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California security deposit laws

Last updated: Apr 29, 2015

What’s the deal with security deposit law in California?

In the state of California, law states that landlords or property manages are allowed to charge no more than two months’ rent for an unfurnished apartment.

If the lease agreement includes the property itself as well as a lounge chair, a kitchen table or other furniture, the security deposit may be the equivalent of three months’ rent.

And, since California is the birthplace of the waterbed, (which can weigh more than 1,000 lbs), an additional one-half month’s rent can be charged if the renter has one.

Do I need to charge a security deposit in California?

It’s a good idea. Imagine if your tenant moves out and you discover that they’ve wallpapered the kitchen cabinets? Without a security deposit, you’d need to pay out of pocket to have them fixed.

That might sound like a crazy example, but that’s exactly what the actor Val Kilmer did to his rental property in Malibu. Thankfully, the landlord had required a security deposit (a whopping $23,500), and was able to use some of that money to cover the cost of repairs.

After he moved, Kilmer later told a judge, he expected his full deposit and a “Thank You,” note for improving the property. What he got instead was $16,000 and an itemized list of the work that needed to be done to return the cabinets and painted fireplace to their original conditions. Feeling he deserved the rest of his money, Kilmer took his case to court.

The landlord, of course, had stipulated in the lease that changes could not be made without their prior approval. Because of this, the judge agreed that it was fair that Kilmer’s deposit be used to pay for the repairs – about $5,000 worth of work.

Security deposits have their limits, of course, so read on to learn more about the specifics of collecting, using, and returning security deposits to tenants.

What are the limits on rental deposits in California?

  • For unfurnished apartments, security deposits cannot exceed two months’ rent
  • For furnished apartments, three months’ rent is the maximum allowed deposit
  • An additional half month’s rent can be requested if the tenant has a waterbed

For example: for an unfurnished two-bedroom apartment in San Diego that rents for $2,000 a month, tenants shouldn’t be expected to pay more than $4,000 for their security deposit. Unless, of course, they have a waterbed, and then they’ll pay $5,000.

Do landlords need to provide a receipt for the security deposit?

The state of California does not require a receipt that notifies tenants that a security deposit was received. For your records, however, it may be a good idea. Be sure to include the amount of the deposit and the date it was received.

This information may also be included in the lease.

What can security deposit money be used for?

California law allows landlords to use a renter’s security deposit to cover unpaid rent; clean the rental unit after the tenant moves out; repair damages beyond normal wear and tear; the cost restoring or replacing furnishings, personal property, or keys (if the lease includes theses items).

What doesn’t the security deposit cover?

Landlords and property managers in the state of California cannot use the security deposit to repair damages that were there before the tenants moved in, conditions caused by normal wear and tear, or for cleaning a unit beyond how clean it was when the renters moved in.

What is the deadline to return a security deposit in California?

A renter is owed their security deposit no more than 21 days after they’ve returned their keys and vacated the property.

Do landlords in California need to notify renters of security deposit money used to fix damages?


Advanced notice is required before using any security deposit money to repair damages to the property.

Following the repairs, renters are entitled to an itemized list of repairs within 21 days of vacating the property. Paperwork may vary depending on situation, but may include:

  • A receipt for work done by the landlord or their employees, citing the hourly rate and time spent on the repairs
  • An invoice or receipt for work done by a contractor. It should include the name of the business, their address, and telephone number.
  • An itemized list of materials purchased to make the repairs that includes the price of the item.
  • If the work is not yet complete, a good faith estimate of charges including the cost of materials and labor. A correct, itemized statement is due within 14 calendar days of the repairs being completed, and a refund if applicable.

If the cleaning or repairs cost less than $126, the landlord is not required to provide good faith documentation or receipts to the tenant. Tenants still have a right to this information if requested.

Can California tenants waive any of the above processes?

Yes. If tenants choose to, they can waive their right to receive receipts or invoices for repairs or cleaning.

In such a case, the landlord is required to provide a waiver no earlier than 60 days prior to the move out date.

Even if initially waived, tenants can request receipts and an itemized list of repairs at a later date.

Where can I learn more about California Security Deposit laws?

If you have questions about security deposit laws in California or think you need legal guidance, please contact a lawyer.


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Disclaimer: The materials on this database provide general information related to the law and are intended to provide a layman’s summary of the law. The information provided does not constitute legal advice and the manager of this database is not a law firm. These materials are intended, but cannot be promised or guaranteed to be current, complete or up-to-date. All of the information offered are intended for general informational purposes only. You should not act or rely on any of the information contained on this database without first seeking the advice of a qualified attorney.

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