Is my apartment manager ripping off my security deposit with a fake law?
December 29, 2014 10:24 PM   Subscribe

Moving out of an apartment in Los Angeles, I hired a cleaning company so I could get back more of my security deposit. The apartment manager wouldn't accept this, prattled off some civil code number, and said that he can only use his own contracted companies to "properly disinfect," and can't accept other companies other than his selected ones.

I mentioned this to a friend, and he said that sounds fishy. I looked at .gov sites, and haven't found any laws so far that support his statement.

I plan to call him tomorrow, but he has a history of being slippery about matters (evading calls, lying). I want to be armed with information before I talk to him, and wanted to check in with you guys.

Thank you!
posted by elif to Law & Government (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
He's full of shit.
posted by brujita at 10:35 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


CA Civil Code 1950.5 covers rental agreements in CA (including Los Angeles), including security deposits and cleaning fees. There is nothing there about your landlord being required to use his own contracted companies. If he's going to keep some portion of your security deposit to cover re-cleaning, he is required to provide you a copy of the bill from the cleaning company he used. If the cleaning work is done by his own employees, he needs to provide you an itemized list of work performed; if they're not his employees, the bill he provides you needs to include contact information for the people who DID do the work.

Take a lot of pictures of your newly-cleaned apartment, in minute detail.
posted by hanov3r at 10:38 PM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Here is some info from Legal Aid in Los Angeles.
It doesn't matter how you get your house clean, as long as you leave it in good, clean condition.
Yes, take photos-- of every room and include a newspaper that shows the date.
Keep your cleaning receipts in case you have to go to Small Claims.
Look at the information from Legal Aid, there is a sample letter to send to your landlord to claim your deposit if he does not provide it to you promptly.
posted by calgirl at 11:07 PM on December 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

No, not true. You are just required to bring the apartment up to the original condition , minus reasonable wear and tear (which is pretty well defined by law, as well). Additionally, the law gives you the opportunity to request an inspection to happen at least two weeks prior to the end of the tenancy so that you have the option to talk about what needs to be done to get the appropriate repairs done yourself. If he just goes with his own companies, I'm assuming he's just planning on taking that out of your deposit without your input, which defeats the whole purpose. Note here:
A tenant can ask the landlord to inspect the rental unit before the tenancy ends. During this "Initial Inspection," the landlord or the landlord's agent identifies defects or conditions that justify deductions from the tenant's security deposit. This gives the tenant the opportunity to do the identified cleaning or repairs in order to avoid deductions from the security deposit. The tenant has the right to be present during the inspection.
Here are a couple of additional references that were helpful for me in working out some disagreements with my CA landlord awhile back (and which reference the civil code mentioned above by hanov3r):
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:08 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

You are also entitled to the interest on your deposit.
posted by brujita at 11:22 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ugh, sorry if I'm thread-sitting, but I'm upset that he's flat-out lying to tenants. The building has about a 100 units, so I'm sure he's pocketing this money by illegal means. I'll bring this up (I didn't take pictures, but he verbally ok'd the inspection, and I turned in my keys) to get my money back and see what I can do to stop him from continuing this.
posted by elif at 12:03 AM on December 30, 2014

Everybody here is correct!

Do not talk to him by telephone. Put everything in writing, include a copy of your receipt for cleaning. Tell him you have pics (even if you don't) and demand he return your entire deposit. This is called a "Demand Letter" and it is enforceable in small claims court (better if you have actual pics or video!!)

Hey! I know this scam!!

Your manager is going to claim all sorts of cleaning or damage and charge you, probably billed to the owner, payable to the manager for his "extra" work.

Documentation prevents this. CC the owner or management company on any letters.

If you don't get your deposit back within 21 days of officially vacating - YIPPEE! File in small claims and be awarded double or triple your deposit (I think it is double LA, triple for something similar in NYC - but I always mix that one up :))

Pictures and letters. Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 12:10 AM on December 30, 2014 [6 favorites]

Upon your update, it is possible the management company or owner know of this and look the other way. I live somewhere like that right now. Meh.

The city of LA doesn't care much, but you might call the State Attorney General's Office for advice on properly reporting this scam. is the website.

