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§2.02 Residential Security Deposit

Residential rental “security” is defined as any payment, fee, deposit, or charge (except for a screening fee, discussed in §2.03) that is imposed at the beginning of a tenancy to be used to reimburse the landlord for costs associated with processing a new tenant or that is imposed as an advance payment of rent, used for any purpose, including [CC §1950.5(b)]:

  • Compensating the landlord for defaults in rent [CC §1950.5(b)(1)], including rent due because of the tenant’s having given insufficient notice to terminate the lease;
  • Repairing damages other than ordinary wear and tear caused by the tenant or by the tenant’s guests or licensees [CC §1950.5(b)(2)];
  • Cleaning the premises on termination of the tenancy and, for tenancies for which the tenant’s right to occupy began after January 1, 2003, cleaning “necessary to return the unit to the same level of cleanliness it was in at the inception of the tenancy” [CC §1950.5(b)(3)]; and
  • Remedying future defaults by the tenant in any obligation under the lease to restore, replace, or return personal property or appurtenances, other than ordinary wear and tear, if the lease authorizes this use of the deposit [CC §1950.5(b)(4)].

These examples of “security” are not exclusive. Indeed, the statute explicitly applies to the up-front charging or collection of payments and deposits from a tenant “used or to be used for any purpose” to reimburse the landlord. [CC §1950.5(b).] Security may include any payment by the tenant over and above legitimate rent. [Granberry v Islay Invs. (1984) 161 CA3d 382, 387.]

No lease or rental agreement provision may characterize the security deposit as “nonrefundable.” [CC §1950.5(m).] Residential security deposits are nonrefundable only to the extent that is reasonably necessary for the purposes listed above. [CC §1950.5(e); People ex rel Smith v Parkmerced Co. (1988) 198 CA3d 683, 690.]

Lesson 2:
Tenant Security Deposits
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