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New landlords often ask, “How do San Diego landlords handle tenant damages”? California laws address this problem and set up procedures that landlords must follow.

We’ll explain different landlord’s remedies when tenants damage their rentals below. Like eviction and lawsuits along with how to prevent them in the future.

Here’s How San Diego Landlords Handle Tenant Damages


First, knowing the difference between minor and major damages becomes important to landlords. That’s because some “minor” damages are considered “normal wear and tear”. While some “major damages” didn’t occur because of the tenants’ negligence or willful misconduct.


Normal Wear and Tear

Landlords must accept minor damages caused by “normal wear and tear”.

Normal wear and tear mean physical deterioration caused over time by normal use. Examples include dirty window screens, rusty plumbing, faded curtains, and peeling wallpaper. After the tenant vacates, the landlord must replace or repair these items.

Tip: After your tenant moves out, learn about “How to Make Improvements for Under $500” in our blog post.


What about Tenant Negligence?

Negligence occurs when the tenant fails to act with reasonable care towards the landlord’s property.

What’s the difference between normal wear and tear and negligence? Here’s an example of their differences. A 20-year-old garbage disposal that breaks down is normal wear and tear. But dropping a fork into the disposal is the tenant’s negligence.


Major Damages

If the tenant, tenant’s family, guests, or pets cause damages due to abuse or neglect the tenant must pay for the repairs. That’s because California law requires tenants to keep their premises clean and undamaged.

If you think your tenants caused major damage to your rental appliances, furnishing, or structure you must act. Confirm the actual damages. Look at the rental from outside of the premises to see any damage. Photograph every damage.

When visiting, take photos of any damages. Ask your tenants about the damages. If you feel your tenants became destructive, insist they pay for the damages. If they refuse, look at your lease agreement to see what actions you and your tenant agreed about your remedies.

When your tenant engages in illegal (criminal) activities which damage your property (like running a drug lab) notify the police. Below, we explain how tenant property destruction and criminal activities allow you to evict the tenant.

WeLease offers maintenance services. Check out our blog post “How to Submit a Maintenance Request”.


Notice of Entry

To make repairs in a rental, you must gain access. You can’t walk in anytime or day you want unless your written lease agreement says you can.

Contact the tenants for permission to view what needs maintenance or repairs. If your lease agreement states your right to enter the rental for inspections, then exercise your rights.

California law (Civil Code §1954) requires landlords to give tenants a written 24-hour notice to inspect, repair, and to show prospective tenants. Plus, only during normal business hours on weekdays from 8 am to 5 pm.

But, Emergencies waives the notice of entry. Such as when a water or gas leak creates an emergency. Tip: Read our blog post about “How to Handle Tenants Emergencies”

Tip: View our post about the Landlord Right of Entry Law in California.



Charging San Diego Renters for Landlord Repairing Damages

Can San Diego landlords do the repairs caused by renters themselves? 

Yes, as long as the damages are not normal wear and tear and caused by the tenants. Acts of nature like floods, earthquakes, hail, rain, and lightning causing property damages are not the renter’s fault.

Tip: Before making repairs yourself, see if your agreement states that you have the right to choose the contractor or repair person.


Can I Evict the Tenant who Damaged My Rental?


Yes, the California Courts website lists the following reasons to evict a tenant before the lease expires:

  • Damages the property which brings down the value (commits “Waste”); or
  • Breaks the rental agreement and refuses to fix the problem; or
  • Becoming a serious nuisance by disturbing neighbors or other tenants after a request to stop; or
  • Uses the property to engage in illegal activities; or
  • Fails to pay rent on time.


So, if the damages lower the value of your property you can evict the tenant.

Tip: View our post explaining California’s Eviction Laws.


Security Deposit

California limits the maximum amount a landlord charges for a security deposit. Such as:

  • Unfurnished rentals allow up to twice the monthly rent; and
  • Furnished rentals allow up to three times the monthly rent.


Tip: Read our blog post explaining California Security Deposits.

California law requires returning the security deposit to the tenant within 21 days of the vacancy. But, if the landlord keeps $126 or more he or she must give the tenant invoices and receipts with an itemized list of each deduction.


What if Repairs Don’t Get Competed Within 21 days?

