The Rules on Your San Francisco Rent Deposit Return

San Francisco apartments aren’t only expensive in terms of monthly rent, they’re expensive to move into. Most landlords and landladies require a first and last month rent deposit. Sometimes, if the place is furnished, you will be asked to pay three times one month’s rent before you move in. According to California Civil Code Section 1950.5, this payment is recognized as a security deposit by the law–and by law, this deposit is refundable. If your landlord has a section in the renter’s agreement contract regarding a nonrefundable deposit know that this is illegal. Even if you’ve signed a contract and paid a nonrefundable deposit it isn’t valid.

But we’re not here to talk about nonrefundable deposits. We’re here to talk about refundable ones, and to educate you on your rights. You’ve probably heard a friend’s story how they sued their landlord because they didn’t receive their security deposit back. Unfortunately, this does happen from time to time. But here’s what you should know and practice to avoid that outcome when you do move out of your San Francisco apartment.

Take Photos Before You Move In

The only instance recognized by law in which your landlord can refuse to return the security deposit is if the unit is damaged. When you move in to your unit take photos of the apartment’s current condition–this includes appliances.

Record Existing Damages

During this process, it’s important to note anything you notice that has already been damaged. Make sure all of the appliances are working properly. Also, be sure to understand whose responsibility it is to replace them if they break under your lease. Once you’ve recorded a list of existing damages, share this document with your landlord and ask for a signature. This will help you avoid any confusion when you move out.

Ask For a Receipt

When you pay your security deposit, it’s recommended that you ask for an itemized receipt. This will list each charge that your deposit is supposed to cover.

Schedule an Inspection Before Moving Out

When you move out you will work with your landlord to facilitate a move-out inspection. This inspection should be conducted within your last two weeks of living in the apartment. Assuming there are no damages, your landlord has 21 days to return your security deposit.

If you want to learn more about security deposits, and your rights as a San Francisco tenant, we encourage you to check out the San Francisco Tenants Union. They have a lot of helpful resources, and offer counseling services too.