Senator Leno Introduces Bill to Promote Fair Treatment of Tenant Security Deposits

Monday, March 18, 2013
Tenants Together

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                            

March 18, 2013                                                

Contact: Dean Preston, Tenants Together

Brian Augusta, Western Center on Law & Poverty

916.442.0753 ext: 55103

Senator Mark Leno (D - San Francisco) has announced the introduction of SB 603, a bill to promote fair treatment of tenant security deposits. SB 603 would require deposit funds to be held separate accounts, require interest payments to tenants on any funds held, and impose penalties if deposit funds are improperly withheld at the conclusion of a tenancy.

"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 Leno, D-San Francisco. "At a time when deposits can be $5,000 or more, 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.

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.

"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 statewide organization for renters' rights. "California's 15 million renters deserve better when it comes to the billions of their dollars being held as deposits," commented Preston.

Security deposits are among the largest financial assets, and sometimes the only asset, that many tenants have. Deposits can be thousands of dollars, particularly in Senator Leno's 11th Senate District that encompasses San Francisco.

Brian Augusta, Legislative Advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, noted the unfairness of depriving tenants of interest on deposits. "Landlords who hold tenants' money, sometimes for years, should be required to pay the renter interest," said Augusta. "This isn't just a landlord-tenant issue. It's about basic consumer protection." Currently, only a handful of jurisdictions in California require that tenants be paid interest on security deposits.

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

SB 603 will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee this spring.

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