Property Management Blog

Allowable Security Deposit Deductions

Bob Preston - Saturday, October 20, 2018
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Landlords and tenants alike will often ask what is allowable as a security deposit deduction at the conclusion of a tenant’s lease agreement. Some aspects of California law are quite clear on this topic, others are a bit hazier.


According to California Civil Code § 1950.5(b)(2), when a tenant terminates their lease and vacates the property, the landlord can deduct costs incurred to repair damages caused by that tenant as a charge and deduction from the tenant’s security deposit.


According to the same California Civil Code § 1950.5(b)(2), these charges can only be taken for damage beyond ordinary wear and tear. 

So, herein lies an important question regarding security deposit deductions …. what does “normal wear and tear” mean? 

From my experience, common sense judgment should rule the day. Sometimes I’m in the difficult position of having to explain this to both the tenant and the landlord. The security deposit cannot be used for repairing property defects or deterioration caused by normal daily life at the property. The security deposit also can’t be charged for any conditions if they existed at the time that the departing tenant moved in or if a property item is beyond its “useful life”.  Another good rule of thumb is the measure of obvious neglect, misuse, or abuse that may have led to property damage which would be cause for security deduction.

Applying my “common sense rule” to the above, maybe these examples will help: 

  • Matting or frayed carpet in high traffic areas or small stains in select areas is wear and tear; Burned or badly stained carpet is damage. 
  • Small nail holes where pictures were hung are wear and tear; large holes or areas cut open in the walls is damage. 
  • Smudges and scuffs on walls are wear and tear; large stains or permanent stickers applied on the walls is damage.

Looking to an official government source, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) weighs in on this topic on pages 55 and 56 of a document titled Special Claims and Processes Guide (June 2006) which can be found at this link:

According to HUD, Tenant damages usually require more extensive repairs and at a greater cost than normal wear and tear and are often the result of a tenant’s abuse or negligence that is above and beyond normal wear and tear. To summarize the HUD guidelines, please consider this table:



Small nail holes (6 penny/2" nail or less), pin holes, natural cracks in wall, small chips in plaster

Gaping holes, large holes from bolts or anchor screws, screws left in walls, HDTV brackets left on wall, areas cut open or large dents in plaster

Fading, peeling, scuffed, or cracked paint/wallpaper, areas where tenant has filled small holes with DAP

Drawings, decals/stickers, crayon markings on walls, spot painting of wrong color or unapproved paint/wallpaper 

Doors sticking or not closing properly due to age or humidity

Doors removed or ripped from hinges

Worn out keys, loose or sticky door locks or handles
Broken, unreturned or missing keys or locks, damage to door from forced entry or attempts to enter with improper tools

Cracked window pane from settling of building

Broken Window

Carpet faded, frayed or worn thin in high traffic areas

Torn or ripped carpet, burns, large stains, or blatant pet damage, permanent pet urine stains in carpet or pad

Small scratches or fading from sun in wood flooring in select areas ; vinyl foor fading or worn thin in traffic areas

Gauges in wood flooring, areas of unreported water damage or excessive scratches throughout from pet damage; cuts, holes or gauges in vinyl flooring

Calcified, rusty or hard water spots on water faucets/fixtures, shower rod, or loose faucet handle
Build up of dirt, mold, mildew, or water stains from a preventable or unreported water leak, missing shower rod which had been installed by landlord, broken or missing faucet handle

Loose grouting and bathroom tiles

Cracked or missing bathroom tiles

Worn or scratched enamel in old bathtubs, sinks or toilets

Chipped, broken, or cracked enamel in bathtubs, sinks, and toilets

Partially clogged or slow draining sinks and toilets

Clogged or damaged sinks and toilets from improper use and care

Faded, worn or yellowing lamp or window shades

Torn, stained, or missing lamp and window shades

Worn or blistered mini-blinds, frayed or worn blind draw strings, pullies, or chains

Broken, bent, cracked or missing mini-blind slats, wands or hardware.

Slow running drainsDrains proven to be clogged by nonflushable objects such as toys, tooth brush, feminine products, or baby wipes
Musty smell in home near ocean or in subterranean rooms/areas and closetsPet odor, smell of pet urine, cigarette/smoke odor or cooking odors throughout the home from cooking without ventilation or stove fan
Nonfunctiong or nonexitent smoke or CO detector; nonfunctioning light fixture or switchMissing or detatched smoke or CO detector with no batteries; missing, burned out, or mismatched style of light bulbs
Dry lawn or areas in the yard maintained by landlord's gardener which are overgrown or dyingLawn with excessive pet urine burns or other pet damage to landscape, dead areas of landscape cause by waste disposal such as paint or chemicals

These types of decision can easily become the genesis of a tenant and landlord dispute. Because of this, many owners of rental homes leave these matters to professional property managers like North County Property Group. We've seen a lot, can make good recommendations, and work with both the tenant and owner for logical and reasonable interpretation of security deposit laws. Call us today to learn more about our property management services and programs!

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