Tenants in the cities of Berkeley and Oakland have struggled to afford housing as a result of high security deposits that present a high initial barrier to renting.
In Dec. 2022, assemblymember Matt Haney introduced Assembly Bill, or AB, 12, which ensures that security deposits do not exceed one month’s rent, overriding current limits that allow landlords to charge up to two months’ rent.
“AB 12, which would set the maximum security deposit at 1 month of rent, will be a significant step forward to help tenants across the state,” said city Councilmember Rigel Robinson in an email. “Current security deposit rules create a massive barrier to entry for housing.”
According to Jonah Gottlieb, UC Berkeley student and secretary of the Berkeley Tenants Union, high security deposits also discriminate against poorer prospective tenants.
Gottlieb noted that many people cannot rent a unit even if they can afford the monthly cost because they are required to have a significant amount of cash on hand at the beginning of their lease.
“Legally capping the maximum amount that a landlord can set the security deposit at is a great first step towards limiting the amount that tenants must pay upfront to find a home,” Gottlieb said in an email. “(It’s) one of the many issues caused by the commodification of housing that fuels our community’s current housing crisis.”
Despite twelve states — including the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New York — having established similar legislation, California continues to face impediments to passing the bill.
As reported by SF Chronicle, the California Apartment Association resists the passage of the bill due to its potential effect on small property landlords in the area, whose income may depend on a month or two’s worth of a security deposit.
Currently, California laws put up barriers preventing landlords to gauge whether or not their renters will fulfill their obligations as tenants, making room for cases where tenants are able to remain in their units without paying rent, SF Chronicle reports. Security deposits become the source of protection for landlords to trust their tenants.
“Fortunately we have the Rent Board that can resolve disputes involving security deposits, but in other jurisdictions throughout the State, tenants might not have access to similar resources to resolve a dispute,” said Stefan Elgstrand, spokesperson for Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s office, in an email. “It is important for tenants to thoroughly review their lease and familiarize themselves with their rights and responsibilities of a tenant.”