The California courts website states:

“If the repairs cannot be finished within the 21-day period, the landlord can send the tenant a good faith estimate of the cost of repairs. Then within 14 days of the repairs being done, the landlord must send the tenant the receipts.”


Can a California Landlord Sue the Tenant Causing Damages Greater than Security Deposit?


Yes, if you discover damages caused by the tenant costing more than the security deposit. If your tenant refuses to compensate you, you must file a lawsuit.

A California Small Claims lawsuit limits the damages to:

  • $10,000 for an individual or sole proprietor; and
  • $5,000 for a corporation or other legal entities.

Small claims courts do not allow lawyers to represent the parties. So, you must act like a lawyer presenting the evidence and witnesses.

But, if the damages exceed those amounts, you must file the lawsuit with the nearest California Superior Court from the property. Then, you should hire an attorney.


How San Diego Landlords Prevent Future Tenant Damages


Let’s explore two types of damages that San Diego landlords can prevent. Both pets and marijuana may cause damages to rentals.


Pets Damaging Property

How do pets damage rental properties? If you allow dogs and/or cats in your rentals expect damages from claws, urine, and defecation.


What Rights do San Diego Landlords have to Prohibit Pets?

California laws don’t require landlords to accept pets in their rentals.

But if a landlord allows pets the landlord can’t require tenants to devocalize or declaw their pets before moving in.

Also, landlords can’t advertise their rentals in a way that discourages applicants if their pets aren’t declawed or devocalized.

Tip: Many lease agreements prohibit pets. Others require prior approval by the landlord. Yet, others list the types of pets allowed like dog breeds along with the maximum size and weight. It’s up to you.

Federal laws require tenants with disabilities the right to request waivers from housing “no pet” policies if they need a service or emotional support animal.


Pet Deposits

Pets need a higher deposit. California allows landlords to charge a pet deposit if they want. But the pet deposit can’t exceed two months’ rent and other deposits.

Tip: Landlords using a separate pet deposit can only use it for pet damages. To get around this, landlords add to the security deposit allowing deductions for all tenant damages including pets.


Marijuana Use


California legalized recreational marijuana use. But, landlords may ban its use on their properties. Proposition 64 allows private property owners to prohibit pot usage on their properties.

What types of property damages marijuana cause?

Like cigars and cigarettes, pot joints can cause fires. Dropping a lit joint in the bed, sofa, couch, or carpets causes fires.

Smoke lingers into the fabrics of beds, couches, sofas, chairs, carpets, and curtains.

What if I want to prohibit or limit its use in my rentals?

Include a marijuana use policy in the rental agreement. Specifying the prohibition or partial restrictions.

Tip: Beware of owning rental units subsidized with federal funds. Because marijuana still violates federal laws. Consult with an attorney who knows the federal pot laws about federal subsidized housing.


Move-In Inspection Documentation


In the future, always prepare a Move-In Inspection document. Use it when a new tenant moves in. Photograph every room showing its condition. List every room along with appliances, furniture, and fixtures. This protects San Diego landlords when handling tenant damages.

Check off state of current condition, dated and signed by landlord and tenant. Give the tenant a copy.

When the tenant is ready to move out, perform the final inspection using the original list. Check off their current condition. Signed and dated by the landlord and tenant. This allows the landlord to use the security/damage deposit to pay for all repairs.

Need help with creating a Move-In Inspection document for your San Diego rentals?

Contact us to let us prepare a move-in checklist for you and your new tenants.



So, how do San Diego landlords handle tenant damages? This post explained how to:

  • Determine if normal wear and tear or major damages;
  • Inspect the rental;
  • Take photos of all damages;
  • Were the damages willful or negligent? If willful, you can evict the tenant;
  • Charge the tenants for the damages;
  • Use the security deposit to repair or replace damaged items; and
  • File a lawsuit if the security deposit doesn’t cover all repairs.

Also, in the future, add pet and marijuana clauses in your lease agreement.

Check out our blog post “What to Include in Your California Lease Agreement” to see the types of damage control and penalties to include.


Need help with your San Diego property management challenges?

Contact us for all your property management needs in the greater San Diego area.


Steven Rich, MBA – Guest Blogger



This article conveys information and does not provide legal advice. You should not consider any information in this article to be legal advice. Readers should consider obtaining specific legal advice from an attorney concerning any decision or course of action contemplated.



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