Tenant Troubles: Is There A “What Lies Can We Get Away With This Month?” Group For Landlords?

As we’re getting ready to move out of our house, the landlady is telling us that she doesn’t have a deposit to return to us because two years ago a tenant who doesn’t live here anymore asked to pay reduced rent over a couple months.

The landlady says she agreed but never said or put anything in writing to anyone about wanting the back rent repaid until now, two years later. Isn’t she supposed to request repayment within one year?

Tenant Troubles Archives

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.

I’ve received a couple of questions similar to yours in the last month or so. I also spoke to a tenant on the telephone about a landlord who claimed she couldn’t refund a security deposit for exactly the same reason. Different landlords, different tenants. What’s up?

Sometimes I wonder if there’s a “What Lies Can We Get Away With This Month?” working group of the Simple Minded Apartment Association of San Francisco. But that would be paranoid wouldn’t it?

Because landlords are not required to keep security deposits in separate accounts, they’ve already spent your money. Landlords have forgotten about your security deposit. Why haven’t you? It comes as no surprise that a new lie to justify withholding a security deposit would surface from the landlords’ collective subconscious. This seems to be the bullshit du jour.

Fortunate for you that this merde doesn’t bake well.

California Civil Code ยง1950.5(k)(1) states in part: “In any action under this section, the landlord or the landlord’s successors in interest shall have the burden of proof as to the reasonableness of the amounts claimed or the authority pursuant to this section to demand additional security deposits.”

Absent an agreement or other written proof, the landlord cannot meet her burden to prove that her “deduction” ever took place.

I am not aware of any requirement to request payment in a year. You may be confused with the requirement r=that a three-day notice to pay or quit can only demand rent going back one year.

When you write your demand letter, remind the landlord that she could be liable for statutory damages of twice the amount of the original security deposit for her bad faith claim.

Permit me to rant for a moment. Earlier this year State Senator Mark Leno introduced a bill (SB 603) to amend the security deposit law to include, among other things two issues I’ve noted here. It would have required landlords to keep security deposit in separate accounts and to pay interest on the amounts. It would have also required that a court must award statutory damages with a finding of a bad faith claim or retention of a security deposit. The current law says “may” and statutory damages are only assessed in about 3.5% of cases. The bill was defeated by Democrats! I can go on and on about fucking Democrats. Suffice it to say that Democrats are not necessarily tenant-friendly.

If landlords know they can lie to their tenants and the court about retaining a security deposit and only get a slap on the wrist, why wouldn’t they lie? Look out for more excretum tauri.

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.

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  • GG

    Hey, I love the column, and feel very fortunate to have a wonderful, considerate landlord. However, as a fellow attorney, I wonder whether you’re aware that the banner ads that run above your column are usually of the “Sue your landlord!” variety. Not only could that cause people to doubt your impartiality (keeping your advertisers happy might require your responses to have a “sue your landlord” bent), but it might suggest you’re improperly trying to stir up litigation in violation of the Bar rules. Just letting you know in case you were not aware of it (these are the ads that appear when I view your column on SF Appeal’s mobile site). Keep up the great work!

    • eveb

      Hi, GG! Eve Batey, Appeal editor here. Thank for your concern. As most publications do, we have a very strict wall between our editorial and business functions. Our conflict policy is here.

      In the case of the ads you’re seeing, those are served by an ad network, and are typically tailored to a combination of the text the ad network “sees” on our page as well as a reader’s browsing habits. While we have the option to block certain advertisers within the network, we do not typically do so unless we’ve received numerous reader complaints.

      I’m hopeful that the folks at the Bar are savvy enough to take all that into consideration, were this to become an issue Dave’s column is so useful to so many, it would be a shame if we had to strip every ad from its pages, in case a reader was served an one that suggested they file a lawsuit.

    • crystalwolf

      Get adblock, then you won’t see any ad’s! Thank you Dave Crow! I’m sick of these bastards ripping us off! Thanks for fighting the good fight!

  • GG

    Hey, I love the column, and feel very fortunate to have a wonderful, considerate landlord. However, as a fellow attorney, I wonder whether you’re aware that the banner ads that run above your column are usually of the “Sue your landlord!” variety. Not only could that cause people to doubt your impartiality (keeping your advertisers happy might require your responses to have a “sue your landlord” bent), but it might suggest you’re improperly trying to stir up litigation in violation of the Bar rules. Just letting you know in case you were not aware of it (these are the ads that appear when I view your column on SF Appeal’s mobile site). Keep up the great work!

