What Can I Withhold From A Tenant’s Security Deposit?


After a lease ends and the tenant moves out, it’s guaranteed that there will be some amount of work that will need to be done to get the property ready to rent again.

This can range anywhere from just a good cleaning to a full scale rehab project. If it’s the latter, this can take weeks to complete and cost thousands of dollars.

Many landlords are left wondering how much of the security deposit they can use to help cover the costs of getting the property prepped and presentable for a new tenant.

The hard part is determining what damage is considered tenant responsibility and what is normal wear and tear, and how much you can charge for each given item.

Also, how long do you have to complete repairs and return the unused portion of the deposit to the tenant?

Some landlords view the security deposit as a bonus that they get for renting out their property that they will keep no matter what. This is not only unethical, but can have some serious legal ramifications as well.

All of this is covered under California Civil Code Section 1950.5 but we’ll go ahead and break it all down for you here.

Security Deposit Limits

Before you get to deducting form a security deposit, it’s important to know how much you can hold as a security deposit in the first place.

California has placed hard limits on this. While the standard amount is typically one month’s rent, you can hold up to:

  • 2 times the monthly rent for an unfurnished rental
  • 3 times the monthly rent for a furnished rental

This law exists to prevent landlords from holding an unreasonably high security deposit and then not returning it to the tenant at the end of the lease.

When you write your lease, it’s important that you don’t characterize the security deposit as “nonrefundable.” This is illegal under California law.

It’s also important that your lease specifically states that the deposit cannot be used as last month’s rent. Allowing the tenant to use the security deposit as last month’s rent can put you in a tough position if there are extensive tenant caused damages. It’s a lot easier to deduct from a security deposit then go after them for more money.

What The Security Deposit Can Be Used For

California law is also very clear on this. Landlords can use a tenant’s security deposit for:

  • Any unpaid rent
  • Repair of damages to the property beyond normal wear and tear
  • Any cleaning needed to get the property back to the level of cleanliness it was at move in

The best way to document the condition of the property at move in is with pictures or even a video walkthrough. This will make it very easy to compare the condition at move out with the condition before the tenant lived there.

Many landlords do not understand what is considered normal wear and tear and what is beyond that.

Normal wear and tear is the average deterioration of a property over its natural lifetime, not caused by neglect or abuse of the property.

California law does not do a very good job of defining normal wear and tear, but HUD does. According to HUD, here are some examples of normal wear and tear vs tenant damage:

Normal Wear and Tear Tenant Damage
 Fading, peeling or cracked paint  Gaping holes in walls or plaster
 Slightly torn or faded wallpaper  Drawings, crayon markings or wallpaper that the owner   did not approve or damaged wallpaper
 Small chips in plaster  Chipped or gouged wood floors
 Nail holes, pin holes or cracks in the wall  Doors ripped off hinges
 Door sticking from humidity  Broken windows
 Cracked window pane from faulty foundation or   building setting  Missing fixtures
 Floors needing coat of varnish  Holes in ceiling from removed fixtures
 Carpet faded or worn thin from walking  Holes, stains or burns in carpet
 Loose grouting and bathroom tiles  Missing or cracked bathroom tiles
 Worn or scratched enamel in old bathtubs, sinks or   toilets  Chipped and broken enamel in bathtubs and sinks
 Rusty shower rod  Clogged or damaged toilet from improper use
 Partially clogged sinks caused by aging pipes  Missing or bent shower rods
 Dirty or faded lamp or window shades  Torn, stained or missing lamp and window shades

It is also helpful to know the normal life expectancy of different major items in your rental property. HUD provides examples of this as well:

Major Item Expected Lifetime
  Interior Painting – enamel  5 years
 Interior Painting – flat  3 years
 Carpet  5 years
  Window shades, screens & blinds  3 years
 Tiles/ Linoleum  5 years
Ranges  20 years
 Refrigerators  10 years


If any of these items are at or near their life expectancy, landlords shouldn’t charge tenants for repair or replacement regardless of their condition at move out. These items need to be replaced regularly anyway.

Helping The Tenant Get Their Deposit Back

After a tenant gives you a 30 day notice that they will be vacating the property, you need to notify them of their option for an initial inspection, or as well call it, a pre-move out inspection.

If the tenant does not respond to this notice or does not want to do it, you don’t have to.

