CA Security Deposit Issue

13 Replies

Hello from California! My partner and I gave notice to vacate our rental home on September 21st which makes our lease end on October 21st. We did a walkthrough with our landlord and vacated the premises on October 9th - the landlord asked us to leave the keys in a specific area and they understood (and verified via text) that we were vacating on that day. We were under the impression we should have received both an itemized list of deductions and the remainder of our security deposit by October 31st (assuming that October 10th was the 1st full day after vacating). Are we wrong to expect the return of our full deposit by now? Or does the 21-day limit not start until the last day of our lease? 

We just want to make sure we have the right information before sending the letter. Thank you! 

21 Day limit starts from the day the lease ends

@Danielle P. , I'm concerned by a few things you said.

If you give notice on September 21, that doesn't mean your lease ends on October 21. It ends on October 31, which is the end of the lease term. You don't say if you are on an annual lease or are month to month. Either way, the 30 days notice should be interpreted as "at least 30 days". Legally, the lease term ends at the end of the month.

Also, text is not currently a legal method of notification in most if not all states. Just because they confirmed to you via text doesn't make the method of notice legal. 

I am not sure when the timeline starts, but if @Brian Garlington   is correct, your security deposit/itemized list of deductions wouldn't be due to you until November 21.

I think it stinks that a landlord would take so much time to get this to you - they should also be trying to re-rent the property so they should know how much they will be withholding if anything. But if the clock doesn't start until the end of the lease term, that would be October 31.

Make sure land lord has both of your mailing addresses and your new mail box has your name on it. 

As a Ca LL, I must correct a few points.

1. Assuming a MTM lease, 30 day notice can be given at any time during the month.  And the tenant is responsible to pay rent for those days.  If the possessions is given up earlier, then the 21 day time clock starts when the landlord gets possession.  But the tenant is still obligated to pay for those 30 days, even though he doesn't have possession.  So the 21 day clock starts on Oct 22, assuming landlord got possession.

2. If the lease is a fixed period, say 1 yr, then its provisions control the tenant notice period and an early lease termination obligates the tenant to pay for the lease remainder time.  But courts have ruled the landlord is obligated to mitigate lease ending damages.  Typically allowing 2 months rent as a lease ending damage maximum.  The 21 day time clock however started when the landlord got possession, either by declaring abandonment which take several weeks or going to court to get possession which can take months or just picking up the keys and documenting a defacto tenant move out/ abandonment.

So yes, the landlord was obligated to mail you a security deposit accounting to your last known address by the end of the 21st day.  If you failed to give him a forwarding address then he mailed it to the rental unit address and if you filed a USPS new address, it would have been sent to that address most likely taking much longer.  The landlords only obligation is to mail it 1st class postage, nothing more.  If you filed the USPS address too late than the accounting would be returned to the landlord, but he is under no obligation to re mail it or tell you it was returned as undelivered.

Thank you so much for your replies everyone! 

@Mindy Jensen  To clarify, we were on a month-to-month lease and we paid our rent up until the 21st.

@Deanna McCormick  Thanks! We were sure to include our new address in our 30-day move out letter.

Here's our Moveout Timeline:
09/21 - Gave 30 Days Notice
10/09 - Walkthrough Inspection | Surrendered keys & fully vacated (is this the day LL regains possession? They've been making renovations on the house since we gave the keys - idk if this matters)
10/10 - 1st day after vacating
10/21 - Lease Ends
10/31 - 21 full calendar days since vacating

I've searched the internet high and low and have found two interpretations to the CA 21-day rule. I've found support for the 21-day start on both sides: after surrendering the keys and also at the end of the lease. Here's something I found on

"Under California law, a landlord must return the renter's security deposit, with an itemized statement of deductions, within 21 days after the renter has surrendered the rental property to the landlord (that is, returned the keys and vacated the property)." - Link to full text.

We interpreted "returned the keys" literally - which is why we thought (perhaps wrongly) that, as of today, we've passed the 21 days. I understand this isn't the official law's verbiage (It actually says, "No later than 21 calendar days after the tenant has vacated the premises" - Link to CA Civil Code) Are we misunderstanding the language here? @Cam Coplin

Honestly, we've been concerned about this whole process regarding our security deposit because LL informed us that we'd be accountable for damages that occurred prior to our lease. When we first discussed our move-out on the phone, we were told there "was no security deposit left" due to previous tenant's damages (we learned of damages we didn't know existed at this time). You see, our whole situation is a bit messy - LL rented the house for the first time many years ago. Since the 1st lease and original security deposit was taken, many different tenants have moved in and out - each paying the outgoing roommate for their part of the security deposit so the LL wouldn't have to get involved and they'd always remain "whole" (we were instructed to do so by LL). LL has assumed that the original deposit covered all damages since the beginning of the original lease but how can this be legal? Can they deduct from our deposit to pay for previous damages? This doesn't seem right.

Anyway, at the walkthrough, LL said we were great tenants and they appreciated the upgrades we made to the house but that the damages would still need to be accounted for. I should also mention that LL never completed a formal walkthrough after any roommate moved in or out so she said there's no way to determine when the damages occurred (Even though she acknowledged that these damages happened before our lease started). In hindsight, I understand that we should have requested a walkthrough when the last roommate left before our new lease started to document other damages but this is where we're at now. 

We're only hoping that we're past the 21 day deadline so we can avoid having to deal with the past damages issue - we're not looking to take this any further or gain anything that's not rightfully ours. We have had a good relationship with LL's for quite some time but it's a bit hairy right now. We really appreciate your time and expertise. 

