In our many years of managing landlord-tenant relationships at Bay Property Group, we can assure you than one of the first questions on an outgoing tenant’s mind — even before they ask themselves how to get a giant sofa out of that narrow doorway — is if and when they are going to get their security deposit back.
In the way of trivia, the #1 reason landlords are pulled into Small Claims Court is disagreements over security deposits, but these disputes can be anything but trivial.
The sequence of events, of course, is predictable. The tenant moves out after what they consider to be a reasonable effort to clean the rental unit and the landlord refuses to give all or part of the deposit, claiming that the apartment was left dirty or damaged. The outgoing resident asserts the landlord is illegally withholding the deposit and pursues legal action to recover their money.
Awareness is half the solution
A foundational belief we share at Bay Property Group is that good management requires an awareness of the needs and responsibilities of both owners and renters. One of the owner’s responsibilities — and a trait that will likely avoid disputes down the road — is a familiarity with the rules concerning security deposits.
California laws concerning security deposits are complicated
The process begins with the actual collection of the deposit. California law prescribes the maximum dollar amount owners can charge for both unfurnished and furnished dwellings, with additional increases allowed when the tenant has a waterbed.
Bay Area landlords must also adhere to unforgiving deadlines that dictate the number of days legally required to return the deposit or explain why the deposit is being held, whether in part or in whole.
This begs the question of how and when an owner ascertains the condition of the rental unit when the tenant is moving out. Within a “reasonable” time after the notice of termination of the tenancy, the tenant must receive written notice of their option to request a pre-move out inspection and the tenant’s right to be present at the inspection. These procedural requirements are best journeyed with an attorney.
What is normal wear and tear anyway?
Although the landlord can deduct for deficiencies not caused by normal wear and tear, this is an ambiguous term that Bay Area landlords often struggle to define. Our legal partners at Bornstein Law have put together a one-page “cheat sheet” for landlords to evaluate any damages to their rental units. The PDF provides a framework to distinguish neglect from blemishes that should be expected over the course of time. Download it here…
Documentation is key
After inspecting the premises of the outgoing tenant and documenting any abnormalities, the landlord has additional obligations to send the tenant a written itemization of any deductions for repairs, cleaning, and unpaid rent. In the eventuality of litigation, the legal burden to prove damage falls squarely on the owner.
We help you cover all your bases
Fortunately, rental property owners can rely on our seasoned team to establish and implement policies that protect your investment assets in San Francisco, Oakland, and throughout the Bay Area. Contact us for experience-driven guidance in operating a successful rental business.