How Much Can a Landlord Charge for Damages in California?

22 Feb, 9:28 am

Have you ever accidentally chipped a countertop, spilled wine on the carpet, or unintentionally made a hole in the wall? We’ve all been there!

But what are the limits when it comes to the financial impact of these mishaps on tenants? And how can landlords strike a balance between safeguarding their property and following California’s legal guidelines?

In this blog post, we endeavor to help you navigate through the landlord-tenant relationship in California. 

Our focal point? The pressing question that occupies the minds of both renters and property owners:  “How much can a landlord actually charge for damages?

Our goal is to provide landlords and tenants with a clearer understanding of their rights and responsibilities. Together, we’ll navigate through the complexities, ensuring that everyone involved gains a better grasp of this crucial matter.


Understanding Security Deposits in California


A tenant’s security deposit is a sum of money paid by tenants to landlords before they move into a rental property. Its purpose is to provide financial protection to landlords in the event of any damages caused by the tenants or unpaid rent.

Landlords can only utilize the security deposit at the “natural expiration” of the lease. This means that the deposit can be used if a tenant fails to pay rent, repair any damages beyond normal wear and tear, or clean the property if necessary.

However, it cannot be used to cover the maintenance costs or repairs due to normal use. The security deposit must be returned to the tenant, minus any allowable deductions, within a specific timeframe after the tenancy ends.

Security Deposit Guidelines

California’s security deposit regulations, as outlined in the California Civil Code and state law, establish clear boundaries regarding how the landlord can use a tenant’s deposit. For instance, if the tenant owes money for a small repair to the landlord, then the entire deposit may not be taken. 

If the place is not furnished, the most the landlord can ask for is double the monthly rent, plus the first month’s rent.

But if the place is furnished, the landlord can ask for three times the monthly rent, plus the first month’s rent. So, for example, if a new tenant wants to rent a furnished apartment for $1,500 a month, they could be asked for a security deposit of $3,000, plus the first month’s rent of $1,500.

Both landlords and tenants must familiarize themselves with these maximum limits to guarantee compliance with the law and maintain a fair rental process.  Proposed deductions should be provided in writing, giving the tenant a chance to peruse the information. [1]


tenant paying landlord for damages to property in california

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Maximum Security Deposit Deductions for Damages

The California Civil Code mandates that landlords can deduct from the security deposit only the amount necessary to cover the cost of repairs and cleaning directly related to the tenant’s actions that extend beyond normal wear and tear. 

For example, if a tenant damages the wall by hanging a picture, the landlord can deduct the cost of repainting the wall from the security deposit.

Deductions must be reasonable and reflect actual expenses and landlords must provide tenants with an itemized statement detailing the specific deductions made and the corresponding charges. 

This ensures that landlords don’t charge tenants for more than what was actually spent on the rental property. It also helps to prevent landlords from taking advantage of tenants by charging for services that weren’t actually provided or that weren’t necessary.


Differentiating Property Damage from Normal Wear and Tear


Tenants have the right to livable space and wear and tear naturally occur with regular use. Differentiating between normal wear and tear and property damage helps tenants protect their rights and avoid unfair charges or disputes over their security deposit. 

It ensures fairness by preventing tenants from being held accountable for issues that are a result of the property’s natural aging or regular usage.

Examples of Normal Wear and Tear:

  • Gradual discoloration of bathroom fixtures or tiles due to regular cleaning.
  • Mildly worn countertops or surfaces from everyday use.
  • Fading or wear on kitchen cabinet doors and drawer handles.
  • Slight fraying or thinning of fabric on furniture or upholstery over time.
  • Naturally occurring scratches or dents on wooden surfaces or furniture.
  • Gradual wear or fading of flooring in non-high traffic areas.
  • Faded or slightly worn-out switches and outlets from regular use.

On the other hand, by being familiar with examples of property damage, landlords can accurately assess the condition of their rental property.

This enables them to identify and document any damages caused by tenants that go beyond normal wear and tear. 

Examples of Property Damage:

  • Large holes or damage to walls from hanging heavy objects or reckless behavior.
  • Stains, burns, or cuts on carpets or flooring caused by negligence or accidents.
  • Damage to appliances due to misuse, neglect, or improper maintenance.
  • Pet-related damage, including scratches on doors, chewed furniture, or urine stains.
  • Negligence leading to pest infestations, such as failure to dispose of garbage properly or maintain cleanliness.
  • Damage caused during parties or unauthorized gatherings, including broken furniture or fixtures.


landlord determing damages to property in LA

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Ways to Determine Damage Costs


Being well-versed in damage cost determination methods enables landlords and tenants to accurately assess the extent and severity of damages. Here are some of the best ways to determine damage costs:

Professional Assessments

Seek the expertise of qualified professionals such as contractors, repair specialists, or appraisers. Their knowledge and experience can provide a thorough evaluation of the damage and accurate cost estimates. 

However, it is important to be aware that some professionals may take advantage of homeowners or landlords who are inexperienced in evaluating damage and cost estimates. 

In order to avoid being taken advantage of, it is important to do your own research and be as knowledgeable as possible about the repair process and the approximate cost of repairs.

