As a tenant, you probably have handed over a lot of money to your landlord to secure your lease. Don’t let your landlord keep it. The following article will explain Washington’s law regarding security deposits and what you need to do to ensure you are refunded what you deserve when you move out.
Under Washington law, a landlord must specify in the written rental agreement the types of deposits (i.e. damage or security deposit) taken and what the tenant must do in order to get the money back. You must be given a written receipt for each deposit. Also, you must complete, with the landlord, and sign a checklist documenting the condition of the rental unit at the beginning of the lease. You must be given a signed copy of this checklist. Sample checklists are available through the Washington State Attorney General’s Office at http://www.atg.wa.gov/uploadedFiles/Home/Safeguarding_Consumers/Consumer_Issues_A-Z/Landlord_Tenant/LandlordTenantChecklist.pdf.
All deposits must be placed in a trust account and the tenant must be informed where the deposits are being kept. Nonrefundable fees such as screening or cleaning fees are not deposits and will not be returned to the tenant.
When the lease term has expired, the landlord has 14 days to either return the security deposit, or give you an itemized written statement of why all or part of the money is being kept. As a tenant, you should leave a forwarding address with the landlord when moving out. A rental unit must be restored to the same condition, except for normal “wear and tear” as when you moved in. Deposits cannot be used to cover normal “wear and tear” or any damages that existed when you moved in. As long as the deposit and statement are in the mail within 14 days the landlord is within the law.
In order to maximize your refund, take time to document the state of your rental unit when you move out. Ask the landlord to inspect the residence while you are present and you may want to have a friend help you fill out a checklist similar to the one you filled in when you moved in. You can also take photos or a video or your unit after you have cleaned.
If your landlord doesn’t return the deposit within 14 days, write a letter demanding payment. If you received neither a deposit nor a letter explaining why you did not get a refund, you are entitled to a full refund. If you take the landlord to court and the judge rules that the landlord intentionally did not return the deposit, you may be awarded damages up to twice the amount of the deposit. You may also dispute the amount of deposit returned by responding to the landlord’s statement. The landlord cannot charge an unreasonable amount for any repair or damages already there when you moved in. If your landlord still ignores your letter, you can file a lawsuit in Small Claims Court or Superior Court.