What can legitimately be used to make an offset from the security deposit?

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What can legitimately be used to make an offset from the security deposit?

I recently sold my home. Waiting for my new home to be remodeled we rented back for two month. The new owner of our former home required us to pay a $500 security deposit. The new owner now does not want to return the security deposit because there is an old fridge in the garage and a few boxes in the attic of the house and some garden debris. All of the items were on the property when we purchased it 14 years ago. We sold our property “as is” to the new owner. As tenants are we now obligated to forfeit our security deposit or go back and remove the items? What would have been the case had we not rented back and therefore not paid a security deposit?

Asked on June 19, 2015 under Real Estate Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

The only legal deductions from security deposits are:

1) for unpaid rent;

2) for damage done to the property, which damage is not ordinary "wear and tear" for the length of time the tenant was in residence;

3) for the cost of removing unusual or excessive amounts of debris or garbage--basically, something requiring hiring a removal service or renting a dumpster.

If the issue is the refrigerator, boxes, and garden debris, it is probably best to remove them yourselves to get the deposit. Otherwise, the only way to get it back would be to sue them and prove they were wrong to withhold (e.g. that it would not cost $500 to remove the items), but a lawsuit has it's own costs in terms of time and money.

If you had not rented back, in theory, the new owners could have sued you to recover the cost or removing debris, old fixtures, etc. (you are supposed to turn over the property "broom clean"--"as is" generally refers to the state of maintenance or repair, not leaving items behind). They probably would not have sued, due to the cost and inconvenience of suing; but holding your deposit made it easy for them to compensate themselves for what you left behind.


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