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Kiss deposit goodbye; you'll meet again

October 22, 2006|Kevin Postema | Special to The Times

Question: When I moved into my apartment a year ago, I paid the first month's rent and a security deposit equal to two months' rent. Now that I have lived in my apartment for one year, how much of my deposit does the landlord have to return to me?

Answer: Under California law, the landlord does not have to return any of it until you move out. The fact that you have lived in the apartment for one year has nothing to do with it.

The security deposit is the owner's "insurance" against the expenses of any damage you may cause to the apartment, unpaid rent and cleaning costs when you move out.

Law limits paying too much security

Question: My husband and I are considering renting an apartment, but we are unsure about the landlord's offer. He initially asked for the first month's rent of $1,550, and for one month's security deposit of $1,550. He then offered us rent of $1,500 if we would give two months' security deposit of $3,000, or $1,450 if we would give three months' security deposit of $4,350. Are there drawbacks or risks here?

Answer: You risk the landlord not returning it even if you warrant a full refund.

Of course if the landlord improperly deducts money from your deposit, you could take him to Small Claims Court.

Unless the apartment is furnished, the landlord may not collect three months' worth of rent for security. State law limits it to two months' rent for unfurnished apartments and three months' rent for furnished.

Roomie trashes pad; who pays?

Question: My ex-roommate trashed our apartment. We are moving, and the landlord wants to bill us equally for the damage. This doesn't seem fair. Can I avoid this? Should I fight it?

Answer: Because the landlord is going to deduct the money from your deposit anyway, I don't know how you can avoid paying.

Assuming your roommate won't reimburse you for the damage or admit he caused it, you will have to go to court and sue him.

The landlord likely will have receipts for the work, and because he didn't do the damage, suing him will not profit you. The problem you will have is proving that it was your roommate, and not you, who caused the damage.

Kevin Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, an apartment owners' service group. E-mail questions about apartment living to

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