As a tenant in California, you have certain rights that protect you against wrongful actions by landlords. One of the most common disputes between landlords and tenants is the wrongful withholding of security deposits. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s important to know what your rights are and what steps you can take to hold a landlord accountable for stealing your deposit.
What happens if a landlord steals a security deposit?
If a landlord wrongfully withholds a security deposit that is theft and the tenant can take legal action. In California, landlords must return the security deposit within 21 days after the tenant has moved out of a rental unit. If the landlord fails to return the deposit, the tenant can sue the landlord for up to twice the amount of the deposit in addition to other damages. The tenant may also be able to recover court costs and attorney’s fees.
What can a tenant do to prevent a landlord from wrongfully withholding a security deposit?
There are several steps a tenant can take to prevent a landlord from wrongfully withholding a security deposit:
- Document the condition of the rental unit: Before moving in, take photos or videos of the rental unit to document its condition. This can be used as evidence if there is a dispute about the return of the security deposit.
- Request a walk-through inspection: Before moving out, schedule a walk-through inspection with the landlord to go over the condition of the rental unit. This can help prevent any disputes about the return of the security deposit.
- Provide written notice of your move-out date: Provide the landlord with written notice of your move-out date. This can help ensure that the landlord is prepared to return the security deposit within the required 21 days.
- Keep records: Keep copies of all correspondence with the landlord, including emails and letters, as well as receipts for rent payments and any repairs made to the rental unit.
If you believe your landlord has wrongfully withheld your security deposit, it’s important to take action to protect your legal rights. Call LaGuardia Law and we can help you understand your rights and may be able to assist you on a contingency basis where you do not have to pay anything upfront and we only get paid out of any recovery we help you obtain.