Can a landlord can keep a deposit if I decide not to move in and have not signed a lease yet?

UPDATED: Jun 16, 2012

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Can a landlord can keep a deposit if I decide not to move in and have not signed a lease yet?

I gave my deposit and didn’t sign anything yet. It’s been about a week, since the landlord was out of town we didn’t start any paperwork. Can he keep the deposit if I haven’t signed a lease?

Asked on June 16, 2012 under Real Estate Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

The landlord can most likely keep an amount from the deposit equal to one months' rent. That's because even if you did not sign the lease, if you indicated an intent to rent (such as by providing a deposit), that would probably support a conclusion that you were, at that point, a month to month tenant under an oral lease. A month to month tenant must give 30 days notice terminate his/her tenancy, which is another way of saying that he or she can always be bound for--and most always pay--at least 30 days rent. Alternatively, the deposit in this situation could be viewed as deposit to hold the apartment available, which would allow the landlord to keep it if you choose to not take the apartment. Either way, he is most likely able to keep either the whole deposit or, as discussed, an amount equal to one month's rent. It is wholly irrelevant whether or not you move in.


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