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What Is A Security Deposit

Apr 27, 2008
The residential security deposit that is often a source of conflict at the end of a lease or rental agreement is defined under state law. The actual definition varies from state to state, but for the most part residential rental deposits are substantially the same in each state. The purpose of the definition of a security deposit is to protect consumers from landlords that often try to take advantage.

Under California law a residential security deposit is codified in the civil code. It is defined as any payment, fee, deposit or charge, including but not limited to, any payment, fee deposit, or charge, except as provided for under section 1950.6, that is imposed at the beginning of the tenancy to be used to reimburse the landlord for costs associated with processing a new tenant or that is imposed as an advance payment of rent, used or to used for any purpose, including, but not limited to compensation for the landlord for the tenant's default in payment of rent; repairing damages to the premises caused by tenant or by the tenant's guests or licensees (excluding ordinary wear and tear);cleaning the premises upon termination of the tenancy; and if the rental agreement so provides, remedying future tenant defaults in an obligation under the rental agreement to restore, replace or return personal property. The residential security deposit does not become something else by labeling it something else.

Under the definition of a residential security deposit the security deposit includes the fees imposed at the beginning of tenancy for the purpose of processing a new tenant. The so called screening fees are refundable security deposits unless specifically exempted. The type of screening information that is not refundable is the fee charged for obtaining personal background information relating to the tenants rental history such as personal reference check, consumer credit reports, and past unlawful detainer litigation. This screening fee may not exceed $30 and it subject to adjustment every year. A landlord may not charge a screening fee if the landlord knows there is no vacancy or should know there is no vacancy. The landlord is also required to itemize the screening activities, the amount of time spent on each activity, and the out of pocket expenses incurred by the landlord and provide a copy to the tenant. If a credit check was done a copy of the credit report must also be provided the tenant.

Overall the intent of the regulations is to keep the landlord from taking advantage of the tenant by attempting to mischaractirize or misuse the security deposit.
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