California law is pretty clear when it comes to returning a tenant’s security deposit. When you have someone moving out of your San Diego rental property, you’ll need to take a few important steps to ensure you’re compliant with the law.
Pre-Move Out Inspection Walk ThroughYou are required to offer your tenants a walk through inspection before they move out. They won’t necessarily accept your offer, but you still have to give them the opportunity. This pre-move out inspection will give them a chance to see what they can do to avoid having their security deposit charged for cleaning and repairs that they’d be responsible for according to your lease agreement. If they do accept your offer to conduct this walk through, bring the move-in checklist you used when inspecting the property before you gave them possession. If anything looks different or damaged, let them know. Remind them of their other obligations before moving out, such as cleaning, carpet shampooing, or other stipulations that are in the lease agreement.
Wear and Tear or Property Damage?It’s not always easy to determine what should be considered normal wear and tear and what should be considered tenant damage. As a landlord, you’re responsible for any wear and tear that would result from any person living in the property over a period of time. If there are nail holes in the walls, you need to paint over those at your own expense, and if there are scuff marks from where furniture rested or a bit of wear on the carpet in high traffic areas, those are your responsibility as well. Damage would be large holes in the walls, doors that are off their hinges, appliances that are broken, and scratch marks on the floors or walls from a pet. Anything that indicates abuse, misuse, or neglect should be considered damage, and can be paid for out of the security deposit.
Timely Return of Security DepositsCalifornia law requires you to return the security deposit to the tenant within 21 days of move-out. If the place is returned to you in the same condition in which it was rented out and there are no overdue bills on the tenant’s account, simply return the full deposit to the forwarding address they provided. If deductions will be made, send the partial deposit back within those 21 days with a detailed accounting of what you kept and why.
You can keep some of the deposit if there is property damage or if the tenants did not clean the property. You can also withhold funds if they have overdue rent or utility balances. Make sure everything is documented. It’s easy to make mistakes with security deposits, and those mistakes can be costly. If you don’t return the deposit on time, or you charge the tenants for things that you shouldn’t charge them for, you can find yourself being ordered by the courts to pay three times the amount of the original security deposit.
That’s not a chance you want to take. If you have questions about the security deposit or you need help with San Diego property management, please contact us at Mercer Properties. We’d be happy to work with you.