Suggestions for Recovering Your Security Deposit
This guide provides general suggestions for tenants who will be moving out of their units and want to get their security deposits back, and information about options if some or all of the security deposit is withheld.
Give at least 30 days’ written notice of move-out
- A landlord does not have to return a security deposit, or any part of it, until all original tenants have permanently moved out. The last original tenant to leave must give at least 30 days' written notice that they will be leaving.
- Your landlord must offer a walk-through inspection during the last two weeks of your tenancy to identify any items that need repair/cleaning. Many landlords do not offer this inspection, so we recommend that you ask for it.
- The landlord must give you a written list of these items immediately after the inspection.
Clean unit and repair any damage caused by tenants or guests
Landlords cannot charge for normal wear and tear, but they can charge for any damage that tenants or their guests caused, or for any cleaning necessary to return the unit to the condition it was in at the start of the tenancy.
- Leave the rental unit in the same condition as it was when your tenancy started.
- If the landlord gives you a list of items to repair/clean after the walk-through inspection, focus on that list.
- Keep all receipts/invoices for money spent on cleaning or repairs.
- Document in writing to your landlord all existing problems you did not cause, and why you are not responsible for cleaning/repairing them.
- Take date-stamped pictures of your unit before moving out, and keep copies.
- Invite others to your unit who will be able to testify about its condition when you moved out (preferably people who did not live in the unit).
Notify your landlord of your new address before moving out
A landlord must return your security deposit (minus any appropriate deductions), or a written explanation for why they are not returning it, within 21 days after you permanently leave your unit.
- Give your landlord a new address where they can send you a check.
- If you do not have a new address yet, give the landlord the address of a friend or relative (preferably one who lives in the Bay Area or near where you plan to live).
What to do if your landlord does not return your security deposit
If you do not get your security deposit or a written explanation for why the landlord is not returning it within 21 days after you permanently move out:
- Write a letter to your landlord requesting immediate return of your deposit, and very clearly spell out why your security deposit should be returned. [See model letters below.]
- Include photos and/or witness statements that show the condition in which you left the unit (if you have them).
- Keep a signed copy of your letter and copies of any evidence you sent with it.
Filing a claim to recover your security deposit
If your landlord still will not return the money in response to your letter:
- File a claim at the Small Claims Court. Visit the Alameda County Superior Court's Small Claims Court webpage for important information about fees and how to get help with your case, and links to forms.
- If your unit is covered by rent control, you can file a Tenant Petition for Individual Rent Adjustment and a Tenant Schedule A with the Rent Board. The petition and Schedule A forms can be found on our Petitions Forms page.
When you file your petition or lawsuit, include copies of photos and witness statements regarding the condition of the unit when you moved out and copies of signed letters that you sent the landlord asking for your deposit. You will need to prove that you left the apartment in a condition that required the landlord to refund the security deposit.
State law on the return of security deposits
California Civil Code Sec. 1950.5
Model letters and templates
This guide provides a foundation for dealing with move-out and security deposit issues, but all situations are different. The templates provided below should be changed to fit your particular situation.