How to Handle Security Deposits in California

Normal Wear and Tear versus Standard Deductions


If you asked 100 property managers what the most difficult task in managing a property is, their answer will most like be handling security deposit disputes. This is due to the vagueness of determining “normal wear and tear”.

This is such a difficult issue because there is no legislative definition for this phrase. Therefore, the individual parties involved will ultimately have varying opinions ranging from those of the tenants, owner, property manager, lawyer, and judge. The tenants will use this term, especially in court, to explain almost all damage regardless of the extent of it. More than likely it will be up to the landlord to prove damage to be outside of “normal wear and tear”.


The security deposit laws vary from state to state. However, generally “normal wear and tear” refers to the acceptable amount of use of a property without the lessee being financially responsible for any repairs or maintenance. There is a level of use of the rental allowed that would cause an expected and acceptable amount of wear resulting in repair or upkeep of the property.


Generally speaking, the law would exclude the tenant from being responsible for the costs of the normal upkeep, and defer these costs to the landlord. The problem is that neither courts nor legislatures have explicitly defined what the actual percentage of repair work is the property owners responsibility or the lessees.

It is not simple to determine this particular issue in a security deposit. However, steps can certainly be taken to attempt to alleviate problems in this area.

  • The property should be in good condition before the arrival of a tenant. Documentation of the property’s condition is important. Use of pictures and having everything stated in writing is the most effective documentation. Require the lessee to sign on the condition of the property before moving in.
  • Make sure that all conditions are decided by being realistic. Understand that acceptance of things that will not withstand tenant charges upon departure is a must.
  • At the end of the lease, use consideration of the length of occupancy when figuring out the percentage for repair or maintenance of an item. Remember that 6 month occupancy and 3 year occupancy are very different in terms of “normal wear and tear”.
  • Remember to distinguish between “normal wear and tear” and damage. Damage pertaining to things like filth (dirt, bleach stains, grime), negligence (mildew, leaks, mold), and abuse (damaged floors, holes in walls, etc).
  • Use common sense when deciding whether or not to pursue court proceedings. Is it worth the fight when it comes to disputes with tenants over things like carpet cleaning for a 2 year rental?


As your san diego property management company, we understand that is more effective and less costly to settle tenant disputes than to be subjected to a court battle with an unstable defense based on “normal wear and tear”.

About George You

George is the owner and broker of Mission Sands Property Management and has been managing properties for the past 15 years in San Diego.