Insecure about Security Deposits in San Diego CA?

Insecure about Security Deposits in San Diego CA.?


Legal definition: A security deposit is money a landlord collects from a tenant in case the tenant fails to pay rent or damages the unit. The number one issue in my experience is the interpretative difference between “normal wear and tear” and “damages”.

I can honestly say that 95% of tenant issues and law suits have to do with the returning of the security deposit. What are security deposits and why do so many problems arise when tenants move out?

It is easy to get into legal trouble over deposits because they are strictly regulated by state law and sometimes also by city ordinance. State law tells you how much you can collect, how you can utilize it and when to return it. (In CA it is 21 days after move-out). It is essential that if you own/manage property you know the laws in your state.

In an unfurnished property a deposit cannot exceed 2 month’s rent. In a furnished property you are allowed 3 month’s rent. (** note- the first month’s rent is NOT considered a deposit since it is due.**). In CA the security deposit does not have  to be returned with interest, or even placed in a separate account.

The following are considered damages:

Misuse of Appliances:I recently had a tenant move out who actually cleaned the unit quite nicely, but the problem was the 2 year old toilet: the tank was “cracked” about 8″ and someone had tried to glue it together. Normal wear and tear? I don’t know about you but I haven’t ever cracked a toilet tank. So I had to replace an almost new toilet plus the cost of installation.

Broken Windows/Screens:  I had one incident where the tenant’s cat had decided that the window screens would be a geat place to sharpen their claws and as a result the screens had to be replaced—not a big deal, but certainly not normal wear and tear. The tenant thought that a cat “normally” needs to sharpen their claws, so a screen is as good a place as any. 

Carpets: Another tenant who was a Psychic and had “seances” in her home, had spilled candle wax on a new wall-to-wall carpet. She said it was an accident, but the wax could not be removed and the carpet had to be replaced.

Light bulbs: Most tenants consider these the landlord’s expense. I beg to differ. Especially when you have recessed lighting and the halogen bulbs cost $3.00 each.

Holes in Plaster: Putting up curtain rods and hanging pictures are ok as long as you repair the damage. It may not seem like alot, but imagine a dozen nail holes over the course of 4-5 years. They really can destroy the drywall and texturing.

Plugged up Drains/Disposals: It is not normal wear and tear to find a washcloth in the bathroom drain or a beer can tab in the disposal . A tenant argued that the pipes were not hers and therefore the landlord had the responsibility to “clear” them.

The following are considered normal “wear and tear”:

-Scuff marks
on woodwork or walls

-Any breakdown of plumbing or appliances that is not due to tenant’s negligence

-Cleaning dirty carpets as long as all stains can be removed and were not present upon move-in.


Remember to always have a tenant fill out the “Move-In Checklist” 7 days after moving in, and returning it to you signed and dated. This document will keep you out of court.




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