Preventing Unwanted Charges and Deductions from Your Security Deposit 

Moving into a new apartment or rental home is exciting as it is stressful.  Oftentimes, renters are too preoccupied with moving out of their old home to pay close attention to the condition of their new one.  If you fail to document your home’s condition upon your move-in and before your move-out, then all that exists is the landlord’s version of the facts.  Accordingly, a tenant who inadequately documents the condition of their home at their tenancy’s inception and conclusion does so at their peril.   

Here are a few simple ways to prevent unfair charges during your tenancy and unreasonable deductions from your deposit through adequate documentation: 

#1: Ask about recent pest activity 

When touring your future home, ask your landlord when the unit was last treated for pests, and ask for a copy of the pest control vendor’s latest treatment report.  In California, the landlord must pay for pest treatments unless the pest problem was caused by the tenant.  If you can establish that there were pests in the unit prior to your tenancy, your landlord will be less inclined to wrongfully charge you for any pest treatments during your tenancy.  Additionally, you might consider renting elsewhere if your prospective home has been the subject of recent and/or serious pest activity. 

#2: Ask about the flooring’s age 

Before moving in, ask your landlord whether the flooring is new and get their response in writing.  If the flooring is not new, ask when the flooring was installed.  In California, your landlord cannot charge you for ordinary wear and tear.  Generally, apartment flooring (especially carpet) has a usable lifespan of five years.  This means that it will need to be replaced every five years because of ordinary wear and tear.  If a tenant hastens the flooring’s replacement through serious damage, then the tenant should expect to pay the pro-rated replacement cost of the flooring.  As such, establishing the flooring’s installation date is crucial to determine if your landlord is unfairly charging you for its replacement. 

#3: Ask for an initial move-out inspection when submitting your notice to vacate. 

When it comes time to move out, always ask your landlord for an initial move-out inspection.  The initial inspection gives the tenant the opportunity to minimize deductions from their security deposits by having their landlord identify any foreseeable deductions for cleaning, painting or repairing the premises.  If you choose to perform these tasks, then the cost should not be deducted from your security deposit.  Your landlord is obligated to perform an initial inspection upon request and must give you a written assessment of all foreseeable charges against your deposit.  This gives you the opportunity to cure any deficiencies in the condition of the rental unit before vacating it.  Also, it goes without saying that you should photograph the entirety of the premises after your move out is complete, paying close attention to any repairs you performed in accordance with the initial inspection.