Washington D.C. Security Deposit Returns and Deductions

Washington D.C. Security Deposit Returns and Deductions

Last Updated: January 19, 2024 by Phil Ahn

Quick Facts Answer
Acceptable Deductions Unpaid rent, utilities, and late fees

Costs of damage

Cleaning costs

Return Deadline 45 days (+30 days with deductions)
Itemized Deductions Required
Penalty for Late Return 3x Deposit with Interest + Court Costs + Attorneys’ Fees

For laws on security deposit collections and holdings in Washington D.C., click here.

Security Deposit Deductions in Washington D.C.

In Washington D.C., a written lease agreement must state the exact charges a landlord intends to deduct from a security deposit in order for them to do so. Common deductions include:

  • Unpaid rent, utilities, and late fees
  • Costs of damage excluding normal wear and tear
  • Cleaning costs

Most states, as well as Washington D.C., do not have a legal limit on how much a landlord can charge for damages except that the charges must be reasonable.

If the cost of the damages exceeds the amount of the security deposit, landlords are entitled to seek additional damages from the former tenant.

What is Considered Normal Wear and Tear in Washington D.C.?

Normal Wear and Tear is defined as “deterioration that results from the intended use of a dwelling unit, including breakage or malfunction due to age or deteriorated condition.”

Examples include:

  • Lightly scratched glass
  • Faded flooring
  • Lightly dirtied grout
  • Loose door handles
  • Stained bath fixtures

Damage” is described as “deterioration that results from negligence, carelessness, accident, or abuse of the unit, fixtures, equipment, or other tangible personal property by the tenant, immediate family member, or a guest.”

Examples include:

  • Heavily stained, burned, or torn carpets
  • Broken tiles or windows
  • Holes in the wall
  • Missing fixtures

Can the Landlord Charge for Replacing the Carpet in Washington D.C.?

Landlords can chargefor replacing the carpet if it is damaged beyond ordinary wear and tear, and the terms and conditions of the security deposit state that it may be used for damage.


A carpet that is slightly discolored or gently worn will be considered normal wear and tear. A carpet with visible stains, major discoloration and rips will be considered excessively damaged.

Can the Landlord Charge for Nail Holes in Washington D.C.?

Landlords in Washington, D.C. can charge a tenant for nail holes if they damage the walls in a way that is not a result of ordinary enjoyment of the rental unit, and the conditions of the security deposit state that it may be used for damage.

Tenants have the right to use the walls within their unit in a reasonable way. This includes inserting small nails or thumbtacks to hang posters or pictures.

However, large holes from drilling, multiple nail holes, large nail holes, and holes made for hanging heavier things may be considered damage and thus, chargeable to the tenant.

Can the Landlord Charge a Cleaning Fee in Washington D.C.?

Landlords in Washington D.C. can charge a cleaning fee if:

  • It is specifically stated in the terms and conditions of the deposit
  • The landlord does not charge for cleaning done as a result of ordinary wear and tear
  • The cleaning fee is reasonable

Can the Landlord Charge for Painting in Washington D.C.?

In Washington D.C., landlords can charge for painting, except for normal wear and tear, and the terms and conditions of the deposit state that it may be used to cover damage. For example, if the tenant:

  • Causes damage beyond normal wear and tear
  • Repaints the wall but is not permitted to do so under the lease agreement
  • Repaints the wall in an unprofessional way

Ordinary wear includes:

  • Minor scrapes from daily use
  • Fading due to sunlight
  • Minor cracks in the original paint

Landlords can charge for repainting if the damage is not the result of normal use. This includes stains, large or deep scratches, and water damage.

Security Deposit Returns in Washington D.C.

Landlords must return a security deposit with interest due, if any, by hand-delivery or certified mail within 45 days after the lease term ends if there are no deductions. If the landlord intends to make deductions, they must return the security deposit no later than 30 days after sending a statement that deductions will be made.

In order to determine the condition of the rental unit for the purpose of calculating deductions, landlords are entitled to an inspection conducted within 3 days before or after the lease term ends, excluding weekends and holidays. The landlord must notify the tenant in writing at least 10 days before the date of the inspection.

How Long Do Landlords Have to Return Security Deposits in Washington D.C.?

Within 45 days after the lease term ends, landlords must either return a full security deposit or provide a written notice that deductions will be made.

If a landlord intends to make deductions, they have an additional 30 days after the delivery of the initial written notice to return any remaining portion of the deposit.

Thus, landlords have a maximum of 75 days after the lease term ends to return a security deposit with deductions if the initial notice is provided to the tenant exactly 45 days after the lease term ends.

Do Landlords Owe Interest on Security Deposits in Washington D.C.?

Tenants are entitled to earn interest on their security deposit if their tenancy is longer than 12 months. The statement savings rate earned by the institution on January 1st and July 1st should be used for the following 6 months. Interest accrues from the first day of the lease term.

If a landlord holds a security deposit in an account that gains interest above the statement savings rate, they can keep up to 30% of the excess interest as an administration fee.

How Do Landlords Give Notice in Washington D.C.?

Written notice must be sent by certified mail or hand-delivery to the tenant’s last-known address. If a landlord does not return a security deposit in full, they must provide an itemized statement of deductions.

Can a Security Deposit Be Used for Last Month’s Rent in Washington D.C.?

Washington D.C. law does not forbid the security deposit from being used for any outstanding rent.

Landlords can include a provision in the lease agreement that the security deposit cannot be used for the last month’s rent until the tenant vacates the rental unit.

Security Deposit Disputes in Washington D.C.

If landlords do not return the security deposit within the required time period, tenants can file for damages in court for up to three times the amount of the deposit with interest plus court costs  and attorneys’ fees.

If landlords do not provide interest due on a security deposit, they are liable for up to $5,000 as a civil penalty.

Tenants can also take legal action against a landlord for:

  • Failure to provide an itemized statement when deductions are made
  • Failure to provide terms and conditions of the deposit
  • Failure to provide required disclosures
  • Unreasonable deductions

How Can Tenants File a Dispute for a Security Deposit in Washington D.C.?

If a landlord fails to return the security deposit, the tenant can file a dispute in Small Claims Court if the amount of damages is less than $10,000. If the amount is greater, the tenant must file a case in the Civil Actions Branch.

A small claims case must be filed within 3 years and an attorney is not required except for corporations and partnerships. Small Claims Court in Washington D.C. is a division of Superior Court. The filing fee is $5 to $45 depending on the amount of the claim plus the cost of service.