The purpose of this inspection is to walkthrough the property with the tenant and point out anything beyond normal wear and tear to give them the opportunity to fix it without having it deducted from their deposit.

Once you agree on a day and time to conduct the inspection, you must give a 48 hour written notice prior to the inspection, unless you both agree to forgo this requirement in writing. This allows the landlord to conduct the inspection whether the tenant is present or not.

Once completed, you should provide the tenant with an itemized list of deductions you plan to make based on the condition of the property. This can cover repairs of anything beyond normal wear and tear or cleaning. The tenant then has the opportunity to take care of these items before they move out.

Writing a Check

The Disposition

After the tenant moves out and you perform any repair or cleaning that you will be deducting from the deposit, you need to return the remainder to the tenant.

A commonly missed deduction is for unpaid water and trash bills. Be sure to call both the local sanitation company and the local water company to see fi the tenant has an outstanding balance because these charges do not follow the tenant like and electric or gas bill, they stay with the property.

You must provide the tenant with an itemized statement and charges incurred for all work over $125 including:

  • All charges for material or supplies with a copy of the invoice or receipt.
  • If you or one of your employees performs the work, an explanation of the work performed as well as time spent and the reasonable hourly rate charged.
  • If performed by an outside vendor, a copy of the bill, invoice or receipt from the vendor as well as their name, address and phone number.

This must be done within 21 calendar days of the tenant vacating the property.

If it can’t be done within 21 days, you can deduct a good faith estimate as long as you provide an itemized statement. Within 14 days of completing the work, you must provide the tenant with the actual itemized statement. Even if you don’t have a forwarding address, send it to the last known address which would be your rental property. Keep a copy of the envelope if it gets returned by the post office. This will protect you if you find yourself in small claims court over a deposit dispute.

If you don’t do this, even if the tenant trashed your house, they can sue you for the amount of the deposit plus twice the amount in damages if the judge determines you retained the deposit in bad faith.

Even if you evict a tenant that potentially owes you thousands in unpaid rent, you MUST perform a disposition. There would be nothing worse than having to give a delinquent tenant their deposit back because you didn’t follow this law.

Summing it up

There’s a lot to California Civil Code Section 1950.5, but this article hit on the most important parts.

If you don’t ever want to have to worry about handling a tenant’s deposit, give us a call or contact us. Move in, pre-move out, and move out inspections as well as deposit dispositions are just a few of the services that we provide here at Mesa Properties.

For a comprehensive guide to managing rental property, check out this resource.

Sawyer Shwetz

Property Manager

Sawyer is a Property Manager at Mesa Properties Inc. He focuses primarily on property management and improving “behind the scenes” processes. Sawyer obtained his Bachelors of Science degree in Manufacturing Engineering from Cal Poly Pomona.

During his college years, Sawyer worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory where he designed and implemented new destructive tests for flight hardware prototypes. He also conducted heat treatment operations for projects including the Mars 2020 Rover, Mars Insight, and the ISS.

Sawyer has been involved in the property management business since High School. He enjoys business more than engineering, which is why he has decided to pursue a career in property management.

DRE: 02091893

Moenique Hall

Assistant Property Manager

Moenique is an Army Veteran and brat, born in Baltimore; raised mostly in Texas. In the Army, her job was in aircraft and vehicle logistics. She obtained an Associates Degree in Business Administration from San Joaquin Valley College with a 4.0 GPA in 2019. She is currently attending Park University in pursuit of her Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration/ Human Resources.

She is married with no children. Her husband is currently serving active duty Army so she enjoys seeing new places and making new memories with him. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and trying new foods, growing in her faith, bike riding, hiking, small decor projects and binge watching movies and TV shows.

She enjoys working with Mesa as an administrative assistant and is looking forward to endless possibilities and growth within her career.

Iliana Urena

Director of Leasing and Applications

Iliana manages the application process at Mesa and is responsible for screening tenants as well as helping out with other admin related jobs around the office. Prior to joining Mesa, Iliana held several customer service job with her most recent being the dispatcher for a transportation company in Mira Loma, CA.

Iliana currently resides in Phelan, where she lives with her husband and three children. Iliana enjoys working for a company where there are opportunities for growth, while gaining experience and knowledge.

