Security deposits are one of the most common disputes between landlords and tenants. I get many calls at my office in Los Angeles, California about this topic. Some landlords see the deposit as free money to take from the tenant and some tenants expect all of their deposit back despite noticeable damage to the rental unit.
In California, a landlord may collect 2x the monthly rent for a security deposit on an unfurnished rental. Example: If your monthly rent is $1,000, the landlord can collect up to $2,000 as the security deposit. However, it is common for landlords to collect only 1x the monthly rent.
Before a tenant moves out, they are legally permitted to request a walkthrough from their landlord to point out areas that need fixed etc. This is a great way to avoid a dispute because it gives the landlord a chance to point out problem areas (holes in walls, chips in paint, damaged countertops, etc) and then gives the tenant the opportunity to fix the issues before the deposit becomes involved. A tenant must request the walkthrough from the landlord and the landlord must complete it upon request. There is no legal requirement about when the walkthrough must be done or requested, but a few weeks before the tenant moves out is a good rule of thumb.
After a tenant moves out, the landlord only has 21 days to return the deposit or to provide a written explanation of why the deposit is not being returned and to explain any deductions that were taken from the deposit. The landlord may also deduct for any unpaid rent.
A landlord can't deduct for ordinary wear and tear, which includes things like faded carpet and paint, small scratches on the paint, etc. This is a common source of dispute, and may require an attorney to help you resolve any issues. If you've lived in a rental unit for a long time, then the ordinary wear and tear would be more than a person who only lived in a rental unit for 6 months.
Landlords and tenants should be reasonable when it comes to deposits. Many times, the money involved is not worth much fighting. However, there are times when it makes sense for either a landlord or a tenant to have an attorney get involved. When that time comes, contact me for a free consultation to answer your questions. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 323-522-4440.