I get asked this question a lot, and the Los Angeles Times recently posted the same question on its website. No, a tenant cannot use a security deposit for last month’s rent. If a tenant proposes to use the security deposit as last month’s rent, a landlord has the right to serve a Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit for the last month’s rent.
It is important to note for a landlord that rent is late the day after it is due. For example, if on November 20, a tenant tells a landlord that he will not pay December’s rent and provides written notice that he will be out on December 31st, a landlord cannot serve a 3 Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit until December 2nd if rent is due on the first of the month.
In fact, if a tenant makes such a proposal to pay last month’s rent using a security deposit, a landlord should not agree and serve a 3 Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit after rent has become due. This is beneficial for several purposes because it prevents a tenant from not actually moving out after providing a 30 Day Notice. It also allows a landlord to use a tenant’s security deposit for actual damages to the unit.