Tina Salazar

Real Estate Agent

Tina Salazar joined our real estate team in July of 2019. Prior to becoming a Realtor, she had a background in the medical field. After many long hours and becoming a mother, she decided to pursue real estate. Her family and friends have always been involved in new construction and real estate, which helped spark her interest in the field. She also works along side her brother, Michael.

As a Realtor, Tina’s services consist of helping buyers and sellers obtain property that best suits them. When she is not working, she enjoys spending time with her 3 boys and husband. They enjoy their time in Boy Scouts and soccer.


Irish Dee

Maintenance Coordinator

Irish is the maintenance coordinator at Mesa. She has an Associates Degree in Arts for Dental Medicine and has experience with customer service and problem solving from her time with AT&T and Microsoft. She then worked in human resources which helped improve her people skills and ability to create processes and procedures, which is part of what makes her a great Maintenance Coordinator here at Mesa.

Irish loves working at Mesa because of the culture in the office and her ability to help our tenants with their maintenance issues. In her free time, she loves spending time with her daughter, reading books and keeping up with politics.

Charlene Gumabay

Leasing and Applications Assistant

Charlene is the Leasing and Applications Assistant at Mesa who is trained to handle phone calls and mostly work side by side with the Director of Leasing and Applications as the primary contact for rental applicants. She has a great deal of experience in customer service from working with Macys and Bloomingdales for several years which helped her become more effective in her role as she is known to be very efficient and shows willingness to help every time.

Richan Nuynay

Administrative Assistant

Richan is a one the administrative assistants at Mesa. She has developed impeccable phone manners and an ability to provide good customer service with her more than a decade of experience from her previous roles with Dell and AOL. Assisting our owners and tenants is her passion. She loves making do-it-yourself stuff, cooking and spending quality time with her family when she is not working.

Rustin Harris

Assistant Property Manager

Meghan Williams


Meghan is one of the newest members of our Mesa Team and works in our accounting department. She studied accounting at Chaffey College. Prior to joining Mesa, Meghan was a bookkeeper for 6 years at a CPA firm that primarily worked with dairy farms. She enjoys working for Mesa because she is able to use her accounting experience in whole new ways and also enjoys the friendly office environment that has been established here. Meghan resides in Rancho Cucamonga with her husband and two sons.

Rebecca Anthony

Administrative Assistant

Rebecca is one of our administrative assistants and is one of the warm and friendly voices you will hear when you call our office. She has a strong customer experience background from her past role with Sprint and loves assisting our owners and tenants. When she isn’t working, Rebecca loves to bake and spend time with her son and family.

Steve Shwetz

Managing Broker

Steve, the Managing Broker and Founder of Mesa Properties Inc. & Mesa Real Estate, began his real estate career buying, fixing and reselling distressed properties in Southern California. Seeing the long-term opportunity in a buy and hold strategy, Steve began acquiring residential real estate to build his own real estate rental portfolio. As a 10 year owner of an international service franchise, Steve saw an opportunity to take his experience in customer service and developing systems and processes and apply that experience to the world of property management and real estate. Prior to starting his own businesses Steve held various senior and advisory level sales positions with IBM Corp., B. Braun Medical, Insight Direct & Reach Local. Steve is a licensed real estate broker and holds a Bachelors in Business from the University of Southern California.

DRE: 01881471

Sheryl Shwetz

General Manager, Administration

Sheryl helped to establish Mesa Properties Inc. with Steve. Today, she serves as the backbone of all things administrative for the company. Sheryl oversees all the details of running a property management company including on-boarding new owners, converting applicants to tenants, and paying all vendors. After earning her B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix, Sheryl worked for a software development company running the support and training department and writing user documentation. Sheryl also gained experience at an advertising agency servicing non-profit organizations where she drafted vendor instructions for merging customer data with various fundraising campaigns. Sheryl has 3 sons and home-schooled them through various stages of their K-8 education. Each one is now thriving in adulthood.

Sam Shwetz

Inland Empire Branch Manager

Sam is the Inland Empire Branch Manager at Mesa focusing on engaging both new and existing owners of residential and commercial properties. Sam is a U.S. Navy veteran having served in the Nuclear Field on the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier.

