How much can a landlord charge for a deposit?

For residential rentals, the total amount of the deposit may not exceed two months rent for an unfurnished place or three months rent for a furnished place.  

What do deposits cover?

A landlord may set a “reasonable amount” for the deposit, which can be used to cover:

  • Unpaid rent;
  • Repairs to the unit for damages caused by the tenant or the tenant’s guests (except for “ordinary wear and tear”), or
  • Cleaning of the premises upon termination of tenancy to return unit to same level of cleanliness it was in at the start of the tenancy. 

Can deposits be non-refundable?

A deposit cannot be called “non-refundable.” If the lease or rental agreement includes this provision, the provision is not valid and cannot be enforced.

How can I avoid deposit problems?

Before moving into the rental unit, inspect and note the condition of the rental unit, preferably with the landlord. List all the items in writing in a “checklist.”  Be sure the landlord signs the checklist.  If the landlord is not available, inspect the unit with a friend or take photographs.  Keep the checklist and photos in a safe place, you will need these when you move out.

After moving out, thoroughly clean the unit, then arrange a tour of the unit with the landlord and check for damages.  Use the checklist you made before moving in.  Compare any differences found with the checklist and try to work out any disputes.  Again, take photos and keep them in a safe place.

When does the landlord have to return my deposit?

Within 21 days after you move out, the landlord must:

  • Return all of your deposit, or
  • Give you an itemized written statement explaining why all or part of the deposit is not being returned along with the refund of the remaining balance.

NOTE:If the deductions amount to more than $125, the itemized statement must include copies of supporting documents, such as bills, invoices, and/or receipts, showing charges incurred and deducted by the landlord to repair or clean the premises.  If the deductions are for less than $125, the supporting documents must only be provided if requested by the tenant within 14 days after receiving the itemized statement. 

What if the landlord keeps all of my deposit and I disagree with the deductions?

If you do not receive your deposit within 21 days after moving out, make a formal demand in writing. A sample demand letter is provided.  If you do not receive your deposit within 10 days from the date you send the demand letter, you may sue the landlord in Small Claims Court.  If you go to court, be sure to bring your “move in and move out checklists,” all the photos you took before moving in and after moving out, and the demand letter to present as part of your case.  A landlord may be fined up to twice the amount of deposit for his/her “bad faith” in keeping of your deposit.

What if the landlord keeps all of my deposit and demands additional money from me?

If the landlord keeps all of your deposit and demands more money from you, the same procedure will apply if you disagree with the amount that you should have as a remaining balance.  If you only disagree with the additional charges that add up to more than your deposit, send a letter to the landlord explaining your reasons for the disputed charges.  Keep a copy of the letter to show the judge in case the landlord sues you for the additional charges.

What if the landlord keeps some of my deposit and I disagree with the deductions?

If you receive only part of your deposit and you disagree with the landlord’s deductions for “damages,” “cleaning,” etc., you may make a formal demand in writing for the amount in dispute.  The sample letter at the bottom can be modified to include your demand for the entire deposit (or other amount).

If you do not receive the balance within 10 days from the date you sent the letter, you may sue the landlord in Small Claims Court.  Be sure to bring the checklist, photos and demand letter to court to present as part of your case.


NOTE: The information italicized and underlined should be completed to fit your individual case.


Owner’s Name

Owner’s Address

Manager/Property Mgmt. Co., if any

Manager/Property Mgmt. Co., address


    As you know, until (date moved out), I resided in (address where you moved from) and regularly paid my rent. When I moved out, I left the unit clean, minus normal wear and tear. I also gave you my new mailing address.

    As of today, I have received neither my $ (amount of your deposit) security deposit nor any accounting from you for that money. (OR: As of today, I have received a partial refund and I disagree with your withholding of $ (amount you disagree with) to cover damages). Please return $ (amount that you claim should be returned) to me within 10 days of this letter. 

    If I do not receive my money within 10 days of the date of this letter, I will be forced to file a lawsuit against you for the amount demanded. Please be aware that I know about my rights under California Civil Code Sec. 1950.5. Pursuant to this code section, the court may find that the retention of the deposit is showing bad faith on your part, and if so, the court may order that you pay the amount demanded in addition to (a $ amount that is twice the amount of the full deposit) statutory damages allowed by Sec. 1950.5(1) of the California Civil Code.

Very truly yours,

Your signature

Address where the money may be mailed to. (Keep a copy for your records)


This is general information on the law, which may change.  For specific legal problems, you should consult with a lawyer.