the full security deposit plus attorney’s fees. I have the receipts at home and I provided them to the tenant. Can I appeal this case? If so, how long do I have to appeal it?
A. You may appeal your small claims case within 30 days after receiving notice of entry of judgment mailed by the court clerk. The trial will be heard again without consideration of the previous ruling. You and your tenant may also have attorneys represent you in an appeal. If you do seek an attorney, then the attorney may also suggest trying to settle the small claims action before having to go to trial. This will take the risk out of having to go to trial again and will resolve your small claims matter.
Attorney Franco Simone, of the Landlords Legal Center and has been doing evictions for 20 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]