Although not a requirement by Washington landlord-tenant law, most (if not all) landlords in Washington ask for a security deposit from their tenants and ensure they are in the written rental agreement.
Usually equivalent to one month's rent, a tenant’s deposit is meant to cushion you against financial damage that may occur in a variety of scenarios. Examples include tenant’s refusal to pay rent, abandonment, excessive damages, and failure by tenants to clear their utility bills at the time of moving out of the premises.
Luckily, issues can be avoided if both parties understand the landlord-tenant laws in Washington. The rental management experts at Windermere Property Management have created this article to help you get a better understanding of Washington security deposit laws.
How much is a security deposit in Washington?
Washington landlords can charge tenants any amount they see fit and there is no maximum security deposit. That said, the usual rule of thumb is to request the tenant pays the equivalent of one to two months’ rent as a deposit.
What must a landlord do after collecting the security deposit?
Washington law requires that a landlord must provide their prospective tenant with a written notice upon receipt of their deposit. The notice must state both the amount as well as the name and address of the financial institution holding the money.
If at some point during the rent period, you transfer the money to a different institution or landlord, then you must give a notice to the tenants of the change.
How should a landlord store a tenant’s deposit?
A landlord in Washington state has three options:
- One, a landlord may use a trust account. Here, the money should be kept separate and not commingled with other funds.
- Two, a landlord can keep the money in a financial institution that’s recognized countrywide. Such institutions may include banks, trust companies, and credit unions.
- Three, a landlord may store the security money with an escrow agent. In this case, the Washington security deposit law requires that the agent be located and licensed in the state of Washington.
These accounts can either earn interest or not. If they do, then the interest payable becomes the landlord’s, unless both parties agree on different terms in the rental agreements. If both parties agree on other terms, everything should be documented in the written lease agreement.
Can a Security Deposit be Non-Refundable in Washington state?
Washington recognizes non-refundable fees and security deposits as being different. By definition, while a deposit is refundable, non-refundable fees are not, and security deposits are not considered a non-refundable fee (RCW 59.18.285).
Various states differ on whether landlords should charge nonrefundable fees or not. Washington landlord-tenant laws allow you to charge a tenant non-refundable fees. A good example where you can require a non-refundable fee is when tenants have a pet in the property.
For such a fee to be legally binding, landlords must state it clearly in a written agreement. If a landlord fails to include the fee in the agreement, then it becomes refundable at the end of the rental agreement term.
When do landlords have to return security deposits in Washington?
Landlords have a statutory limit of 21 days once a tenant has moved out to give the deposit back to their tenant. If the tenant has caused damage exceeding normal wear and tear, then you can deduct the cost of repair from their deposit. In this case, landlords must send the remaining deposit alongside an itemized list of security deposit deductions.
You should do this by delivering the written receipt and remaining balance to your tenant, either in person or by mail.
According to Washington's landlord-tenant laws, if you wrongfully withhold the tenant’s deposit, then you may become liable for several penalties, including paying attorney's fees as well as twice the original amount.
Is a walk-through inspection necessary in the state of Washington?
This is not required in Washington. However, both the tenant and landlord must sign off on a written checklist detailing the condition of the rental unit prior to the landlord refunding the entire security deposit, so a walkthrough can be helpful for confirming any needed repairs.
Can a landlord withhold a tenant's security deposit in Washington?
If a landlord refuses to return the tenant's deposit, it could be for a variety of valid reasons, including:
• To cover unpaid rent
• If the tenant abandoned the unit
• Negligent or careless damage exceeding normal wear and tear
In your lease agreement, you can list the conditions that necessary for a tenant to have their entire deposit returned after their tenancy.
In the case of damage to the premises, it goes without saying that the damage must exceed normal wear and tear. For instance, a broken dryer due to tenant abuse, broken cabinet doors, and/or deep scuffs in walls and floors.
What if ownership of the rental changes hands?
If the landlord wishes to change the ownership of the rental property, the landlord must transfer the tenants' security deposit to the new landlord. Also, the outgoing landlord must provide a written notice to the tenant informing them of the same information as the previous, including where the money is being stored.
Once the transfer is done, the new landlord then becomes responsible for handling the security deposit.
Can a tenant use the security deposit as the last month’s rent?
No, security deposits can't be used as last month’s rent when the tenant vacates, unless there is a clause in the lease or rental agreement stating it is okay to do so.
Disclaimer: This blog is only meant for information purposes. If you need more help with lease or rental agreement, or further clarification about the security deposit laws, please consider hiring a reputable Washington property management company or a pay reasonable attorneys fee for more advice.