After his military service, Sam worked for a lighting control company as a field service engineer on various projects including extensive work on Apple’s new corporate headquarters in Cupertino California. Sam has his Bachelors of Science degree in business with an emphasis in finance.

Sam and his wife Sydney are homeowners in Ontario, CA where they live with their golden retriever.

DRE: 02069937

Verenice Guardado Alvarado

Property Manager

Verenice is one of our property managers on the Mesa Properties Team. She earned her Associate’s Degree in Business Administration from San Joaquin Valley College and used her skills working in customer service. Previously, Verenice worked 4 years with Target where she trained sales associates and developed strong communication and teamwork skills. Through her position at Mesa Properties, Verenice strives to find the right tenant for each owner and the right home for each tenant.

DRE: 02036438

Mark Parmenter

Property Manager

Prior to joining Mesa Properties Inc., Mark worked in the construction industry as a member of the carpenters union. He holds an Associates degree in Business, he is a licensed agent, certified in property management and enjoys the unique challenges of property management. Mark is a homeowner himself and experienced with on site multi-unit management. He understands the delicate balance of working with tenants as a landlord, owner and neighbor.

DRE: 01981906

Joshua Long

High Desert Branch Manager

Joshua is the High Desert Branch Manager for the Mesa team. With a background in sales and finance, Joshua gained the strong communication skills necessary to be an effective problem solver when handling any situation he is faced with.

He currently manages and facilitates office relations including hiring new office personnel. Joshua also assists with the business development side of the company, as he effectively works to enroll new and existing homeowners for management of their investment properties.

Joshua graduated in 2019 from CSUSB with his Bachelors of the Arts degree in Administration with a concentration in Management. He graduated with the distinctions of honors and cum laude. Joshua and his wife, Claudia, are currently homeowners in Victorville where they reside with their son and two dogs.

DRE: 01998522

Carmen Franco

Property Manager

Carmen has been part of the Mesa team since 2017. She graduated from University Preparatory High School in 2011. She has earned her certificate in Business Administration from San Joaquin Valley College with a 4.0 GPA. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with her children and volunteering for animal rescues. Getting to know the team at Mesa, Carmen has been inspired to pursue a career in property management. She is a very driven individual who is motivated to learn more each and everyday. Carmen enjoys communicating with tenants and owners to ensure the best customer service. She also prides herself in bringing a positive and caring attitude to everyone and everything she does. Carmen currently resides in Apple Valley with her husband and 2 children.

Amairani Guardado

Transaction Coordinator

Amairani Palacios is the Transaction Coordinator for our real estate team at Mesa! She is highly driven, motivated and bilingual. Her main role is to work with our real estate agents to ensure the administration side of a real estate transaction runs smoothly during the escrow process. She enjoys what she does and is constantly looking to learn and improve her skills as a transaction coordinator.

Amairani is currently going to school to obtain an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice. When she is not working or attending school, she enjoys spending time with her three daughters and her family. She enjoys coaching youth soccer and being outdoors.

DRE 02049281

Michael Melendez

Real Estate Manager

Mike has been practicing real estate in Southern California since 2006. His family and friends have always been involved in home loans, new construction, and rehabilitation projects, deepening his knowledge of all aspects of the industry. As a Realtor, Mike’s service’s consist of helping buyers and sellers obtain property that best suits their interests. Finding his clients great deals, maximizing their proceeds and finding them the right home is what he does best. Mike understands that real estate is one of the biggest purchases and sales that can be made, and choosing the right agent is an important decision. He has both the experience and technology to help his clients meet their goals.

DRE: 01781635

Sonya Dod

Real Estate Agent

Sonya Dod has been a licensed real estate agent since 1989, Sonya is an agent who facilitates successful transactions for buyers as well as sellers, boasting a solid reputation for making deals with honesty and integrity. Since Sonya was raised on a Texas farm, she isn’t afraid of hard work and long hours. After her parents moved to California 40 years ago, they started buying investment properties. So she grew familiar and comfortable with the process of finding, fixing up and selling properties at an early age. Having served as an underwriter, processor and loan officer, Sonya has the knowledge and experience necessary to help sellers and buyers avoid wasting time opening meaningless transactions. What’s more, sellers are protected by her expertise as she requires buyers to provide written permission to speak directly to lenders. This unique approach fosters quickly closed deals and eliminates false representation.

DRE: 01055445