Security Deposit Refund : Save $! Know Your Rights!

Even though we’re not all ready to be homeowners and landlords, it is important to know your rights! It goes without saying you should take dated photos of any property you move into. This ensures you have evidence of the condition upon move in. Surprisingly most people do not. Many times they don’t even take note of what the property looked like before they moved in and it can sometimes come to bite you in the butt with no recourse.

As a reminder, interview your landlord! If something seems fishy to begin with this may not be an ideal situation. Some of the owners I work with even provide references for you to call to confirm they are fair and someone you want to work with. The last thing you want to have to do is take this person to the legal system.

When it’s time to move out, there are a few things to know! Some may seem obvious but I hear about people being taken advantage of regularly.

Normal wear and tear is NORMAL, hence the title. Small scuffs, paint chipping etc. should not cost you from your deposit. However, you should plan to have the property cleaned and carpets cleaned to the standard when you moved in, which can still be a hefty amount. From my recent move out, carpet clean was $200 and the move out clean was $190, so not cheap! You may choose to have your landlord deal with this and have him take this out of your deposit or do it yourself depending on your lease terms.

Close Up Of Man Carrying Sofa As He Moves Into New Home

California law specifically allows the landlord to use a tenant’s security deposit for ONLY four purposes:

  1. For unpaid rent;
  2. For cleaning the rental unit when the tenant moves out, but only to make the unit as clean as it was when the tenant first moved in
  3. For repair of damages, other than normal wear and tear, caused by the tenant or the tenant’s guests
  4. If the lease allows it, for the cost of restoring or replacing furniture, furnishings, or other items of personal property (including keys), other than because of normal wear and tear

A landlord can withhold from the security deposit only those amounts that are reasonable. The security deposit cannot be used for repairing defects that existed in the unit before you moved in, for conditions caused by normal wear and tear during your tenancy or previous tenancies, or for cleaning a rental unit that is as clean as it was when you moved in.

21 calendar days or less after you move, your landlord must either:
Send you a full refund of your security deposit, or Mail or personally deliver to you an itemized statement that lists the amounts of any deductions from your security deposit and the reasons for the deductions, together with a refund of any amounts not deducted. Anything under $126 does not require receipts to be provided, however anything over this amount  does.

Wear and tear varies depending on how long you have lived in the unit. A one year lease then move out should have far less wear and tear then a home that has been lived for 5 years.


Reasonable cleaning costs would include the cost of such things as eliminating flea infestations left by the tenant’s animals, cleaning the oven, removal of debris, dust or scum, removing decals from walls, removing mildew in bathrooms, defrosting the refrigerator, or washing the kitchen floor.


Normal wear and tear includes simple wearing down of carpet and drapes because of normal use or aging, and includes moderate dirt or spotting. In contrast, large rips or permanent stains justify a deduction from the tenant’s security deposit for repairing the carpet or drapes, or replacing them if that is reasonably necessary.

One common method of calculating the deduction for replacement prorates the total cost of replacement so that the tenant pays only for the remaining useful life of the item that the tenant has damaged or destroyed. For example, suppose a tenant has damaged beyond repair an eight-year-old carpet that had a life expectancy of ten years, and that a replacement carpet of similar quality would cost $1,000. The landlord could properly charge only $200 for the two years’ worth of life (use) that would have remained if the tenant had not damaged the carpet.* Don’t let your landlord charge you the full amount.

* All useful life is different for different products so be sure to look into this.


Length of Tenancy
Less than 6 months : Full Cost
6 months to 1 year : 2/3 of Cost
1 year to 2 years : 1/3 of Cost
2 or more years : No Deduction

If you, the tenant has lived in the rental unit for two years or more, the law states that you should not be charged for any repainting costs, no matter how dirty the walls were. Generally, large marks or paint gouges are the tenant’s responsibility if they require plaster or more than just paint. Short term rentals will have much more of a cost.


This is where things get tricky. Anything beyond normal wear and tear is considered damage. This means anything you did not report to your landlord at the time of move in or there was a written repair requests during your lease term. Large holes, carpet damage, pet damage or stains are all in this grouping. Take care of your rental and hopefully this will not be an issue!

Hopefully this gives some clarity as to what your landlord expects. As mentioned before, I am a landlord myself and I follow these rules,. I also generally don’t charge anything additional even if I can to tenants who have been wonderful just because I had a good relationship with them.  Keep in good contact and be a good tenant and it can get you far!

If you have any questions, I am always happy to help! Contact me or 949-433-4729.

Additional Sources :

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.