If a landlord was not granted judgement for unpaid rent in a unlawful detainer action, can he legally withhold the security deposit?

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If a landlord was not granted judgement for unpaid rent in a unlawful detainer action, can he legally withhold the security deposit?

Total judgement for landlord was possession only. Unlawful detainer was based on failure to pay rent. However,  in court I provided enough evidence of uninhabitable conditions and violations of the environmental health codes on the property, that the judge only granted the possession of the apartment to return to landlord and forfeit of the lease. Landlord now states that he is keeping the $2000 deposit for that rent. Is this legal?

Asked on December 8, 2010 under Real Estate Law, California

Answers:

MD, Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

No this is absolutely not legal because a pre-trial resolution that you as a tenant have in an uninhabitable dwelling is to indeed withhold rent.  If he is attempting to keep your security deposit, he can really only keep that amount that is based on normal wear and tear.  If the court deemed the property as uninhabitable you have a good argument to get 100% of your security deposit back.  You may need to file a motion in the same court who rendered the decision (I am assuming landlord tenant matter) indicating the landlord is in contempt of the order and cannot retain the security deposit.  This might be a minor temporary annoyance, but if you play your cards correctly, you could probably get back 100% of the rent plus I believe a certain percentage beyond that.  A landlord in California must give you an itemized list of expenses and receipts showing why he feels he can keep some or all of the security deposit.  If he doesn't give you this list within a short specified period of time, he cannot keep any of it and may be responsible for paying you more.


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