Since landlord-tenant laws are self enforced, it is up to you as a tenant to proactively take steps to ensure the conditions of the unit are thoroughly documented when you move in and when you vacate. The following questions outline your rights regarding the use of your deposit and give you information on how to protect yourself from deposit loss. You can also read the Washington Law Help document Recovering Your Security Deposit. Click links below to read the laws that pertain to your situation.
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Before using this information, please read:
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.
Tenants Union Tenant Counselors are not attorneys, and this information should not be considered legal advice. Please read our full Tenant Union Disclaimer.
1) Document the condition of the unit when you move in and when you move out.
You can defend yourself against wrongful damage charges after you move out by thoroughly documenting the unit’s condition when you move in. In order to legally take a deposit from a tenant, the landlord must provide a written checklist that details the conditions of the unit at the beginning of the tenancy. The checklist must be signed by both the landlord and tenant. It must contain a detailed list of the conditions of the property, including the structural components, flooring, windows, and all appliances supplied by the landlord. Tenants have the right to request one free replacement copy of the checklist. You can also take detailed photographs of the unit’s condition upon move in. Including a copy of the day’s newspaper visible in each frame will prove the date the photo was taken. Small claims court judges may not accept camera date stamps as documentation because they can be tampered with.
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.
- Sample Letter: Deposit Return Request
- Recovering Your Security Deposit
- Letter to Landlord for Return of a Security Deposit – Interactive Interview
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 Sample Letter: Deposit Return Request 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.
Landlords will often collect first and last month’s rent upon move-in. This money can only be used for rent and is not considered a deposit. If the rental agreement does not specifically state how tenants should apply their last month’s rent, then it is up to tenants to communicate with their landlord on how to use it.
It is a good idea to send a letter the month you vacate asking your landlord to apply your last month’s rent. Keep in mind, however, that rent may be due by the first of the month, and tenants aren’t required to give notice to vacate until at least 20 days before the end of the rental period.
In cases where the tenant has already paid rent for the month in which they gave notice to vacate, they can ask their landlords for a refund of the last month’s rent payment. If the landlord does not comply, a tenant can write a demand letter for their money, or pursue Small Claims Court or other remedies for the return of the money.
- Sample Letter: Deposit Return Request
- Sample Move In/Move Out Inspection Checklist
- Sample Letter: Request for Holding Deposit
- Sample Letter: Notice to Vacate
- King County Small Claims Court Information: King County District Court
- Letter to Landlord for Return of a Security Deposit – Interactive Interview: Washington Law Help
- Recovering Your Security Deposit: Washington Law Help
- Small Claims Court: Washington Law Help
- Washington State Dispute Resolution Centers: Resolution Washington