Landlord and Tenant Issues

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The California Department of Consumer Affairs publishes a helpful and extensive booklet titled, “California Tenants – A Guide to Residential Tenants’ and Landlords’ Rights and Responsibilities”. It will answer the majority of your questions regarding landlord/tenant issues. The link to the publication is:

Send a Property Agent to Represent You
If you own a rental property, you may be able to send a property agent to small claims court to represent you.

You can do this if:
* The property agent manages your building; and 
* You didn’t hire the agent just to represent you in court; and 
* The claim is about the property.

The property agent must give the court a “declaration” at the hearing. You can fill out and use an Authorization to Appear (Small Claims) (form SC-109) as your declaration or you may draft your own by using a blank declaration form.

Security Deposits
A security deposit is any money a landlord takes from a tenant in case the property is damaged.

How much can a security deposit be?
If security deposit is for a residential property without furniture, the security deposit may equal 2 times the rent.

If the residence is furnished, the landlord may charge up to 3 times the rent.

There is no restriction on the amount of the security deposit for the rental of a commercial property.

Does a security deposit have to be returned?
If a tenant damages the property, the landlord can deduct the cost of fixing it from the security deposit. But if the tenant returns the rental in substantially the same condition in which it was rented (less reasonable wear and tear), the landlord must return the deposit. A landlord can’t make tenants pay for painting, new carpets or curtains, unless there was serious damage. The landlord is allowed to deduct the cost of cleaning if necessary to put the unit back to the same level of cleanliness it was in at the time the property was leased (less reasonable wear and tear).

Within 2 weeks prior to the tenant’s move-out date, the landlord must advise the tenant, in writing, of the right to be present at a walk-through with the landlord. The purpose of the inspection is to allow the tenant an opportunity to repair damage pointed out by the landlord.

When can I get my deposit back?
After you move out, a landlord has 3 weeks to return the security deposit or send a list of how much each of the damages cost including all receipts. Click here for help writing a letter asking a landlord to return a security deposit. A landlord can only charge a tenant for unpaid rent and for fixing damage by the tenant that wasn’t caused by normal use.

Note: If you also paid “last month’s rent,” that rent will not be returned. It must be used for your last month’s rent.

Must I notify the landlord before I move out?
Yes. If you pay rent once a month, you have to give your landlord 30 days’ notice in writing. If you don’t, the landlord can charge you for the unpaid rent. Unless a new tenant pays the rent, you’ll have to pay for those 30 days. If you pay rent every week, you have to give 7 days’ notice.

What if I think the landlord is keeping too much money for repairs?
The landlord has to prove that the repairs are necessary and reasonable and must provide you with receipts for those repairs.

What if I don’t get my deposit back after 3 weeks?
Write a letter to your landlord if you feel too much was retained from your security deposit and explain why you believe you are entitled to a larger refund.

Keep a copy of the letter for your records.

What if I can’t agree with the landlord?
File a claim in small claims court. You can sue for the deposit plus twice the amount of the security deposit in damages. The judge will give you damages if the landlord retained your deposit in bad faith.

Common Disputes Heard in Small Claims Court


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