Security Deposit Use Defined by
Law, But It's Up to Interpretation
Robert S. Griswold | Steven R. Kellman | Ted Smith
This column on issues confronting renters and landlords is written by Counselor of Real Estate and
Certified Property Manager Robert Griswold, host of Real
Estate Today! with Robert Griswold (10 a.m.
Saturdays on AM1130 - KSDO radio, or on the Internet
and by attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the
Tenants' Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a law
firm representing landlords.
QUESTION: My lease ends next week, and our landlord gave us a
written statement of what cleaning needs to be done before we vacate,
including prices for each item that is not properly completed. This
form indicates that any damages, such as counter tops and holes in the
walls, will be deducted from our security deposit. They also indicate
that we will be charged for any money over and above our deposit. Is
that legal? I don't see how they charge us over and above our security
deposit. Also, are nails pulled from the walls that are used to hang
pictures considered "holes in the wall?"
ANSWER: Griswold: Security deposits are covered by California Civil
Code Section 1950.5. It spells out exactly how the deposit must be
handled. In general terms, landlords are basically able to charge for
three types of things: unpaid rent; cleaning, if necessary; and
damages beyond ordinary wear and tear. Unfortunately, the definition
of items cleaning and wear and tear especially are in the eye of the
I cannot tell you whether your particular landlord will consider
small nail holes to be damage. I recommend having a pre move-out
walkthrough with your landlord to discuss any and all potential items.
Typically a reasonable number of small nail holes would be considered
normal wear and tear while large holes or dozens of holes would be
Your landlord does have the legal right to hold you responsible for
any amount regardless of your security deposit. As far as collecting
the amount, typically landlords use the small claims court. The
landlord must provide you with an accounting and/or a return of any
balance of your deposit within 21 days of your vacating the unit.
Coverage of legal fees
Will the liability coverage of a landlord's homeowner's insurance
typically cover the landlord's legal fees in the event a landlord/
tenant dispute is settled through mediation? In court?
Smith: Most landlords' liability policies are limited to perils and
misfortunes based on tortious acts only: fire, flood, negligence,
property damage, and personal injury. Generally speaking, they do not
extend to contract matters. A provision for attorney's fees is usually
limited to contract actions that contain an attorney's fees clause. In
these types of cases, the prevailing party may, within the court's
discretion, be entitled to attorney's fees.
I have been told by my landlord that my 30-day notice must commence
on my rental payment due date. I am not aware of such a rule. Please
inform me of the regulation, if any.
Kellman: A 30-day notice given by the landlord to either terminate
the tenancy or to change the terms of a tenancy may be given at any
time during the month and not necessarily the rental due date. This
rule also applies to tenants who wish to give their own 30-day notice
of vacating. Remember, these 30-day notice rules apply in month-to-
month tenancies. They do not apply in tenancies for longer terms (i.e.
six months, one year etc.) unless they are specifically allowed by the
Can you tell me where I would be able to obtain a generic rental
agreement if I want to rent a room in my home? Is there a location
where you can find blank real estate forms that you can customize for
your own needs? I want to be sure that I am legally covered as
Smith: Generic rental agreements abound and can be obtained from a
variety of good sources. The San Diego County Apartment Association
and San Diego Association of Realtors have standard month-to-month
rental agreements and leases. However, you have a special situation
here. There is a law in California that states that an owner of a home
who rents a single room within that home to a boarder may, after a
proper 30-day notice to vacate has expired, seek to have the boarder
removed by law enforcement without resorting to the formal unlawful
detainer lawsuit. Readers need to bear in mind that this exception is
for a single renter in one room within a property only. No other
landlord/tenant relationship allows for this special procedure.
YOU'RE A TENANT OR LANDLORD, the authors stand ready to
answer your questions in this column, although letters
cannot be answered individually. Write them at: Rental
Roundtable, Homes Section, San Diego Union-Tribune, P.O.
Box 120191, San Diego, CA, 92112-0191. Or you may e-mail
them at firstname.lastname@example.org
2001 Rental Roundtable
Robert Griswold and the Real Estate
Today! radio show strongly support the intent and the letter of all federal and
state fair housing laws. As a reminder to all owners and managers of real
estate, note that all real estate advertised is subject to the Federal Fair
Housing Act, which makes it illegal to advertise "any preference,
limitation, discrimination because of race, color, national origin or ancestry, religion, sex,
physical disability, or familial status, or intention to make any such
preference, limitation or discrimination." Additional state and/or local
fair housing laws may also apply. Be sure to inform all persons that all
dwellings offered or advertised are on an equal opportunity basis.
Revised and Updated -
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Robert S. Griswold, CRE, CPM, CCIM,
PCAM, GRI, ARM
Griswold Corporate Center
Griswold Real Estate Management, Inc.
5703 Oberlin Drive, Suite 300
San Diego, CA 92121-1743
Phone: (858) 597-6100
Fax: (858) 597-6161
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