(a) It shall be the obligation of a buyer and seller who enter into a contract to purchase and sell real property to ensure that all funds deposited into an escrow account are returned to the person who deposited the funds or who is otherwise entitled to the funds under the contract, if the purchase of the property is not completed by the date set forth in the contract for the close of escrow or any duly executed extension thereof.
(b) Any buyer or seller who fails to execute any document required by the escrow holder to release funds on deposit in an escrow account as provided in subdivision (a) within 30 days following a written demand for the return of funds deposited in escrow by the other party shall be liable to the person making the deposit for all of the following:
(1) The amount of the funds deposited in escrow not held in good faith to resolve a good faith dispute.
(2) Damages of treble the amount of the funds deposited in escrow not held to resolve a good faith dispute, but liability under this paragraph shall not be less than one hundred dollars ($100) or more than one thousand dollars ($1,000).
(3) Reasonable attorney’s fees incurred in any action to enforce this section.
(c) Notwithstanding subdivision (b), there shall be no cause of action under this section, and no party to a contract to purchase and sell real property shall be liable, for failure to return funds deposited in an escrow account by a buyer or seller, if the funds are withheld in order to resolve a good faith dispute between a buyer and seller. A party who is denied the return of the funds deposited in escrow is entitled to damages under this section only upon proving that there was no good faith dispute as to the right to the funds on deposit.
(d) Upon the filing of a cause of action pursuant to this section, the escrow holder shall deposit the sum in dispute, less any cancellation fee and charges incurred, with the court in which the action is filed and be discharged of further responsibility for the funds.
(e) Neither any document required by the escrow holder to release funds deposited in an escrow account nor the acceptance of funds released from escrow, by any principal to the escrow transaction, shall be deemed a cancellation or termination of the underlying contract to purchase and sell real property, unless the cancellation is specifically stated therein. If the escrow instructions constitute the only contract between the buyer and seller, no document required by the escrow holder to release funds deposited in an escrow account shall abrogate a cause of action for breach of a contractual obligation to purchase or sell real property, unless the cancellation is specifically stated therein.
(f) For purposes of this section:
(1) “Close of escrow” means the date, specified event, or performance of prescribed condition upon which the escrow agent is to deliver the subject of the escrow to the person specified in the buyer’s instructions to the escrow agent.
(2) “Good faith dispute” means a dispute in which the trier of fact finds that the party refusing to return the deposited funds had a reasonable belief of his or her legal entitlement to withhold the deposited funds. The existence of a “good faith dispute” shall be determined by the trier of fact.
(3) “Property” means real property containing one to four residential units at least one of which at the time the escrow is created is to be occupied by the buyer. The buyer’s statement as to his or her intention to occupy one of the units is conclusive for the purposes of this section.
(g) Nothing in this section restricts the ability of an escrow holder to file an interpleader action in the event of a dispute as to the proper distribution of funds deposited in an escrow account.
(Added by Stats. 1990, Ch. 13, Sec. 1.)
Last modified: October 25, 2018