Washington Security Deposit Returns & Deductions

Washington Security Deposit Returns & Deductions

Last Updated: December 23, 2022 by Ashley Porter

Quick Facts Answer
Acceptable Deductions Per Lease Agreement
Return Deadline 21 days
Itemized Deductions Required
Penalty for Late Return 2x Deposit + Court costs + Attorneys’ Fees

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

Security Deposit Deductions in Washington

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

  • Unpaid rent or utilities
  • Costs of damage excluding normal wear and tear
  • Trash disposal
  • Cleaning costs
  • Failure to return keys

Most states, such as Washington, 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 by filing a claim in the appropriate court or, if the tenant is receiving rental assistance, the landlord can apply for compensation up to $5,000 from the state’s Landlord Damage Relief Program.

What is Considered Normal Wear & Tear vs Damage in Washington?

Normal wear and tear is damage that is expected when a rental unit is used in a normal way, such as gently worn carpets and faded walls. Damage is the destruction caused by abusive or negligent use of a rental unit, like ripped carpets and heavily stained walls.

“Normal wear and tear” under Washington law is “wear resulting from ordinary use of the premises” and is generally understood to be deterioration that occurs naturally as a result of the tenant using the property as it was designed to be used.

Examples include:

  • Gently worn carpets
  • Lightly scratched glass
  • Faded paint and flooring
  • Lightly dirtied grout
  • Loose door handles
  • Stained bath fixtures

Damage” is not defined by Washington law, but generally means destruction to the rental unit that occurs because of abuse or negligence by a tenant during the course of the tenancy.

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?

Yes, landlords can charge for replacing the carpet if it is damaged beyond normal wear and tear and the charge is included in the conditions of the lease agreement.

Some wear and tear on a rental unit’s carpet is expected after normal day-to-day use of the property. For example, carpets typically become discolored, indented, or gently worn, when used in a normal way. However, non-typical, abusive use of carpet results in rips, visible stains, or burns. Landlords have the right to charge the tenant for the replacement of the carpet in areas where serious damage has occurred.

Can the Landlord Charge for Nail Holes in Washington?

Yes, landlords 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 lease agreement states that the deposit may be used to cover 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?

Landlords in Washington can charge a cleaning fee ifit is specifically stated in the lease agreement, the landlord does not charge for cleaning done as a result of normal wear and tear, and the cleaning fee is reasonable.

note

In Seattle, landlords can charge a non-refundable cleaning fee or deduct damages from the security deposit, but not both.

Can the Landlord Charge for Painting in Washington?

Yes, in Washington, landlords can charge for painting, except for normal wear and tear, and the lease agreement states that the deposit 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, or 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.

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

Washington law does not forbid the use of a security deposit for last month’s 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 Returns in Washington

Landlords must return a security deposit by first-class mail or hand-delivery to the tenant’s last known address no later than 21 days after the required conditions have been met. If deductions are made, a written notice must be included that lists the specific deductions.

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

Washington landlords have 21 days to return any unused portion of the security deposit with a written statement of deductions, if any are made. The period begins once either of these events has occurred:

  • The lease terminates and the tenant vacates
  • The landlord learns that the tenant has abandoned the rental unit

Do Landlords Owe Interest on Security Deposits in Washington?

Landlords in Washington are not required to provide interest earned on security deposits, but the lease agreement can give tenants the right to earn interest on their deposits.

How Do Landlords Give Notice / What Information Do They Have to Provide in Washington?

If deductions are made from the security deposit, a written notice must be sent by first-class mail or hand-delivered to the tenant’s last known address and must include the amount of the security deposit due, if any, to the tenant, plus a written list of deductions.

A template of a security deposit return letter is available to download on our website.

Security Deposit Disputes in Washington

If landlords do not return the security deposit or provide a written list of deductions, if any, within the 21-day period, tenants can file in court to recover up to twice the amount of the deposit plus court costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

Tenants can take legal action against a landlord for:

  • Failure to provide written notice that lists deductions if the security deposit is not returned in full
  • Deductions that are not mentioned in the lease agreement
  • Unreasonable deductions

If the court determines that the landlord failed to return the security deposit and/or written notice unintentionally, the damages will be limited to the amount of the deposit plus court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees. The tenant can be awarded up to twice the amount of the deposit plus court costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees if the court finds that the act was intentional.

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

If a landlord fails to perform their obligations regarding a security deposit, the tenant can file a dispute in the small claims division of District Court if the amount of damages is less than $10,000. If the amount is greater, the tenant must file in the civil division of the District Court.

A small claims case regarding the return of a security deposit must be filed within 3 years. Cases are filed in the District Court for where the property is located and an attorney is not permitted unless approved by the judge. Filing fees are $35 to $50.

Our website provides more information about the process of filing a dispute in Small Claims Court.

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