“It’s Your Money” – Campaign Launches to Protect California Tenants from Security Deposit Theft

Hey folks!!  Glad to report that I’m currently volunteering at Tenants Together, California’s only statewide renters’ rights organization.  We have kicked off this campaign today to help tenants recover their security deposits.  Check out our new website, and stay tuned for possible legislative changes. –Paul

by Paul Hogarth

Earlier today, Tenants Together announced the launch of “It’s Your Money,” a new campaign to stop security deposit theft by California landlords. The campaign website, www.YourDeposit.org, features know-your-rights information for tenants, tips on how to protect deposits, tenant stories and policy recommendations. The site allows tenants to share their security deposit horror stories.

Security deposit theft is one of the most common grievances among California’s 15 million renters. In a recent survey, over 60% of Tenants Together members reported improper withholding of deposit money. This is an astonishing figure, but not one that surprises anyone working with California tenants.

“Millions of dollars are being stolen from tenants every year,” commented Dean Preston, Executive Director of Tenants Together, California’s statewide organization for renters’ rights. “It’s gotten so bad that tenants paying their security deposits don’t ever expect to see that money again. Something has got to change.”

Unlike in many other states, California law does not require deposit money to be held in a separate account, does not require a landlord to pay interest on the deposit to tenants, and rarely imposes any penalty on landlords that improperly withhold deposits.

The “It’s Your Money” campaign seeks to change the dynamic and bring about basic fairness when it comes to security deposits. The campaign coalition is united around three basic principles:

1. Deposit money should not be comingled with other landlord assets

2. Tenants deserve interest on security deposits

3. Landlords who improperly withhold deposits must face meaningful penalties

For more information about the campaign, visit www.YourDeposit.org.  

9 thoughts on ““It’s Your Money” – Campaign Launches to Protect California Tenants from Security Deposit Theft”

  1. When I was a renter, my landlady kept my rent deposit

    I sure didn’t like that

    But, I’m not sure about interest on deposits

    I rent out my lower unit

    Rent control can be a nuisance, but it’s a good protection for tenants

    Like anything else, it can be abused

  2. Really such deposits ought to be held in escrow, with a procedure for the landlord to get the money at the end of the rental.  Basically they would submit expenses with a bit of documentation to get the money.  The default could be to pretty freely give it out, and the tenant would sue if they think something is wrong with the expenses submitted with the usual criminal penalties for fraud applicable.  The remainder of the account is sent to the tenant.  I suspect that the real problem now is landlords just taking the money with no real justification and hoping tenants will just let it happen.  Make them justify their actions in writing and most of them will probably not want to document fraud with a third party.  Escrow would also protect tenants who’s landlords go bankrupt, etc.

    The interest could just pile up in the account.

    PS rent control in san fransisco seems pretty limited:  Nothing built after 1970 or so, no condo buildings, no single family houses, resets between tenants, etc.  The reason the rental market is really tough there right now is apple/google/really-nice-place-to-live-if-you-have-the-money.  So even though I am dubious of the concept I doubt it is that big of a deal these days.

    Actually I think uncontrolled rents are mysteriously too low in the city.  If twenty well qualified people show up ready to rent an apartment during the few hours it shows it probably could have significantly higher rent.  A lot of that might be agents of the landlord who want to find a no-maintenance tenant in a couple hours, and don’t care if the landlord makes another $10,000 a year on the place.

    My guess is that the fact that it is a big hassle to build bigger in SF and that old rental buildings/houses are fantastically profitable without effort due to prop 13 is what holds supply down beyond the simple fact that the place isn’t that big and is mostly surrounded by water.

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