New Legislation Would Protect Central Valley Tenants’ Security Deposits

Friday, March 22, 2013
Tenants Together

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                            Contact: Dean Preston

March 22, 2013                                                      415.495.8100

New statewide legislation would protect Central Valley renters from security deposit theft and ensure that renters get interest payments on deposit funds held by landlords. Security deposit theft is rampant in the Central Valley, according to Tenants Together, California's statewide organization for renters' rights. In addition, Central Valley tenants are not entitled to interest payments on deposits, in contrast to half a dozen coastal cities.

"One the biggest complaints California's 15 million renters voice when a lease ends is that they have little recourse in dealing with a landlord who refuses to return their deposits," said Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), the author of the new legislation. "At a time when deposits can be thousands of dollars, the failure to pay interest or properly return a security deposit can be a significant and unnecessary financial burden on many renters. SB 603 protects tenants in this situation by encouraging landlords to return security deposits in a timely manner, as required by law," he said.

"It's gotten so bad that tenants paying their security deposits don't ever expect to see that money again," commented Dean Preston, Executive Director of Tenants Together. "California's 15 million renters deserve better when it comes to the billions of their dollars being held as deposits," said Preston.

SB 603 promotes fair treatment of tenant security deposits. The bill would require deposit funds to be held separate accounts, require interest payments to tenants on any funds held, and impose a mandatory penalty if deposit funds are improperly withheld at the conclusion of a tenancy. SB 603 is co-sponsored by Tenants Together, Western Center on Law and Poverty and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.

The bill responds to widespread complaints from tenants across the state that their deposits are unfairly withheld. According to a recent survey of Tenants Together members, 60% reported that some or all of their security deposit had been improperly withheld.

Hermila Chavez, a monolingual Spanish-speaker in Merced, is one of those members. She and her family were forced to move out of their home over two months ago when their landlord refused to get rid of a rat infestation. Hermila says, "It's been over 21 days and we haven't received our deposit or any communication from the landlord." They have repeatedly asked for their deposit back, but it has not been returned.

Fue Hoa Thao, a tenant in Fresno, also awaits her deposit months after moving out. At the end of her four year tenancy, she requested a walkthrough which was never conducted. After she moved, the landlord kept her $850 deposit. In violation of his legal obligations, the landlord has not responded to her requests to itemize deductions and include receipts. "If nothing is resolved, the next step is small claims court," she commented with frustration.

Tenants Together recently launched, a new website to educate tenants and protect deposits. The cause has quickly attracted broad support. Already, 20 community organizations including tenant groups, unions, civil rights groups, and consumer advocates have signed onto the effort.

Central Valley tenants with questions about their security deposits can contact Tenants Together's free renters' rights hotline at 1.888.495.8100.


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