Civil Code 1950.5: Security Deposits in California Residential Tenancies

Civil Code 1950.5 is the California law that discusses security deposits in California. Read this FAQ to learn about security deposits in California.

Security Deposit FAQ

What is the maximum amount of a security deposit in a California residential tenancy?

For an unfurnished unit, the maximum security deposit is 2x the monthly rent. For a furnished unit, the maximum security deposit is 3x the monthly rent. These amounts are in addition to any rent for the first month paid on or before the initial occupancy. Civil Code 1950.5(c)(1).

What are the proper uses of a security deposit?

Security deposits can be used for the following: (1) The compensation of a landlord for a tenant’s default in the payment of rent. (2) The repair of damages to the premises, exclusive of ordinary wear and tear, caused by the tenant or by a guest or licensee of the tenant. (3) The cleaning of the premises upon termination of the tenancy necessary to return the unit to the same level of cleanliness it was in at the inception of the tenancy. (4) To remedy future defaults by the tenant in any obligation under the rental agreement to restore, replace, or return personal property or appurtenances, exclusive of ordinary wear and tear, if the security deposit is authorized to be applied thereto by the rental agreement. Civil Code 1950.5(b).

Must a landlord notify the tenant of the right to an initial move-out inspection?

Yes, except when the termination of tenancy is due to CCP 1161(2), 1161(3), or 1161(4). Civil Code 1950.5(f)(1).

What is the purpose of an initial move-out inspection?

The purpose of the initial inspection shall be to allow the tenant an opportunity to remedy identified deficiencies in order to avoid deductions from the security deposit. Civil Code 1950.5(f)(1).

Is an initial inspection required?

No. An initial inspection is optional. It is required only if the tenant requests one. However, in most cases, the landlord is required to inform the tenant of the right to an inspection. Civil Code 1950.5(f)(1).

Does a tenant need to be present for an initial inspection?

No. If an inspection is requested, the parties shall attempt to schedule the inspection at a mutually acceptable date and time. The landlord shall give at least 48 hours’ prior written notice of the date and time of the inspection if either a mutual time is agreed upon, or if a mutually agreed time cannot be scheduled but the tenant still wishes an inspection. The tenant and landlord may agree to forgo the 48-hour prior written notice by both signing a written waiver. The landlord shall proceed with the inspection whether the tenant is present or not, unless the tenant previously withdrew their request for the inspection. Civil Code 1950.5(f)(1).

Does a landlord need to notify the tenant of problems found during the initial inspection that could result in a deduction from the security deposit?

Yes. Based on the inspection, the landlord shall give the tenant an itemized statement specifying repairs or cleanings that are proposed to be the basis of any deductions from the security deposit the landlord intends to make. The statement shall be given to the tenant, if the tenant is present for the inspection, or shall be left inside the premises. Civil Code 1950.5(f)(2).

Can a tenant fix the items identified during the initial inspection?

Yes. The tenant shall have the opportunity during the period following the initial inspection until termination of the tenancy to remedy identified deficiencies. Civil Code 1950.5(f)(3).

After a tenant vacates a residential property, how long does the landlord have to account for the deposit?

21 calendar days. Within 21 days, the landlord must provide an itemized statement along with documentation supporting any deductions. Within the same time frame, the landlord must refund any remaining security deposit balance to the tenant. Civil Code 1950.5(g).

Where should a landlord send the itemized statement and refund of the security deposit?

These documents should be sent to the address provided by the tenant. If the tenant does not provide an address, mailings should be sent to the address that was vacated. Civil Code 1950.5(g)(6).

Can a landlord deduct from the security deposit for ordinary wear and tear or for pre-existing conditions?

No. A landlord cannot charge a tenant for ordinary wear and tear or for preexisting conditions that existed prior to the tenancy. Civil Code 1950.5(e).

Can part of the security deposit be “non-refundable?”

No. No lease or rental agreement may contain a provision characterizing any security as “nonrefundable.” Civil Code 1950.5(m).

Are there penalties if a landlord violates the security deposit rules?

Potentially yes. The bad faith retention of the security deposit may subject the landlord to statutory damages of up to twice the amount of the deposit, in addition to actual damages. Civil Code 1950.5(l).

Security Deposit Videos

Still Have Questions?

Landlords can always schedule a consultation with us to discuss specific questions and situations relating to California landlord/tenant law. We also wrote an article on “Returning the Security Deposit in California.”


The information in this article and blog is not meant to be legal advice and is intended for educational purposes only. The laws change frequently and this article may not be updated to reflect current rules. Do not rely on this article when making legal decisions. Consult with legal counsel regarding your particular case before taking any action.

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This article is courtesy of the Law Office of David Piotrowski, a California law firm representing landlords with eviction matters.

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The Law Office of David Piotrowski

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