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Rental Deposits: What Tenants Should Know

If you are a renter, getting your deposit back can sometimes be a challenging process. Here is some helpful information for tenants.

Before you move into your unit:
• Before signing a lease, you should check the unit to make sure everything is in good working order. Check the light switches, all the appliances, and anything that’s in the unit before you move in. A full list can be found in the resource sheet below. If you see anything wrong with the condition of your unit, you should document them with photos with a copy of that day’s newspaper to prove the date.
• If your landlord agrees to fix problems before moving in, get a written document with the dates the repairs will be made.
• If you are given a checklist, you can add any new issues you discover to the checklist. Include your initials and the date when each problem was discovered. You can also request the landlord sign the checklist, but the landlord is not required to do so by law.

There are certain legal requirements for a landlord to withhold a deposit:
• The landlord must provide you with a move-in checklist at the beginning of your tenancy that details the conditions of the unit.
• The landlord must provide a rental agreement in writing to collect your deposit.
• In Seattle, landlords must not charge more than one month’s rent for a deposit. Tenants are also allowed up to a six-month payment plan.
• The landlord may not declare a deposit, or any part of a deposit, non-refundable.
• The landlord must hold your deposit in a trust, and that deposit must be transferred from the old owner to the new owner in the case of the property being sold.
• The landlord must, in the case of a holding deposit being paid, credit the amount toward the security deposit or the first month’s rent.
• The landlord must, if they are being reimbursed for damages from the landlord mitigation program, not proceed against the deposit of a tenant who terminates their rental agreement due to reported domestic violence, sexual assault, unlawful harassment, or stalking.

Should the landlord violate any of these, you have a few options:
• Write a demand letter to assert your right to your deposit. There is a sample letter provided in the resource sheet.
• You can pursue mediation through the Dispute Resolution Center or Small Claims Court.
• You can file a suit against your landlord in Small Claims Court. More information on the specifics of how to use the Small Claims Court is in the resource sheet.

For more information about your rights to your deposit or the specific applicable laws, see this Resource Sheet.

By Evan Yi, ELAP intern, with legal review by Sarterus Rowe (WSBA 47010)

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