Oh wow. The plot thickens...

Did the LL perform a move-in checklist walkthrough with you? 

It looks like you're in California, which is not my market. I know CA is extremely tenant-friendly, so you've got that going for you.

I really don't like this swap security deposits with previous tenants business, but I don't know how a CA judge would handle this. It certainly doesn't sound legit. Were you taking over the lease, or simply moving in at the end of the other lease?

I'm also drawing a blank on my LA, CA peeps, so I'm going to tag @Chris Mason who is in CA and maybe he can help you out or recommend another CA landlord.

@Danielle P. , if you paid rent through the 21st, it sounds like they accept that the lease ends on the 21st. 

The wording on the NOLO page makes it sound like you are correct, the clock starts ticking the day you hand over keys and vacate, just make sure that is the current CA landlord tenant laws and not an outdated version.

The Landlord should absolutely have to get involved in the security deposit, but I just re-read this and see there were roommates. That certainly mucks up the waters.

I would suggest you contact the landlord via email or US Mail one last time to request the entire security deposit. Then speak to an attorney.

The landlord is still required to give you a written accounting of how the deposit was used - even if there is none left. He is bound by the 21 day timeline in the state law (I'm going by your notes, I don't know the CA state law) and can be held liable for treble (triple) damages, meaning that if he did not provide this to you, he could owe you three times the original deposit.

Speak to a real estate attorney about this.

@Mindy Jensen - I emailed the landlord and asked if there were any updates on our deposits and mentioned the 21 day rule. She replied and said she was still within the 21 day limit as she believes the time started on the day our lease ended and that we should expect an itemized list in a few days. I then replied citing the reference so she would know how we calculated the 21-days but haven't heard back yet. 

As far as roommates and leases go - with each change in tenancy, a fresh lease was written up with the correct tenant names - only the security deposit amounts were handled between roommates. We definitely have a lease that outlines our security deposit amount in whole. 

I'm researching attorneys now but I'm thinking I'll wait to see what she sends over in terms of deductions to see if we actually need to go that route. I'm afraid to send a "demand letter" until I'm sure that we're in the right. This is pretty overwhelming for me ha - I feel so out of my element. Thank you again! 

You have 3 issues:
1. when is the SD accounting due
2. how much rent is due
3. who's responsible for damages

It’s clear from the Ca civil code, 21 days starts from landlord getting possession. From your time line that should have started from 10/10 & ended 10/31.

Because you gave 30 days notice, you have to pay for 30 days. So you pay for 21 October days.

Damage responsibility in this case is also clear.
Each new roommate paid the leaving room mate for their part of the security deposit and assumed damage liability.
From the landlords point of view, the security deposit goes with the unit damage after it’s completely and finally vacant.
At least in Ca, the landlord is not required to do a damage walk through upon roommate changes. How would he know what damage costs would be without actually repairing, since repair cost estimates would be just that, estimates.
Each new roommate could have gotten repair estimates before they paid the leaving roommates. As you noted, you should have requested a formal walk thru before you signed the lease. And had the actual damages repaired. Or alternatively you could have done a walk through, both accepted a new condition list, repair estimates and SD accounting. Most likely you would have paid damage money and had to put down a new security deposit.

But that's not the situation now.
Since you occupied the unit as one of the roommates, then all the others have left, and the landlord and you rewrote a the lease with just you on it. Thus you have inherited the accumulated damages.
Now you are liable for the condition based on the original move-in condition of the original roommates.

@Cam Coplin  Luckily we have no disputes on rent - we paid the rent in full and owed nothing at the time we moved out.

In terms of the damages - It feels unfair for the LL to point out, as we're leaving, that a previous tenant broke a single pane of the double-paned glass on a sliding door in the detached garage. We didn't know there was any damage because the door still looks normal and great and opens and closes without issue. It wasn't until she pointed it out that we looked and saw there was indeed another pane of glass there at one time. With this logic, it seems she could say that there were numerous damages or missing items from the past that she expects us to pay for - I don't think she's doing that but it still doesn't feel right. Apparently she knew about this issue when it happened - Wouldn't it seem fair that it was her responsibility to collect monies from the responsible parties instead of passing it onto the next tenant? Especially without disclosing it first? 

When my boyfriend moved in,  LL drew up a new lease for him and the last roommate as they were the two living there. Later, when I moved in, she drew up another new lease that listed just me and my boyfriend. Does the roommate issue matter if we all received new leases (as opposed to subletting)?

PS - so grateful for this community, you guys are such a great help! 

This saga is why both the LL & the tenant need to use a move-in & move-out checklist (see BP Forms uploaded).  As a LL, I have the tenant fill out the move-in side, sign the form and take pictures.  On move-out we do it again, but this time it's my notes and we all sign.  The object is to remove the objective debating and just move on.

This is also why ALL TENANTS sign the lease.

@Jeff B. - In fairness, all tenants DID sign the leases as they were produced which is why I'm so frustrated about the past damages issue. I can understand where the logic comes from but it still feels unfair to point out known damages for the first time as we're moving out.

Originally posted by @Danielle P. :

@Jeff B. - In fairness, all tenants DID sign the leases as they were produced which is why I'm so frustrated about the past damages issue. I can understand where the logic comes from but it still feels unfair to point out known damages for the first time as we're moving out.

 Then the move-in walkthru was a farce and you should have noted your objections up front.  Sometimes being forthright pays off.

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