Most landlords require that tenants pay a security deposit before they can move into the rental unit. This deposit is held by the landlord and may be used to cover any costs associated with damage a tenant might do to the unit. The most common dispute between landlords and tenants is over the security deposit refund and whether wear and tear in the unit amounts to damage the tenant is responsible for.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
California tenants are not responsible for normal wear and tear to carpets. They may have to pay for a replacement if the carpet is damaged beyond usual wear and tear.
California Renter Responsibilities
Under California law, tenants are required to leave the rental unit in the condition they found it. If the tenant vacates the apartment in any other condition, the landlord can use a portion of the tenant's security deposit to cover the costs associated with having the rental unit cleaned. California law also permits a landlord to deduct for the repair of damage to the rental unit, including carpet damage, as long as the damage is beyond regular normal wear and tear, which is permitted by law. Tenants are responsible for all damage they cause and any damage caused by their pets or guests. Examples of carpet damage include ground in stains, tears, animal stains, fleas, excessive dirt or subfloor damage.
Wear and Tear
California law permits normal wear and tear on a carpet. Examples of normal wear and tear include the natural wearing down of carpet from regular use, normal aging and furniture marks in the carpet. Under California law, unless the carpet is visibly damaged and that damage is not the result of normal wear and tear, the landlord cannot hold the tenant responsible for the damage or the cost of replacement for the carpet. Additionally, tenants cannot be held responsible for defects in the carpet that existed before they moved in.
Damage and Replacement
If the carpet in a rental unit is damaged and must be replaced, the damage the tenant is responsible for must be prorated appropriately. For example, if the carpet had a 10-year life expectancy, but due to tenant damage had to be replaced after just seven years, the tenant is only responsible for the useful life of the carpet that has been lost. If the carpet originally cost $1,000 and had a life expectancy of 10 years, the depreciation charge would be $100 per year. Thus, if the tenant's damage cheated three years out of the carpets life, the landlord, under California law, could only hold the tenant responsible for $300.
Before you move into the rental, it’s a good idea to do a walk through with the landlord or property manager. Take photos of the carpet to evidence the condition it is in when you move in. Sign and date the pictures and give copies to the landlord. You can use the photos to show fair wear and tear if the landlord does not return your security deposit.