Real Estate

Rent Watch: pre-departure inspection


Q Due to a change of jobs, I am about to move out of my current apartment. When I moved out of my prior apartment, the landlord refused to do a "walk-through" inspection with me. He then kept part of my security deposit for repairs, which I felt was not fair. How can I make sure this does not happen again?

A Under California Civil Code Section 1950.5, a landlord may only use the security deposit to recover uncollected rent, to remedy damages to the unit caused by the tenant or their guests, or to recover cleaning costs. The landlord may not deduct from the security deposit for "normal wear and tear" to the rental unit or for damages that existed prior to the current tenancy.

This same California law also requires a landlord to offer a pre-departure inspection in order to give a tenant the chance to remedy any known or visible defects that may cause deductions from their security deposit.

A landlord must give the tenant written notice of the right to this inspection at the time the landlord becomes aware the tenancy is ending. The notice must inform the tenant of the right to request an inspection for the purpose of identifying defects that the tenant may fix in order to reduce or avoid deductions from their deposit.

If the tenant subsequently does request an inspection, it must be initiated and performed by the landlord two weeks before the tenancy ends. A landlord must give the tenant at least 48 hours advance written notice of the inspection for a time that is mutually convenient for all parties. If mutually agreed upon, the landlord and tenant can waive the 48-hour requirement. The tenant can request to be present during the inspection.

Following the inspection, the landlord must give the tenant a written list of apparent tenant-caused defects that need to be repaired.

The only time a landlord is not required to offer a pre-departure inspection is when a tenant does not request it or withdraws the original request for the inspection, or if the tenancy is terminated as part of an eviction proceeding. A landlord can perform a final inspection after the tenant has moved out and is entitled to use the deposit to correct any itemized defects the tenant did not fix, defects that occurred after the pre-departure inspection, or defects that were not identified during the initial inspection because of the presence of the tenant's possessions. The landlord has to account for the security deposit within three weeks of the tenant vacating the rental unit by refunding any unused portion of the deposit and providing written documentation for any deductions made.

Project Sentinel provides landlord-tenant dispute resolution and fair-housing services in northern California, including rental-housing mediation programs in Palo Alto, Los Altos and Mountain View. Call 650-856-4062 for dispute resolution or 650-321-6291 for fair housing, email or visit

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