Property Management Blog


Security Deposits: Deductions and Wear and Tear in California

Security Deposits: Deductions and Wear and Tear in California

Security Deposit Deductions and Normal Wear and Tear in California  

At Harland Property Management, we understand the importance of maintaining positive relationships with both tenants and owners. Security deposits are an important component in this balance, acting as a safety net for the possibility of damages beyond normal wear and tear. However, sometimes, disagreements arise when determining what constitutes "normal wear and tear" vs tenant caused damage. Our blog aims to clarify these distinctions, empowering you to have a better understanding of security deposit deductions with confidence and fairness.

Understanding Normal Wear and Tear

Normal wear and tear refers to the gradual deterioration of a rental unit that happens over ordinary use over time. These are reasonable changes that wouldn't require replacing the item unless its lifespan had naturally come to an end. Some common examples of this are: 

  • Faded paint: Sunlight exposure naturally fades paint over time
  • Carpets worn down in high traffic areas: Foot traffic over long periods of time can gradually wear down carpets
  • Loose doorknobs: Doorknobs experience wear and tear through regular use
  • Minor scratches on the floor or walls: Moving furniture or daily use can cause minor scratches that are considered normal wear and tear.

When identifying what is considered wear and tear, the key point to remember is that landlords cannot withhold money from the security deposit to address these issues.

Identifying Tenant Caused Issues

Damage that goes beyond normal wear and tear falls under the tenant's responsibility to repair. These are instances where the tenant's actions directly resulted in damage exceeding what would be considered reasonable deterioration. Things can constitute tenant-caused damage are:

  • Holes in walls: Puncture marks, gauges, and large holes drilled for unnecessary or unapproved installations are not considered normal wear and tear. 
  • Broken windows: Cracked or shattered windows due to negligence or accidents are tenant responsibility.
  • Stains on or tears in the carpets not from normal use: Pet accidents, spills, staining, burn holes, extreme ripping, are not considered normal wear and tear.
  • Burns on countertops:  Accidental burns on countertops from misuse of the counter surface go beyond normal wear and tear. 

Ultimately, landlords can deduct repair costs for such damages from the security deposit. It is important to document the condition of the rental unit from top to bottom, with photos, before moving in, and to have the tenants log the condition of the property within 3 days of moving in, and report any concerns so that they are on record. This documentation serves as vital evidence when addressing security deposit deductions.

Importance of Clear Communication

To minimize disputes over security deposits, it is important maintain open and transparent communication between both the tenants and the property manager or landlord. Tips for maintaining a smooth process:

  1. Educate Tenants: Provide tenants with clear and concise explanations of what constitutes normal wear and tear in the lease agreement. 
  2. Conduct Thorough Move-In Inspections: Establish a baseline by documenting the initial condition of the rental unit, with detailed photos and a signed move-in checklist. 
  3. Communicate Early and Often: If you encounter damage beyond normal wear and tear in the move-out inspection, notify the tenant promptly. Explain the reasoning behind any possible deductions and estimates for repairs. 

By fostering open communication, issues can be addressed early on, conflict can be minimized, and a fair outcome can be reached for all parties involved.

Legal Considerations and Best Practices

Security deposit deductions or regulated by California law. Property managers and landlords must remember certain aspects when dealing with security deposits as to not land themselves in hot water. Such as:

  • Security deposit limits: Landlords can only charge a max security deposit of 1 month's rent, and 2 month's rent for furnished units; however, effective July 1, 2024, landlords can only charge a security deposit equal to the value of one month's rent, regardless of whether the unit is furnished or not.
  • Security deposit return deadlines: Landlords have 21 days to return the security deposit to their tenants when they move-out if the unit is returned in the same condition, minus normal wear and tear. If deductions are made, the landlord must provide a list of deductions with receipt within 14 days. 
  • Cleaning costs: Landlords can only deduct reasonable cleaning costs to return the unit to the same level of cleanliness as when the tenants moved in, but not for normal wear and tear cleaning. 

It is always best practice to comply with California's security deposit laws to avoid legal implications and disputes. Consult an attorney if you find yourself facing complex situations or have specific questions. 

In Conclusion

Security deposit deductions can be a complex area, but by understanding the distinction between normal wear and tear, and tenant caused damage, all parties can handle the process with confidence. If you are looking for a property management company to help you navigate security deposits through clear communication strategy, documentation processes, and adherence to legal regulations - reach out to Harland Property Management where we strive to create a fair and transparent experience for both tenants and owners.