Damage Control: Navigating Charges for Damages and Cleaning in LA County Properties - Article Banner

There’s nothing worse than walking into a rental property after your tenant has moved out to find that it’s a complete mess. Maybe there’s damage. Maybe you find food in the fridge and spills on the counter. Maybe they left a pile of trash in the living room. 

How can you control the damage? 

As you likely know, California has some specific laws when it comes to security deposits. For example, you cannot collect more than the equivalent of two months’ rent on an unfurnished property when a tenant is moving in. There are also restrictions on how you can use the security deposit at the end of a lease term, when the tenant has moved out.  

There is a timeline for security deposit returns and, even more importantly, there are strict details on what you can and cannot deduct for. 

As a landlord or real estate investor, charging a tenant’s security deposit for cleaning and damages after they move out can be difficult to navigate. You have to be absolutely certain that you’re not looking at wear and tear. Do you know the difference between property damage and wear and tear? Because it’s not always entirely clear. 

While it is a necessary process, it’s important to keep in mind the laws and regulations surrounding security deposits in Los Angeles County. 

We want to help clear up some of the misunderstandings around security deposits and why you collect them. Here’s what you need to know about charging a tenant’s security deposit for cleaning and damages in Los Angeles County.

Understand California’s Security Deposit Laws

How well do you know the laws that govern how rental properties are leased and managed in Los Angeles County? There’s very little room for error, here, California has more tenant protections than most states in the country. 

Before charging a tenant’s security deposit, it’s important to understand and follow the laws and regulations of Los Angeles and California. According to California law, a landlord can only withhold a tenant’s security deposit for certain reasons, such as unpaid rent, cleaning, or repair costs beyond reasonable wear and tear. 

Additionally, a landlord must return the tenant’s security deposit within 21 days of their move-out date, or provide an itemized list of deductions and receipts for repairs. Make sure to review these laws and regulations to avoid any legal disputes.

Check your lease agreement, too. A strong lease will provide specific instructions for your tenants. They’ll know exactly what they have to do to get their security deposit back. If they painted the walls during the tenancy, for example, they should know that they have to repaint them to the original color before moving out. You cannot consider it damage when the damage has been rectified.

Conduct Thorough Inspections

A series of inspections need to occur before you make any charges against the security deposit for property damage or for cleaning. 

Let’s start with the move-in inspection. This will occur after the lease is signed, the move-in funds have been collected, and tenants are preparing to move into your rental unit. You’ll want to go through it before they arrive, noting its condition and documenting everything. Take hundreds of pictures. You want photos of the appliances, the condition of the floors, the walls, and even the ceiling. Open every closet drawer and document the condition of every room and space. This will be what you measure the move-out condition against. 

Before we get to the move-out inspection, though, we have to remind you of your obligation to offer your tenants a pre-move out inspection. This would occur within two weeks of them moving out of your property. Offer it to them, and be flexible with your schedule so they can elect to have this inspection and be present for it. 

Not all tenants will agree to it, but it can actually benefit them and you. This is your opportunity to walk through the property together and point out any potential deductions that you might make against the deposit. Your tenants will have the opportunity to make the repairs themselves, before they leave. 

Finally, you’ll do the move-out inspection once they have vacated. This is where you evaluate any potential damage and make a note of any cleaning that needs to be done to bring the rental home back to the original condition that it was in, minus general wear and tear. Again – document everything. You’ll be comparing how it looks now to the way it looked before move-in. 

Keep in mind that you cannot charge a tenant for damages that are considered normal wear and tear. Make sure you know the difference between wear and tear and tenant damage. This will make a big difference in how you pay for the work that needs to be done. 

Determine Costs and What can be Charged to the Tenant 

After conducting the inspection, calculate the estimated costs for repairing any damages and cleaning. Get quotes from contractors or cleaning services to ensure that your estimated costs are accurate. It’s important to document and keep receipts of all costs incurred for repairs or cleaning.

What will you charge the deposit for? Unpaid rent is absolutely acceptable. Property damage is acceptable. Cleaning costs are also allowed, as long as you’re paying to have the property’s cleanliness returned to the pre-move in condition. Everyone has a different opinion on what “clean” means. This is why your lease has to be specific. You expect to get the property back as clean as it was when the tenants moved in. 

What is wear and tear and what is damage? 

You have to understand that everything in your rental property has a life expectancy. Carpet will wear out, paint will need to be updated, and appliances will break and need to be replaced. Paint is usually the biggest concern, and there will always be chips and scuffs left behind on the wall. It’s reasonable for tenants to hang pictures and place their furniture against the wall. That’s wear and tear, not damage.

Certain things move beyond wear and tear and qualify as damage. If a tenant’s child draws on the walls, that’s not wear and tear. It’s damage. Damage would include large tears in the carpet, big holes in the walls from drilled mounts for televisions and mirrors, and broken appliances due to misuse or neglect. 

You can minimize the amount of damage and wear and tear that’s found at the end of a tenancy by being responsive and attentive to maintenance. When you’re proactive during the tenancy, small problems don’t become large problems. Work with licensed and insured vendors. 

If there’s damage detected after the move out, fix it and charge the security deposit. Make sure you have your documentation ready, including photos, so that you can defend yourself if your tenants claim that you should not have made the deduction. 

Provide Los Angeles County Tenants an Itemized List of Deductions

In Los Angeles, landlords are required to provide a tenant with an itemized list of deductions from their security deposit within 21 days of their move-out date. The list must include the amount of the security deposit, a description of the damages or cleaning needed, and the cost of repairs or cleaning. It’s important to be specific and detailed in your itemized list to avoid any confusion or disputes.

Send the itemized list of how the damages and cleaning were paid for to the tenant’s last known address. Hopefully, they provided you with a forwarding address before they moved out. If they did not, you’ll have to send it to the address you have, which is likely the property you’ve been renting to them. If the mail is not automatically forwarded, try to get in touch and let the tenant know you are trying to return the security deposit.

You collect a security deposit from your tenants because you know there is the potential that they’ll leave behind damage when they move out. Minimizing the damage is always your best first defense. With exceptional tenant screening, good tenant relationships, proactive maintenance policies, and routine inspections, you can keep an eye on the property and prevent any real damage from settling in. 

As a landlord, maintaining your property is an important part of your job. But, you can reasonably hold tenants accountable for any damage that they cause, beyond what’s considered normal wear and tear. Make sure to follow the laws and regulations of Los Angeles, conduct a thorough inspection, determine costs, provide an itemized list of deductions, and return the remaining deposit within 21 days. By following these steps, you can ensure a smooth and legal process for charging a tenant’s security deposit

House RepairIf you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to make repairs that exceed the security deposit you’ve collected, you’ll want to try to collect the balance from the tenant. This is often frustrating, and you may want to get some help from an attorney or a Los Angeles property manager

Let us help you avoid expensive property damage and cleaning costs. Contact us at El Camino Property Management. 

Please note this information is deemed reliable, but not guaranteed. Please consult appropriate professionals for specific situations.

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