After deposit return, PLEASE yelp this, too.
posted by jbenben at 12:14 AM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Contact the owner of the building and the manager and tell them that you expect to get 100% of your deposit back, send an email and attach pictures.

I lived in an apartment for about 3 years. When I moved, I cleaned the HELL out of it. Shit, the new tenants could have moved right in! The complex withheld the entire deposit because there were crumbs in the drawer under the oven and the arcadia door had a streak on it. OOOOHH, I get so angry when I think about what a chump I was to accept that and not fight for it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:10 AM on December 30, 2014

"Keep your cleaning receipts in case you have to go to Small Claims."

HA HA HA HA!! Would that life were so easy and fair.

My ex and I had a landlord claim all kinds of damage to our rental that wasn't there when we moved out (he also did other shitty things, like fail to even bother notifying us that he was keeping our deposit within the time period required by law). When we did finally hear from him, he pulled a bunch of numbers out of his ass about how much it supposedly cost to fix these issues. They, coincidentally, were all round numbers ($40, $120, etc.).

We took him to small claims court. He had NO receipts whatsoever, nor could he even state what companies he had hired to do the work.

The judge sided with him. He was allowed to keep the vast majority of our security deposit. Plus, we were also out significant court fees.

I was utterly amazed that he could get away with this. Since then, I've read about and heard from numerous people who were ripped off by landlords and failed to get justice in small claims court.

Judges side overwhelmingly with landlords. Don't expect justice. Think about whether it's worth the time, effort, and court fees to bother contesting what your LL is trying to do. Cuz, I guarantee you will feel even worse if you spend hours upon hours getting all your ducks in a row only to see him get away with it anyway.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 7:03 AM on December 30, 2014

If you don't get your deposit back within 21 days of officially vacating - YIPPEE!
In my state they have to give you deposit and/or a description of the charges that are being covered by the deposit. If they send you a letter that describes why you are getting $0 back, you don't get to claim extra damages. You can still dispute the charges

Judges side overwhelmingly with landlords. Don't expect justice.
I got a carpet charge cut in half in small claims court, so it is not universal. It depends on the jurisdiction.
posted by soelo at 8:09 AM on December 30, 2014

I realize that as a member of the bar (and former landlord for about 10 years) I shouldn't say this, but:

If your landlord is making it clear that he will fuck you by keeping your money, don't pay the last month's rent, and keep the funds to ensure return of your deposit. I had a long-ago landlord in NYC who I knew would try to claim the funds, and I, in a polite manner (written for documentation), notified her that I would be moving out at the date at the end of the month, and to simplify the process, would not pay that month's rent, since the deposit I had made covered that rent.

She knew that she had no leg to stand on, because I still did a good and responsible job cleaning.

Best wishes.
posted by miss tea at 10:45 AM on December 30, 2014

Your deposit cannot be used as last month's rent in California unless the landlord agrees to it. Housing law varies wildly by state and sometimes city.
posted by soelo at 11:57 AM on December 30, 2014

Take pictures of EVERYTHING! SERIOUSLY. Everything. Then you need to call your landlord from your cell phone, and bring your cell phone bill to court to show that you made a real attempt (call everyday for 2 weeks) to get your money back. Sue the shit out of this dirty landlord in court if you don't get your money back in time.

Remember, its california, so they take this stuff VERY SERIOUSLY. You may be entitled to TRIPLE YOUR SECURITY DEPOSIT BACK!
posted by hal_c_on at 12:04 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't be afraid of Small Claims Court. IME the tenant almost always wins, unless they are aggregiously at fault (and you aren't, at all). As hal_c_on noted, you may be awarded double or triple the amount the landlord illegally kept, plus all court fees (depends on state).

You may then have to file another claim with the court to collect (if he doesn't pay voluntarily), but that's much more automatic-fill-out-form-and-wait.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:59 PM on December 30, 2014

If you have your ducks in a row--hopefully you hired a legit cleaning company, have your receipt, took pictures, then you're gold.

He's being an asshole. Take him to small claims. Do it FIRST. If you wait, the judge will be more inclined to be on his side.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:17 PM on December 30, 2014

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