California law specifies procedures that a landlord must follow to refund, use and account for a tenant’s security deposit. A landlord can only withhold from the security deposit only those amounts that are reasonably necessary for specified purposes, which are:

  • Unpaid rent
  • Cleaning of the rental unit, to make it as clean as it was when the tenant first moved in
  • Repair of damages that are beyond normal wear and tear, caused by either the tenant or a guest of the tenant
  • If allowed by the rental or leasing agreement, cost of restoring or replacing furniture beyond that of normal wear and tear

Move out Inspection Rights

Effective January 1, 2003, tenants have the right to request an inspection of the premises before moving out. This law give tenants an opportunity to correct any identified deficiencies to minimize deductions that landlords may deduct from the security deposit.

How Much Time Does a Landlord Have After a Tenant Moves Out to Refund the Security Deposit?

Under California law, a landlord has 21 calendar days after a tenant has moved out to either:

  • Send a full refund of the security deposit
  • Mail or personally deliver an itemized statement that lists deductions made from the security deposit, with a refund of any amounts not deducted

Can I Get a Copy of the Bills for Items Deducted?

California law requires a landlord to send the tenant copies of receipts for costs to clean or repair the rental unit, if the charges cost more than $126 and was deducted from the security deposit, so long as the tenant did not waive the right to receive copies.


For charges less than $126 or if the tenant has waived the right to receive copies of invoices, the landlord must still send an itemized statement of charges within 21 calendar days after the tenant has moved out, along with any refund of the security deposit. The tenant may also request copies of the documents from the landlord within 14 calendar days after the receipt of this statement.

What Can I Do about Improper Security Deposit Deductions?

If you are a tenant who believes that your landlord has made an improper deduction from your security deposit, you must notify the landlord immediately, and ask for a refund in the amount you are entitled to. Although you can make this request yourself, the assistance of a California lawyer can help facilitate your request, and can advise you if you decide to bring a case against your landlord for violating the security deposit laws