Security Deposit Blues
September 1, 2010 12:11 PM   Subscribe

A question about our security deposit in the state of California.

We recently discovered that we were required by law to have been advised of our right to a “preliminary inspection” to be held within the last two weeks of our tenancy, so that we would have had the option to make any repairs and do whatever cleaning may have been required, to avoid a security deposit deduction. We didn't receive this. We have since moved out, and the landlord is trying to charge for something that we think is inappropriate, beyond the amount of our initial deposit. Can we use the fact that he didn't follow the law as leverage in our discussion with him? For example, in CA, if a landlord does not return the security deposit, if owed, within 21 days, they are liable for up to two times the deposit. Would anything similar be the case with the inspection notice? Does he forfeit anything in his claim?
posted by SpacemanStix to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Perhaps someone has more specific knowledge, but my impression of the right to a preliminary inspection hangs on you requesting one. You may be SOL if that's what's happened here.

As for the deposit in general, the law says they have to get your deposit with any accounting for subtractions to you within that time period full stop. If they want to charge you above and beyond your deposit, that's a separate matter AFIAK. That is, they can't delay on the return/account/21 days thing because "oh, we were waiting to hear back from you" or something. 21 days or nothing at all. If they were on the up and up they would have e.g. sent you an accounting sheet with $0 of your deposit remaining, plus and invoice or something for the extra charges.
posted by rhizome at 12:16 PM on September 1, 2010

Response by poster: A preliminary inspection hangs on you requesting one.

This isn't the case in California, I do know. From the Department of Consumer Affairs website for California:

The landlord must give the tenant written notice of the tenant's right to request an initial inspection of the rental and to be present during the inspection. The landlord must give this notice to the tenant a "reasonable time" after either the landlord or the tenant has given the other written notice of intent to terminate (end) the tenancy (see Moving Out). If the tenant has a lease, the landlord must give the tenant this notice a "reasonable time" before the lease ends. If the tenant does not request an initial inspection, the landlord does not have any other duties with respect to the initial inspection.

It goes on to say that the inspection, if then requested, would happen during the last two weeks of the tenancy. I'm just not sure how this carries over, in terms of the deposit, if he fails to do this.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:23 PM on September 1, 2010

Oh, I see. It's not that you didn't have an inspection, it's that he didn't notify you the way he should have. The law appears to lump the PMI offer with itemizing deductions and the whole 21 days thing, so I'm inclined to say that the penalty for them not having offered PMI is to forfeit the deposit the same as they would if they didn't supply receipts for the work or returned your money/deduction list within the 21 days.

I'd fill out he small-claims form, don't file it, and bide your time until the 21 days are up (I'm assuming you're just moving out now). If the landlord fails on any of these points, then you file.
posted by rhizome at 12:43 PM on September 1, 2010

Response by poster: We are past the 21 days, as we moved some weeks ago. However, due to mail forwarding, we didn't get the request until weeks later. It was postmarked within the 21 days. We returned a letter within two days indicating that we feel that the charge was inappropriate, and that he failed to meet his legal obligation of the notification.

Now that you mention it, there were no receipts provided either, nor was there an itemization of hourly rate, per the legal code.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:00 PM on September 1, 2010

SpacemanStix, I know you think you might have a little something to back you up, and I am usually very pro-tenant here in AskMe.... but I need to know what this is about repair-wise.

-I'm trying to understand what repair could be so major it eats up your entire deposit AND you felt surprised when notified the repair was required.

-Is your former landlord a small mom & pop, or a corporation? Were they professional with you in other areas?

More info, please?
posted by jbenben at 1:16 PM on September 1, 2010

Why wouldn't you have done the cleaning and repairs anyway to get your initial deposit back? I'm confused here.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:55 PM on September 1, 2010

Response by poster: jbenben, I'm not too interested in getting into the specifics, but he's trying to charge us for something that in California, landlords are required to pick up the tab for after a certain number of years. He's not a corporation, and we have had issues with him before when he bought the apartment complex and tried to raise the rent too quickly and too soon, based on California law. I'm not interested in trying to "get him," as much as I want to sleep better at night knowing that his legal grounds for pushing this our direction might be limited. Getting my deposit back is a secondary question.

Ideefixe, I didn't say that was the case. He has a history of not returning the deposit, even when cleaning and repairs have been completed. If the inspection had been granted, I would have been able to address this with him before hand. The law is designed to keep landlords from dropping surprise charges on tenants after the fact.
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:13 PM on September 1, 2010

"...I want to sleep better at night knowing that his legal grounds for pushing this our direction might be limited. Getting my deposit back is a secondary question."

I wrote out this big long thing. But you know what? If we are discussing either carpets or painting and you can not prove dates (4 years for paint, 8 years for carpet) it's just me going in circles.

If you want your deposit back, start with certified mail disputing the charge. Report the overcharge to whatever local housing authority has jurisdiction and be prepared to provide documentation.

Or. Get a lawyer.

There were times in LA former tenants disputed deposit deductions with me (and lost the dispute.) We never notified tenants of their right to a walk-thru prior to move-out (although I usually performed one.) I think the notification is small potatoes and not very actionable. It's not like he denied you heating or something, you know? YMMV

Maybe stick to getting your deposit back. It's something concrete the relevant local gov't oversight agency or court judge can actually help you with.
posted by jbenben at 3:02 PM on September 1, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, jbenben. Your perspective is very helpful.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:08 PM on September 1, 2010

Oh OK, well just go ahead and file, then. No receipts? No deduction unless the total is less than $125. Be sure to file for triple damages so he thinks twice before trying it on the next tenant.
posted by rhizome at 4:05 PM on September 1, 2010

Dude, what is he charging you for? Say the mail me. I have taken down all my landlords in Cali by knowing code and the small claims court system. Is it carpet?
posted by hal_c_on at 4:22 PM on September 1, 2010

Response by poster: memail sent.

I'm not trying to be secretive, by the way, regarding the particular charge. I just want the public question to be about the legal issue, and not who is right or wrong, etc.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:41 PM on September 1, 2010

Response by poster: As a follow up, I talked to my landlord, and he agreed that the paint charge was excessive. We settled for what I felt was a reasonable amount for some other cleaning charges.

Thanks everyone for your thoughts and feedback.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:23 AM on September 8, 2010

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