When security deposit disputes occur between landlords and renters, there are laws in place to ensure the money is handled properly. If your landlord does not return your security deposit, misuses it or fails to follow the proper inspection steps, you do have recourse in filing a lawsuit—so long as you fulfilled your tenant expectations correctly.
DID YOUR LANDLORD FAIL TO PERFORM A MOVE-IN/MOVE-OUT INSPECTION?
Civil Code 1950.5 specifically requires a "pre-departure inspection" by the landlord in order to give a tenant the chance to remedy any known or visible defects that may cause deductions from the security deposit.
DID YOUR LANDLORD TELL YOU WHY YOUR SECURITY DEPOSIT WAS WITHHELD?
In order to legally take a deposit from a tenant, the landlord must provide a written checklist that details the conditions of the unit at the beginning of the tenancy. The checklist must be signed by both the landlord and tenant. It must contain a detailed list of the conditions of the property, including the structural components, flooring, windows, and all appliances supplied by the landlord.
The burden of compliance rests with the landlord. A landlord is responsible for proving that all all of the correct steps were followed if a deposit is withheld. If the landlord fails to follow the law and improperly withholds the deposit, the tenant is entitled to three times the amount improperly withheld plus all of the tenant's attorney fees.
There are some restrictions on the tenant as well. Typically, the tenant must not have abandoned the apartment without notice. If the tenant terminates a lease early, the tenant still needs to give the landlord notice, turn in the keys, and try to arrange a move-out inspection. The tenant must provide the landlord with an accurate contact phone number, email, and forwarding address. If the landlord can show that an attempt at contact was made and that the tenant did not provide that contact information, then the landlord may not be liable for triple damages and attorney fees. Finally, the tenant must have proof that they paid a security deposit. A signed lease agreement indicating that a deposit was paid suffices.
If you decide to take action against your former landlord to get your security back, do so correctly, with adequate documentation and knowledge of your state laws and tenants rights.
THREE QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF:
Have you moved out of the apartment?
Do you have a copy of your lease?
Do you have proof you paid the last three months of rent?