Q: What can I deduct from a tenant’s security deposit?
A: The refund of security deposits is the most common disagreement between landlords and tenants. Common problems to avoid are:
1. Deducting improper charges.
2. Deducting for items that existed prior to tenancy.
3. Charging for normal wear and tear.
4. Failing to pro-rate damage.
5. Failing to give deposit accounting to tenant within 21 days of move-out.
Only four items may be deducted from the security deposit:
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;
3. Cleaning of the premises on termination of the tenancy.
4. To repair or replace personal property, beyond normal wear and tear, if authorized
by the rental agreement (i.e. repair furniture in a furnished unit)
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 OK if repairs cannot be completed in 21 days, or services or materials are being done 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 or receipt of the invoices.
Q: Can I really be sued by a former tenant for not sending them an accounting of their security deposit?
A: Yes. You must provide a detailed accounting within 21 days of the tenant vacating the premises UNLESS you are refunding the full deposit. You need to provide copies of receipts with the accounting if the costs for cleaning and/or repairs total more than $125.00. Failure to provide the accounting may result in the court awarding the tenant the full security deposit plus twice that amount as a penalty if the court finds that you acted in bad faith.
Q: I don’t know where the tenant moved to after he vacated my unit so how can I send them the security deposit accounting?
A: All that you are required to do is to mail the accounting to the tenant’s last known address. Thus, if the tenant did not leave you with a new address then the accounting should be mailed to the address of the premises the tenant just vacated. Most tenants will have their mail forwarded by the post office to their new address. If the accounting comes back to you undeliverable, keep the undelivered document in the tenant’s file so that if the tenant ever tries to sue you in Small Claims court, you will have proof that you handled the accounting in good faith.
Attorney Franco Simone, of the Landlords Legal Center and has been doing evictions for 18 years. He is also an adjunct law professor at the University of San Diego. Mr. Simone’s office is open Monday- Friday from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Walk-in’s welcome -no appointment necessary. Tel: 619-235-6180, website: www.landlordslegalcenter.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.