California Security Deposit Limits and Deadlines

A breakdown of California landlord-tenant laws on security deposits.

By , Attorney

Most residential leases and rental agreements in California require a security deposit. This is a dollar amount, usually one month's rent, that's intended to cover damage to the premises beyond normal wear and tear, and to cushion the financial blow if a tenant skips out early on the lease without paying. Here's a summary of California landlord-tenant laws that cover the use and return of security deposits.

Does California law limit how much a landlord can charge a tenant for a security deposit?

Yes. Under California landlord-tenant laws, a landlord may charge a renter the equivalent of two months' rent for the security deposit if the residence is unfurnished, and three months' rent if the residence is furnished. If the tenant is an active duty service member, the security deposit can be only one month's rent for an unfurnished rental and two months' rent for a furnished rental. California landlords can also add an extra one-half month's rent if the tenant has a waterbed. Landlords may not charge nonrefundable fees in California.

To learn more about steps that renters can take to protect their security deposit after they've paid it, check out Nolo's article Protect Your Security Deposit When You Move In.

What about when a renter moves out? What is the deadline in California for returning a security deposit?

Under California law, a landlord must return the renter's security deposit, with an itemized statement of deductions, within 21 days after the renter has surrendered the rental property to the landlord (that is, returned the keys and vacated the property).

Learn more about renters' rights and landlords' obligations when it comes to the return of the security deposit in Nolo's chart Cleaning and Repairs a Landlord Can Deduct from a Security Deposit and Nolo's article Get Your Security Deposit Back.

Is there additional information that California landlords must provide to renters when it comes to security deposits in California?

Yes. In addition to complying with California laws on security deposit limits and how (and when) the deposit must be returned to tenants, landlords in California must provide renters with advance notice before taking any deductions out of the security deposit, such as for the cost of repairs for damage to the property.

Where can I look up California law on security deposits?

If you want to go right to the source and look up the California laws on security deposits—or if you're writing a letter to your landlord or tenant and want to cite the applicable law—the relevant statute(s) can be found at California Civil Code sections 1950.5 and 1940.5(g) (2020). To access California's statutes, visit the California State Legislature's website or check out the Library of Congress's legal research site.

For detailed advice on the collection, use, and return of security deposits, see California Tenants' Rights, by Janet Portman and J. Scott Weaver (Nolo).

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