Question: We recently moved out of a house that we were renting. Our lease stated that the tenant was required to have the home and carpets professionally cleaned upon vacancy. We offered the landlady $350 from our deposit to hire a company to clean the house to her liking. When we received our refund, we saw that she deducted this amount from our security deposit. However, by then I had driven back to our rental to pick up my remaining boxes. When I was there, I saw that our landlady had painters repainting the entire house. I decided to drive by the house again, a few days later. When I did, I saw a flooring and carpet company ripping out and replacing all of the flooring. Was the landlady entitled to deduct this $350 for cleaning when she was intending to repaint and re-carpet the entire house anyway?
Answer: California Civil Code Section 1950.5 regulates the disposition of security deposits in California. An important part of the procedure established by that statute is the requirement that the landlord provide an accounting of the security deposit to the former tenant within 21 days after the tenant has vacated. If more than $125 was deducted for cleaning or repairs, that accounting should have included receipts and invoices for any repair and cleaning work being charged against your deposit.
Since $350 was deducted from your security deposit, you should have received an invoice from a carpet cleaning company or other similar service provider reflecting that the cleaning work was actually performed. If the work wasn't performed, there shouldn't be any supporting invoice.
Civil Code Section 1950.5 was amended several years ago to require that the security deposit deposition include actual receipts to expressly end the prior practice of some landlords who charged for work never performed. If you wish to pursue this issue, you can write a letter to your former landlady pointing out that the invoice for cleaning was not included. You could request that she refund the $350 deduction to you, or that you two reach a compromise on the deduction, particularly if she can produce the required documentation. If she refuses, you can contact your local mediation agency or pursue a Small Claims Court action against her.
Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a nonprofit agency providing tenant-landlord and fair housing counseling in four Bay Area counties. To submit a question, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.