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To read the specific laws in the WA State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act, click on the RCW (Revised Code of Washington) links throughout the Tenant Services website.

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Know Your Rights » Moving Out » Deposits

Deposit Negotiation

Since laws regarding deposits have their limitations and are self-enforced you may want to access resources to gain leverage in your negotiations with your landlord. Below are some more options you can try to recover your deposit money. Here are some ideas you can try when working to get your deposit back:

1) Write a demand letter.

A demand letter is a letter asserting your rights under landlord-tenant law to demand the return of your deposit. There is no specific legal language you need to use in a demand letter to your landlord. However, it is a good idea to cite relevant state laws to claim that the landlord is withholding your deposit money illegally or unreasonably. You can set a reasonable deadline for a response from them. You may also decide to tell them that you will pursue legal action if the landlord doesn’t comply. See the Deposit Return Request Sample Letter as an example, but keep in mind that each situation is different and it is up to you to tailor the letter to best meet your particular needs. Letter to Landlord for Return of a Security Deposit – Interactive Interview can help you write a demand letter of your own.

2) Pursue mediation.

See Resolution Washington http://www.resolutionwa.org/ for more information on mediation and how it can work for you to solve landlord-tenant problems. Mediators will also be available on the day of court if you file in Small Claims Court if both you and your landlord agree to participate.

3) File a suit against your landlord in small claims court.

Small Claims Court is a common way for tenants to collect money judgments against their landlords. Bring documentation to present to the court as evidence. It’s up to the Small Claims Court judge to evaluate the strength of your documentation and case. You can still go to court even if you don’t have documentation, but keep in mind that judges make their decisions based on the “preponderance of the evidence”. A great deal rests on the small claims court judge’s discretion.

It is important to consider if there are any other related debts with a landlord. If only the deposit is in dispute, then often Small Claims Court can be a good option. But if the tenant has other back debts with the landlord, this can open them up to a counter-lawsuit (for example, unpaid rent, utility bills, legitimate damages to the unit, or if the tenant failed to give proper notice to move out). If the court decides that the amount of money owed to the landlord is more than the deposit, the tenant may not get the deposit back and sometimes may end up owing more with a money judgment against them. A judgment against you can impact your ability to obtain future employment or housing and damage your credit score. It is important that you meaningfully evaluate your case prior to filing. See the tenant Legal Assistance Guide to speak to an attorney to weigh these many factors.

If a demand letter doesn’t result in a refund, sometimes the mere filing of a lawsuit against the landlord will become incentive enough to return the deposit. Always keep in mind that your total claim against your landlord for the deposit could be awarded double, at the judge’s discretion, for the intentional refusal of your deposit within the 21 day timeframe. Every situation will vary, and it will be up to you to determine what the best approach is.