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How To Get my Security Deposit Back in San Francisco, CA?

Get Your Security Deposit Back (For Tenants)

State law governs security deposits, not the Rent Ordinance. A landlord may generally collect up to the equivalent of two months’ rent for deposits on unfurnished apartments and up to three months’ rent for deposits on furnished apartments under Section 1950.5 of the California Civil Code. If you are a tenant and wonder how to get the security deposit back in San Francisco, CA, a trusted real estate lawyer is here to guide you.

This article will provide a guide on security deposits in California, including:

  • When a landlord must return a security deposit
  • What can tenants do when the landlord doesn’t return their security deposit?
  • How to file a Security Deposit Lawsuit in Small Claims Court in California?

The landlord is required by state law to refund deposits within 21 days of the tenant’s departure from the unit. If this won’t happen as per the timeline required by the law, our legal team at Steven Adair MacDonald & Partners, P.C. are committed to helping you recover money and fight for your rights.  Learn more about your tenant rights. Call us now! 

What is Security Deposit?

A security deposit is money that a landlord holds, usually one to two months’ rent, in case the tenant causes damage to the rental unit or breaks the lease and fails to pay rent. When the tenant vacates, the landlord must return the deposit but may retain some of it to cover certain expenses, such as damage to the rental unit. 

The majority of landlords demand a security deposit from tenants. Following the tenant’s notice, the landlord must inform the tenant in writing that they have the right to request a pre-inspection. This allows the tenant to repair items before moving out and receive their security deposit back.

How Soon Must a Landlord Return a Security Deposit?

A landlord has 21 days after a tenant moves out to either: 

  • Give back the entire security deposit
  • Give back the security deposit less any deductions, as well as an itemized statement. What was deducted, and why was it listed on the itemized statement?

If the deductions exceed $125.00, the landlord must include a copy of any invoices or receipts along with the specified statement. If the landlord or an employee performed the labor, they must include a description of the labor, the time it took, and the hourly rate they charged. Any fees charged must be reasonable.

What if the Cleaning Labor or Repairs isn’t Completed within 21 Days?

If the repairs are not completed within 21 days for any reason, the landlord may send the tenant a reasonable (good faith) repair costs estimate. The landlord must then send the tenant the receipts within 14 days of the repairs being completed.

What Can Tenants Do When The Landlord Doesn’t Return Their Security Deposit?

If a landlord fails to return a security deposit, a tenant has the following options:

  1. Send a Letter to the Landlord and Try to Come to an Agreement.

If a landlord does not return the entire security deposit within 21 days or a tenant does not agree with the deductions, a tenant can write a letter requesting that the security deposit be returned. A copy of the letter should be kept by the tenant for their records.

  1. Charge in Small Claims Court (or Civil Court).

If the tenant and landlord cannot reach an agreement, the tenant may take to court the landlord for the return of the security deposit. They have the right to sue for both.

  • The deposit amount
  • Damages worth twice the amount of the security deposit

If the landlord withheld the deposit in bad faith, the judge might award the tenant these additional damages. A tenant can only sue in small claims court for up to $10,000. Fighting for your tenant rights can be scary. Don’t do it alone; contact Steven Adair MacDonald & Partners, P.C. now!

How To File a Security Deposit Lawsuit in Small Claims Court in California?

Here’s a rundown of the process for filing a security deposit lawsuit in California.

  1. Know the Regulations for Giving Back Deposits in California

Before you go to court, ensure you understand the related state security deposit regulations regarding how and when landlords must give back deposits. In California, for example, a landlord has 21 days to itemize and give back your deposit. Landlords must give tenants advance notification of anticipated deductions, which is typically done during a pre-vacating inspection (the final inspection occurs when the tenant moves out). The inventory should be in writing and should declare how the deposit was applied toward back rent, damage repair and cleaning costs, and the remaining balance in the deposit.

  1. Request about attending the Final Inspection of the Landlord

Following your departure, your landlord will examine the property to determine what damage alterations and cleaning is required. The majority of landlords do this all themselves and will just send you an itemized statement with the deposit’s remaining balance. If your landlord used a Landlord-Tenant Checklist or inventory when you moved in, you should be able to compare rental conditions at the pre-and post-occupancy.

Furthermore, it is a wise move to take pictures or record a video of the rented unit before leaving so you have visual evidence of its condition to show in court. You should have done this before you transfer in so you get pre and post-occupancy photos.

  1. Ask For Your Deposit in Writing

If your landlord has not returned your deposit or issued a detailed list of deductions by the deadline, or if he/she imposed charges that you do not think are reasonable, request a documented refund of your deposit. The important details, your legal rights, what you want, and your intention to charge in small claims court, if necessary, must all be stated in your message. This type of demand letter is required for various reasons.

  1. Suing Your Landlord in California Small Claims Court

You can sue your landlord for a security deposit amount that was incorrectly withheld up to the state limit. In California Small Claims Court, you can sue for a maximum of $10,000.

Collating Proof for Court

Aside from understanding your state’s security deposit rules, the tangible proof is critical to make your small claims case successful. The following are the kinds of proof you should bring to court.

  • a detailed statement of the amount you believe your landlord owes you, as well as any penalties or other fees, such as deposit interest  (if a requisite by your city or state)
  • a demand letter copy and any other correspondence regarding the deposit with your landlord
  • Signed lease or rental agreement duplicate, as well as any written guidance your landlord gave on deposits and cleaning, including state-mandated security deposit disclosures
  • a duplicate of the security deposit law in your state (and any local laws)
  • security deposit receipts and any cleaning fees paid to your landlord
  • any inventory, photos, or videos of the unit rented that show the property condition from your pre and post tenancy
  • witness/witnesses who are familiar with your rental unit and can attest that you left it clean and in good condition, and
  • anything else related to your case.

Preparing and Presenting Your Case in Court

Small claims courts are informal settings, but you might want to watch a few cases prior to your court date to get a sense of what to anticipate. In addition, many court websites offer useful advice, and some courts even offer legal consultation programs to assist you in properly preparing your case. The trial will consist of the landlord and tenant explaining their side of the argument and presenting any evidence or witnesses. 

Explain and document your case thoroughly, but keep it brief and to the point. Describe your loss and the amount you are seeking. Then retrace and share your side in chronological order, presenting the proof you’ve gathered to back up your case.

If you brought witnesses, identify them in court, sum up the testimony you anticipate they will give, and request permission to call them. Your affidavit should take no more than 15 minutes, and the judge will either announce the decision in the courtroom or mail it to you within a few days.

If you disagree with the court’s decision, you may be able to appeal it.

Call our San Francisco CA Real Estate Attorney Now!

When you sign a lease to rent an apartment or a property, the landlord will typically require you to put down a security deposit. The landlord wants to make certain that they can hold you accountable for any damage you cause to the property without having to pursue you for it. The problem arises as some landlords may make you chase them down to get your deposit back or may withhold a portion of your deposit for what appears to be fraudulent reasons.

If you are wondering how to get your tenant security deposit back in San Francisco CA, it is best to seek legal advice from Steven Adair MacDonald & Partners, P.C. Our California real estate lawyer can help you by preparing the documents, presenting arguments, collating evidence and represent you in court. Let’s discuss your case today!

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