Legal Question in Landlord & Tenant Law in California

CA Tenant to return keys to landlord via certified mail

My tenant's lease was up on the

15th of this month (June). We

agreed that she would return the

keys via certified mail by the 15th. I

received the certified envelope in the

mail, however, without the keys

included. I called the post office and

started an investigation. There were

stickers on the package that state''

received in damaged condition'' and

''received without contents''.

Additionally, the postal worker

mentioned that the envelope is

empty. Who is at fault here? If it is

the tenant who is at fault, what

damages can I charge her or deduct

from her security deposit for this?

Also, if we agreed to a $50 late

payment for each day the rent is

received late (after the 3rd day of the

month), and if I received the rent on

the 6th, can I charge her $150 as a

late fee and reduce that from the

security deposit? Thank you.

Asked on 6/17/09, 8:49 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Jerold M. Gorski Law Offices of Jerold M. Gorski

Re: CA Tenant to return keys to landlord via certified mail

California law specifically allows the landlord to use a tenant's security deposit for four purposes:

1. For unpaid rent;

2. For cleaning the rental unit when the tenant moves out, but only to make the unit as clean as it was when the tenant first moved in;

3. For repair of damages, other than normal wear and tear, caused by the tenant or the tenant's guests; and

4. If the lease or rental agreement allows it, for the cost of restoring or replacing furniture, furnishings, or other items of personal property (including keys), other than because of normal wear and tear. Civil Code Sections 1950.5(b) and (e).

How this plays out to your specific facts depends on all the circumstances. Thus, did you ask that the tenant to send the keys by certified mail or how was it agreed upon? Do you suspect that the tenant did not enclose the keys or that the post office was too rough on this envelope (perhaps in part due to the fact that there were one or more keys inside)? What does the written lease say about the return of keys?

Similarly, as to the late charge, was your agreement on $50 per day in writing? What was the basis of the agreement of $50/day? Late charges or past due amounts are sometimes part of the first category above. Generally, landlords use late fees to encourage timely payment and cover costs of non-compliance, so if you have reasons that an unbiased court would believe is prudent, then the deductions are upheld (if, in fact, the tenant disputes the deductions).

This may be a good time for you to have your written lease, tenant rules and general policies reviewed and updated by a landlord/tenant attorney. I have significant experience in contract law and litigation, including landlord/tenant law, so if I may be of further assistance, please contact me directly.

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Answered on 6/17/09, 9:46 pm

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