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,"
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.
Brain 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 www.YourDeposit.org, 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.