    • eveb

      Hi, GG! Eve Batey, Appeal editor here. Thank for your concern. As most publications do, we have a very strict wall between our editorial and business functions. Our conflict policy is here.

      In the case of the ads you’re seeing, those are served by an ad network, and are typically tailored to a combination of the text the ad network “sees” on our page as well as a reader’s browsing habits. While we have the option to block certain advertisers within the network, we do not typically do so unless we’ve received numerous reader complaints.

      I’m hopeful that the folks at the Bar are savvy enough to take all that into consideration, were this to become an issue Dave’s column is so useful to so many, it would be a shame if we had to strip every ad from its pages, in case a reader was served an one that suggested they file a lawsuit.

    • crystalwolf

      Get adblock, then you won’t see any ad’s! Thank you Dave Crow! I’m sick of these bastards ripping us off! Thanks for fighting the good fight!

  • Hitman

    Crow & Rose are the epitome of scumbag lawyers! They tried to shakedown my family. I held firm and they gave in. Landlords – never pay more than $15k to settle a case involving Crow. Tell the tenant you may pay more if they hire new counsel so vampire squids like them can wither and die.

    • neutral_corner

      When anonymous poster calls author a “scumbag lawyer,” just how prejudiced do the editors and moderators have to be in order to justify deleting your comments? Absent some elaboration about your alleged “shakedown,” you’re merely making yourself look rather foolish.

  • Hitman

    Crow & Rose are the epitome of scumbag lawyers! They tried to shakedown my family. I held firm and they gave in. Landlords – never pay more than $15k to settle a case involving Crow. Tell the tenant you may pay more if they hire new counsel so vampire squids like them can wither and die.

    • neutral_corner

      When anonymous poster calls author a “scumbag lawyer,” just how prejudiced do the editors and moderators have to be in order to justify deleting your comments? Absent some elaboration about your alleged “shakedown,” you’re merely making yourself look rather foolish.

  • Hitman

    By the way, how impartial are the editors and moderators here? Where are my comments on Crow’s last BS article about a LL rightfully hanging around his own property too much. It seems they have been erased.

    • eveb

      Hi, “Hitman,” Eve Batey, Appeal editor here. As it reads above every comment section on our site, comments that don’t adhere to our comment policy may be deleted. It’s not an issue of partiality, we’ve had the same policy since 2009 and have enforced it throughout. That said, I looked back at the article to which you’re referring, and no comments were deleted from that piece, so it seems you are mistaken.

      However, the comment you posted on this piece *was* in violation, and therefore was deleted. If you want to continue to comment on this site, please adhere to our policies.

  • Hitman

    By the way, how impartial are the editors and moderators here? Where are my comments on Crow’s last BS article about a LL rightfully hanging around his own property too much. It seems they have been erased.

    • eveb

      Hi, “Hitman,” Eve Batey, Appeal editor here. As it reads above every comment section on our site, comments that don’t adhere to our comment policy may be deleted. It’s not an issue of partiality, we’ve had the same policy since 2009 and have enforced it throughout. That said, I looked back at the article to which you’re referring, and no comments were deleted from that piece, so it seems you are mistaken.

      However, the comment you posted on this piece *was* in violation, and therefore was deleted. If you want to continue to comment on this site, please adhere to our policies.

  • Liz Rood

    My own dear husband got screwed by a landlord on Ashbury at Haight , right when he moved to San Francisco. He and his best friend had their security deposit “seized” by their (live-in) landlord, and in spite of winning 3 civil judgements to have it returned, they never saw a dime. Whee! Yay, courts! At least he can continue his life knowing he was right in spite of never seeing the money again.

    • Matty J.

      At a certain point, you retain the right to collect the debt yourself. There are collectors out there that will do it for you for a percentage of the take.

      I was lucky that when my last landlord spent my deposit and claimed she could get it back to me whenever she wanted, it took just one trip to small claims court a year later to make her find it under a couch cushion or something.

  • Liz Rood

    My own dear husband got screwed by a landlord on Ashbury at Haight , right when he moved to San Francisco. He and his best friend had their security deposit “seized” by their (live-in) landlord, and in spite of winning 3 civil judgements to have it returned, they never saw a dime. Whee! Yay, courts! At least he can continue his life knowing he was right in spite of never seeing the money again.

    • Matty J.

      At a certain point, you retain the right to collect the debt yourself. There are collectors out there that will do it for you for a percentage of the take.

      I was lucky that when my last landlord spent my deposit and claimed she could get it back to me whenever she wanted, it took just one trip to small claims court a year later to make her find it under a couch cushion or something.