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California Security Deposit Limits

Almost all landlords require a security deposit before a tenant moves in. The deposit is returned to the tenant when the lease ends, minus any amount needed for repairs or other costs passed onto the landlord.

In California's rental market, some questions come up often: How much can a landlord charge for a security deposit? Is there a limit?

No matter what terms the landlord uses: "cleaning fee," "last month's rent," "key deposit,"or "pet deposit," it's all the same thing. There is a limit to the amount a landlord can charge you to move in. Let's explore a few highlights of California's security deposit limits and related laws.

Is there a Security Deposit Limit in California?

Yes, there is a maximum amount of money a landlord can charge a tenant for a security deposit. In California, it's based on whether the unit is furnished. For unfurnished units, the landlord can't charge more than two months' worth of rent. For furnished rentals, the landlord can charge up to three month's rent for the security deposit. This is in addition to the first month's rent.

Can any part of the deposit be deemed "nonrefundable?"

Not in California. Nonrefundable deposits are against the law. This usually comes up in the context of "pet deposits." The landlord can require you to pay extra for your animal, but only within the limits we just discussed and the pet fee can't ever be nonrefundable.

When I Move Out, What Can the Landlord Withhold from My Security Deposit?

In California, the landlord can without all or part of your security deposit for the following reasons:

  • Unpaid Rent
  • Damage to the rental in excess of normal wear and tear
  • Cleaning costs to get the rental back to the condition it was when you moved in.

How Long Does the Landlord Have to Return My Deposit?

The landlord must return your security deposit within 21 days after you move-out. Your landlord must include an itemized list of any deductions taken from your deposit.

The following table highlights the main provisions of California's Security Deposit Law. See Security Deposit Laws, Security Deposit Basics, Security Deposit FAQ, Security Deposit Return Guidelines, and the California Courts Self Help page for more general information on those topics.

Code Section Civil Code §1950.5
Alternate Names "Cleaning Deposit," "Last Month's Rent," "Key Deposit," "Pet Deposit"
Security Deposit Minimum None
Security Deposit Maximum Two Month's Rent for Unfurnished Units, Three Month's Rent for Furnished Units
Nonrefundable? No, nonrefundable deposits are illegal.
What Can A Landlord Deduct? Unpaid Rent, Damage in Excess of Normal Wear and Tear, and Cleaning Costs to Return the Unit Back to a Move-In Ready Condition.
How Long For Return of Security Deposit? Within 21 Days After Tenant Moves Out Along With an Itemized List for Each Deduction.

Note:State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Free Initial Case Review

Landlord and tenant issues California are extremely complex and are especially complicated due to rent control ordinances and other laws. If you are a tenant who is concerned with California's security deposit limitations, then you need to talk to an attorney about the specifics of your case. Start today by getting a free initial case review by a California attorney.

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