Can My Landlord Hang On To My Deposit For Utility Bills?

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Dave’s at SF Appeal to answer your questions every Wednesday, so send them to him at tenant@sfappeal.com, here’s what to make sure to include in your letter.

My husband and I vacated an apartment in the Marina district in May.  We paid rent for 6 days more than we stayed in the apartment We have not received our deposit back even though California law states the landlord has 21 days.  

When I followed up with the landlord he said he is working on tallying up the bills for the past 15 months to deduct from our deposit and he just received some of the last month of bills.  Our rental agreement states we would pay 2/3’s of certain bills (water, garbage, electricity for the garage, cable) because he lived in the unit above by himself and there were 2 of us.

We were disappointed he did not give these bills to us monthly and is now deducting from our deposit. We had requested these bills multiple times while living in the unit and he always said he would work on putting a spreadsheet together showing what we owe and never did.  Unfortunately, we do not have any of these requests in writing.  

I am guessing he is legally allowed to deduct these from our deposit, but would appreciate confirmation.  Additionally, does the 21 day rule not apply since he was waiting to receive a utility bill?

I don’t think Civil Code § 1950.5, the statute dealing with the collection and refund of security deposits, is applicable to collect utility bills.

California Civil Code § 1950.5(b)(1-4) allows the landlord to deduct from the  tenant’s security deposit for four purposes: (1) For unpaid rent; (2) For cleaning the rental unit when the tenant moves out, but only to make the unit as clean as it was when the tenant first moved in; (3) For repair of damages, other than normal wear and tear, caused by the tenant or the tenant’s guests; and (4) If the lease or rental agreement allows it, for the cost of restoring or replacing furniture, furnishings, or other items of personal property (including keys), other than because of normal wear and tear.

In other words, there is no provision in the code to deduct utility bills from a security deposit.

The short answer to your question is that the 21-day period does apply. You can send a demand letter to the landlord requesting the return of your security deposit in, say, five days, and remind him if he fails to pay, you’ll sue him in small claims court for the deposit plus twice the amount of the deposit as statutory damages.

A more complex analysis will, however, recognize that the landlord will be able to file a cross-complaint for the utility bills if you sue him for the deposit.

I think you should send the landlord a demand letter if only to get him off his ass. If he provides the bills, they are accurate and you do owe the landlord, make an arrangement to settle the whole thing.

Check in with San Francisco Tenants Union to get advice about what to include in your demand letter.

Crow & Rose's legal practice emphasizes eviction defense, wrongful eviction and other landlord tenant and real property matters.

One Response to Can My Landlord Hang On To My Deposit For Utility Bills?

  1. I transferred to another apt within the complex because
    The unit I lived in was filled with mold. The manager inside
    The leasing office said the full amount of security deposit would
    Transfer over to the new apt. Once I moved into the new
    Unit, the manager tells me the utility bill is always 2 months
    In the rears and I would need to pay it right away
    Because he had taken it out of my security deposit??
    My next question to him was why would u deduct 2
    Months of utility bills from my deposit when u said
    The full amount of security would transfer over??

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