Whether you’re new to renting in California or an experienced renter, it might be time for a reminder on how security deposits work in the Golden State. Every state has its own regulations and security deposit laws based on how the local real estate markets function. Generally speaking, security deposits in California provide landlords with more protection than any other state in the country. We want to make sure renters know what to expect when it comes to California law as they go through the move-in process. Rhino’s guide will walk you through some of the important details of  how security deposits work across the state. 

How much do security deposits cost in California? 

California law is unique in that California civil code dictates that landlords may collect up to two month’s rent for an unfurnished apartment and up to three month’s rent for a furnished apartment. This means it’s possible for renters to pay a total amount for a deposit that’s almost a third of their yearly rent cost before their tenancy even begins. In contrast, many other cities and states have passed regulations that cap the maximum security deposit amount at one month’s rent or even a half month’s rent.

A graphic showing what a security deposit covers in California according to security deposit law in California

What does a security deposit cover in California?

So you’ve officially submitted a security deposit and signed your lease agreement for a residential property in California. Now you may be asking: what does my security deposit actually cover as outlined by California civil code?

When explaining the larger amount that California landlords can collect, landlord-tenant laws say that California security deposits are also meant to cover more situations than standard deposits in other places. They cover normal wear and tear to the rental unit as well as unpaid rent, but they also offer landlords assistance to repair damages outside normal of wear and tear, including damage from pets, broken flooring and windows, and damaged light fixtures. 

Unique to California security deposits is also coverage for cleaning costs when the tenant vacates the property as well as any restoration work that is outlined in the rental agreement between landlord and tenant. A quick tip is to make sure your apartment is clean and in the best condition possible when you vacate it at the end of your lease. Take a closer look at the difference between “normal wear and tear,” and “property damage.”

A graphic showing the differences between normal wear-and-tear and property damage

What is the security deposit return process for a California rental property?

On the flipside, California law also takes an extra step to protect renters by introducing a stricter schedule for landlords to return your deposit in reasonable time when you move out. When a tenant moves out landlords have twenty-one days to return the security deposit alongside an itemized deduction list that includes the reason for each deduction and how much it will cost. If the total amount of deductions on a tenant’s security deposit is less than $125 however, your landlord isn’t required to provide this itemized statement. There are also steps you can take as a renter to ensure that you’ll have your security deposit returned at the end of your lease.

If your landlord does not follow these regulations and returns your deposit either too late or without an itemized deduction list, it’s a tenant’s right to sue for the recovery of the deposit in Small Claims Court. If the landlord is judged to have acted in bad faith, they may be required to pay renters double the amount of the security deposit as damages, as well as returning the original deposit in full. Read more about how to get your full deposit back as a California renter

California renters can count on a unique experience when renting in California, especially regarding the cost and regulations regarding their security deposit. With the right knowledge about California state law however, this process can be as painless as possible for both renters and landlords. California security deposits provide an added layer of protection for landlords when it comes to property damage outside of ordinary wear and tear and processing of new tenants. As Renter’s Choice legislation grows across the country, we’ll be sure to provide an update if these regulations change for renters. 

Larenz Brown

Larenz Brown is a copywriter at Rhino who wants to tell stories that empower people. He once engaged in a 365-day staredown with a security deposit and emerged victorious.