Also, landlords must inform tenants that they will make use of professionals because this can mean an increased cost for the tenant.

Maintenance and Repair History

By reviewing the maintenance and repair history, landlords and tenants can establish a baseline of the property’s condition prior to the occurrence of any damages. This baseline helps in distinguishing between new damages and damages resulting from wear and tear or previous issues.

A thorough maintenance and repair history can reveal patterns of neglect or inadequate upkeep. If damages are found to be a result of neglect or failure to address maintenance issues promptly, it can impact the determination of damage costs and the responsible party. 

Market Rates and Pricing

Market rates serve as a reference point for estimating the reasonable costs associated with repairing or replacing damaged items or components. 

For instance, when determining the cost of replacing a broken television, the market rate for a similar model should be used as a reference point to estimate the reasonable cost of replacement.

By researching and understanding the prevailing market rates in the local area, landlords and tenants can obtain a realistic estimate of the expected expenses.

Itemized Cost Breakdown

With an itemized breakdown, it becomes easier to compare the costs associated with different repair options or alternative solutions. For example, when the landlord hires a professional cleaning company, a detailed invoice allows for a comprehensive evaluation of different approaches and helps in making informed decisions based on the cost-effectiveness of each option.

In situations where there are disagreements or disputes over the damage to personal property, an itemized cost breakdown also serves as a valuable reference. It enables both parties to identify specific areas of concern and engage in discussions or negotiations based on concrete information, facilitating a fair resolution.


landlord and tenant coming an agreement about payment for property damage in LA

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Best Practices for Landlords and Tenants


By following these best practices, landlords and tenants can minimize disputes and conflicts regarding damages and repair costs.

Thorough Move-in and Move-out Inspections

To prevent disputes over damages and repair costs, thoroughly inspect the rental unit before and after the tenant moves and look for damages that may have been caused by former tenants. 

Assess the property’s condition using photographs or videos. Both the landlord and tenant should review and sign the inspection reports to establish a clear baseline and reduce disagreements. 

Include detailed information in the reports, such as room itemization, fixture and appliance conditions, and existing damages, for an accurate representation of the property’s condition.

Clear and Comprehensive Lease Agreements

To avoid disputes regarding damages and repair costs, it is crucial to have a lease or rental agreement that clearly outlines the tenant’s responsibilities, property maintenance, and distinctions between normal wear and tear and tenant-caused damages. Consider including the following relevant information in the lease agreement:

  • State the procedures for security deposit deductions related to damages, including the documentation and notification process.
  • Outline the dispute resolution process, such as mediation or arbitration, in case of disagreements regarding damages or repairs cost.
  • Detail the consequences of failing to report damages, including potential penalties or charges that may be incurred.
  • Establish guidelines for notifying the landlord about the need for repairs and obtaining their approval before initiating repairs.
  • State the timeline within which damages must be reported to the landlord to ensure timely assessment and resolution.

Regular Property Inspections

Through regular inspections, landlords can stay on top of necessary repairs, address maintenance issues promptly, and ensure the property remains in good condition throughout the tenancy. 

This proactive maintenance not only safeguards the property’s value but also contributes to the overall satisfaction and well-being of the tenants, fostering a positive landlord-tenant relationship. [2]

Open Communication

Creating effective channels of communication between landlords and tenants is vital for addressing concerns, damages, and repair needs in a collaborative and transparent manner. Encourage both parties to engage in timely, clear, and written communication to ensure a well-documented record of conversations and agreements.

It is essential to foster an environment where landlords and tenants feel comfortable expressing their concerns and discussing any issues that may arise.

By establishing open lines of communication, both parties can promptly address matters related to damages or necessary repairs, reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings or disputes.


open communication between landlord and tenant regarding a security deposit being used for damages

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Professionalism and Respect

When addressing and resolving issues related to damages, such as those that may lead to disputes requiring legal intervention, it is crucial to maintain a professional and respectful attitude. 

Both landlords and tenants should approach these discussions with a mindset of respect, actively listening to each other’s perspectives, and striving to find fair and reasonable solutions, potentially avoiding the need for small claims court.




Both landlords and tenants need to make sure they are aware of their respective rights and responsibilities, as well as any applicable laws and regulations, in order to avoid any disputes and ensure that the rental experience is satisfactory for both parties.

When tenants understand how the security deposit system works, they can also be more proactive in taking care of the property and preventing damage. This can help to avoid disputes between tenants and landlords and ensure that both parties are treated fairly.

At Lotus West Properties, we strive to provide exceptional property management services in Malibu, Pacific Palisades, West Hollywood, and the Greater Los Angeles area. As a trusted name in the industry, we are dedicated to assisting both landlords and tenants in navigating the intricacies of the landlord-tenant relationship. 

Whether you are a tenant seeking a reputable rental property or a landlord in need of professional management services, we are here to guide you through the process and ensure a seamless experience.

Contact Lotus West Properties today to discover how we can assist you in achieving your property management goals. Together, let’s build a successful and harmonious landlord-tenant relationship that benefits everyone involved.



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