When Can I Keep My Tenant’s Security Deposit?

If you are a landlord in Washington, you likely charge your tenants a security deposit in order to protect against lost rent or damage to the property. The amount may be one or two month’s rent, and your agreement with the tenants must provide for the return of that security deposit if no repairs or upgrades are needed.

There are plenty of resources available to assist tenants on asserting their rights and getting their security deposits back – but far less information on the valid reasons that a landlord can hold onto a security deposit.

The Ground Rules

Any landlord can request a security deposit. There is no limit on the amount of a security deposit. The deposit must be clearly referenced in the lease or agreement that the tenant signs, and the landlord must provide the tenant with a checklist of known issues with the residence.

If the landlord intends to withhold the security deposit if specific conditions are not met, those conditions must be clearly laid out in the agreement. Upon the end of a tenancy, a landlord has 21 days to return a security deposit to the tenant or tenants.

What Can You Use A Security Deposit For?

Landlords are allowed to deduct for expenses they incurred in dealing with damage to their property or “excessive filth.” But they cannot deduct for ordinary wear and tear. The tricky issue is determining which category your expense falls under.

Ordinary wear and tear includes:

  • Holes in the walls from hanging pictures
  • Moderately stained carpet
  • Drains that have clogged over time
  • Faded paint
  • Water stains or peeling in bathrooms
  • Worn out appliances

These are the types of issues and expenses that arise with normal ownership of a property and repairing these types of problems is usually on the landlord’s dime. However, where wear and tear becomes excessive, or clear damage has occurred, the tenant can be held responsible. For example, landlords can recover for issues like:

  • Missing fixtures or lights
  • Broken windows or doors
  • Cigarette or pet stains
  • Holes in the wall
  • Filth that goes above and beyond what one would expect in a rental property.

When In Doubt, Document.

There will always be unique circumstances that arise that fall in a gray area between ordinary wear and tear, and damage. In situations where you believe that expenses should be taken out of a security deposit, but are concerned that the tenant will disagree, the best thing you can do is document.

Send a letter to the tenant outlining the expenses that were deducted from the security deposit along with an explanation for the deductions. If there are visible issues or damage, take pictures for your own records. Keep receipts for any expenses that you incurred as proof of your deductions. These steps will help protect you in the event that your tenant disagrees with your deductions.

Clarify Your Rights As A Landlord With Help from Bolan Law Group.

Most landlords want to do the right thing for their tenants, but also need to protect their property and pocketbooks. This can lead to some conflicts over who should be paying what. If you’re in the midst of a dispute with your tenants, or are concerned about how to categorize certain repairs you’re making, contact the real estate attorneys at Bolan Law Group for more information online or at (253) 470-2356.

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