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What Renters Should Know About Deposits

July 26, 1999

* What is a security deposit?

A security deposit is any payment, fee, deposit or charge, other than the first month's rent that you pay when you move in. Deposits such as cleaning fees, key deposits, pet deposits and last month's rent are all security deposits.

* How much security deposit can a landlord charge?

The security deposit cannot be more than two months' rent for an unfurnished rental unit, or three months' rent if furnished.

* What can the security deposit be used for?

A landlord can only use your security deposit for rent you owe and haven't paid, to pay for damage that you caused, or to pay for cleaning if you do not leave the rental unit as clean as when you moved in. A security deposit cannot be used for repairs due to ordinary wear and tear.

* Is the deposit ever nonrefundable?

No. It is illegal for any security deposit to be called nonrefundable.

* When must the deposit be returned?

Your landlord must return your security deposit to you within three weeks after you move. If any deductions are made, you must be given a written statement that describes the deductions and a refund of the balance. If it has been more than three weeks since you moved and your landlord has not returned your security deposit or a written statement of deductions, you should contact your landlord and request this. If your landlord has provided you with an itemized statement, but you disagree with the amounts deducted, you can sue for the balance of your deposit in small-claims court.

* What else should I know about security deposits?

If your landlord sells the building, your security deposit must be returned to you or transferred to the new owner.

Source: Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs

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