A security deposit is an amount given to the landlord to guarantee that you will fulfill the terms of the rental agreement and that you will leave the unit in good condition. Almost all landlords in San Francisco require a security deposit in addition to your first month's rent.
The security deposit is often referred to as 'last month's rent' or a 'cleaning deposit.' Regardless of the name, the same principles apply.
For more information on security deposits, visit the San Francisco Rent Board.
Make sure your rental agreement clearly states that the amount of the security deposit and the date you paid it. If you paid by check, you may also want to note the check number on the rental agreement. Always obtain a receipt for a security deposit.
State law limits the amount a landlord can require for a security deposit. The total amount cannot be more than the equivalent of two month's rent for an unfurnished unit, or three month's rent for a furnished unit.
The San Francisco Administrative Code requires landlords to pay simple interest on security deposits unless the rent is subsidized by a government agency. The current rate until February 28, 2011, is 0.9% on money held over one year. Many landlords prefer to take the interest amount off of your rent instead of paying it directly to you.
Under California law, security deposits are refundable. There is no such thing as a 'non-refundable' security deposit. All money that you pay up front, except any monies that go towards your rent, must be paid back to you as long as the rental agreement is honored.
The law allows landlords to retain all or part of your deposit under certain circumstances, including compensation for the following:
Within 21 days after you move out, your landlord must either:
Note for Roommates and Subletters
Landlords do not have to return the security deposit to anyone other than the person who originally paid that deposit on the lease. For roommates living together, it is important to understand the best way to deal with the security deposit. If the tenant who paid the deposit moves out while the other tenant stays, it is a good idea to have the landlord pay the security deposit back to the person leaving and then have the remaining tenant pay a new deposit on the lease. This will ensure that the new tenant will be able to get the security deposit back when s/he chooses to move out.
If your deposit is not refunded
If your deposit is not returned to you, here are suggestions on how to proceed:
Nonetheless, it is always a good idea to be prepared to prove that you left the unit in good condition, and that you have no unpaid rent outstanding. Having pictures of the unit at move-in and move-out will help to document the condition of the unit.
Small Claims Court is used to settle claims up to $7,500 without the delay and cost of going through a normal court process. You do not need an attorney for Small Claims Court. However, it is important that you have the appropriate documentation for your case, including any letters, receipts, or photographs.
For more information on Small Claims Court:
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