At the beginning of the tenancy, the landlord most likely will require tenant to pay a security deposit. The landlord can use the security deposit, for example, if the tenant move out owing rent, damage the rental unit beyond normal wear and tear, or leave the rental less clean than when the tenant moved in.87
Under California law, a lease or rental agreement cannot say that a security deposit is nonrefundable.88 This means that when the tenancy ends, the landlord must return to the tenant any payment that is a security deposit, unless the landlord properly uses the deposit for a lawful purpose.
Almost all landlords charge tenants a security deposit. The security deposit may be called last month’s rent, security deposit, pet deposit, key fee, or cleaning fee. The security deposit may be a combination, for example, of the last month’s rent plus a specific amount for security. No matter what these payments or fees are called, the law considers them all, as well as any other deposit or charge, to be part of the security deposit.89
87 Civil Code Section 1950.5(b).
88 Civil Code Section 1950.5(m).
89 Civil Code Section 1950.5(b).