Dave’s here 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.

leprechaundeposit.jpgMy 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.

Dave Crow is an attorney who specializes in San Francisco landlord tenant law. However, the opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author, do not constitute legal advice, and the information is general in nature. Consult the advice of an attorney for any specific problem. You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Dave Crow or his firm, Crow & Rose unless they have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this site with any information that you believe is highly confidential.

Want more news, sent to your inbox every day? Then how about subscribing to our email newsletter? Here’s why we think you should. Come on, give it a try.

the author

Dave Crow is an attorney who specializes in San Francisco landlord tenant law. However, the opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author, do not constitute legal advice, and the information is general in nature. Consult the advice of an attorney for any specific problem. You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Dave Crow or his firm, Crow & Rose unless they have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this site with any information that you believe is highly confidential.

Please make sure your comment adheres to our comment policy. If it doesn't, it may be deleted. Repeat violations may cause us to revoke your commenting privileges. No one wants that!
  • GGxGG

    Wow, I just had to share that this EXACT situation happened to me many years ago when I lived in Berkeley — right down to my having nagged the landlord for months about our share of the utility bills, because we hadn’t wanted to have to pay a huge amount all at once. I took her to small claims court and the court ruled just as you said — we were awarded the full deposit, and she was awarded her counterclaim of the utility bill total. My advice now to tenants is, if you agree to share utilities (either with your landlord or a master tenant), put a clause in the agreement that says they have to tell you what your share is within 30 days of receipt of the bill, otherwise they forever waive their right to payment for that month. The intent is to avoid anyone popping up months later and asking for hundreds of dollars in back utilities.

  • GGxGG

    Wow, I just had to share that this EXACT situation happened to me many years ago when I lived in Berkeley — right down to my having nagged the landlord for months about our share of the utility bills, because we hadn’t wanted to have to pay a huge amount all at once. I took her to small claims court and the court ruled just as you said — we were awarded the full deposit, and she was awarded her counterclaim of the utility bill total. My advice now to tenants is, if you agree to share utilities (either with your landlord or a master tenant), put a clause in the agreement that says they have to tell you what your share is within 30 days of receipt of the bill, otherwise they forever waive their right to payment for that month. The intent is to avoid anyone popping up months later and asking for hundreds of dollars in back utilities.

  • Dave Crow

    Good advice. There is a family of sleazeball landlords in SF who actually put a clause in their lease allowing them to take the deductions at the end of the term. Then they sue the tenants for the balance over and above the security deposit. Nice, eh?

  • Dave Crow

    Good advice. There is a family of sleazeball landlords in SF who actually put a clause in their lease allowing them to take the deductions at the end of the term. Then they sue the tenants for the balance over and above the security deposit. Nice, eh?