How Long Does A California Landlord Have To Return A Deposit?

California landlords must return any remaining balance of residential security deposits to their tenants no later than twenty-one calendar days (i.e., three weeks) after the tenant moves out of the rental unit.  For example, if a California tenant moves out on November 30, the landlord must return the balance, if any, of the tenant’s security deposit by December 21—three weeks from the November 30 move out date.

California’s security deposit law does not require a residential landlord to return the entire security deposit if the landlord has lawfully applied a portion of the security deposit to any balance such as nonpayment of rent.  However, since reasonable parties can disagree about whether a landlord may lawfully apply part of a tenant’s security deposit under a given circumstance, California Civil Code Section 1950.5(g)(1) sets forth a very specific procedure.

Under California’s security deposit law, after twenty-days, a landlord must deliver to the tenant personally, by first-class mail, or by email (if the tenant and landlord have both agreed to use email):

  • A copy of an itemized statement explaining the reason for and amount of the deposit, (2) when the security deposit was received, (3) the amount of the security deposit that is remaining and that the landlord will be returning to the tenant; and
  • Any remaining portion of the security deposit.

See Cal. Civ. Code Section 1950.5(g)(1).

The itemized statement must also include copies of any documents that show what the landlord has deducted from the security deposit.  It must show any charges to repair or clean the rental unit.  See § 1950.5(g)(2).

If the landlord or landlord’s employee did the repair and cleaning themselves, the itemized statement must also describe the work performed, the time spent, and the “reasonable” hourly rate charged by the landlord.  See § 1950.5(g)(2)(A).

If the landlord or landlord’s employee did not do the work, the landlord must provide a copy of the bill, invoice, or receipt from whoever did the work.  See § 1950.5(g)(2)(B).  These provisions require the landlord to inform the tenant how much the work performed by the landlord truly cost, and whether the deduction from the security deposit was reasonable.

If the landlord spent any of the deposit on materials or supplies, the landlord must provide a copy of the bill, invoice, or receipt for any materials paid with the security deposit.  See § 1950.5(g)(2)(C).

The landlord and the tenant can agree as to the method by which the landlord will return any balance of the security deposit to the tenant.  This can be done by check or by direct deposit/electronic bank transfer/e-check.  In either case, the tenant must provide the landlord with either a valid mailing address following the termination of the tenancy, or bank information for the direct deposit/electronic bank transfer/e-check.  If the tenant does not provide the landlord with a new mailing address, the landlord must use the address of the rental unit the tenant just moved out of.  See § 1950.5(g)(6).

To ensure both that the landlord has the tenant’s information and that the landlord cannot later claim the tenant failed to provide the required information for the return of a security deposit, it is always best to communicate information necessary for the return of a security deposit to a landlord in writing, e.g., by letter (with a photocopy kept by the tenant), facsimile, email, or text.

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