Washington Security Deposit Laws in 2024

Introduction to Washington Security Deposit Laws

Security deposits are funds paid by a renter to a landlord at the start of a lease to cover any potential damages or unpaid rent. In Washington state, security deposit laws are governed by the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RCW 59.18) which outlines the rules and procedures around collecting and returning deposits. 

The purpose of security deposits is to give landlords some financial protection in case a tenant damages the unit or fails to pay rent. However, tenants also have legal rights regarding their deposits under Washington law. The security deposit remains the legal property of the tenant unless the landlord properly withholds all or part of it.

Washington state has enacted several recent changes to its security deposit laws starting in 2019. These amendments better protect renters and restrict when landlords can retain deposits. Key changes include requiring written checklists documenting a unit's initial condition, limiting deductions for normal wear and tear, mandating receipts for repair costs, and tightening timelines for returning deposits.

The state legislature continues to update the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act to balance the interests of landlords and renters. Both parties should understand their rights and responsibilities under the latest version of the law. This guide will provide an overview of Washington's security deposit rules and procedures, including recent reforms.

Limits on Security Deposit Amounts in Washington

Washington state does not impose a limit on the maximum security deposit amount a landlord can charge tenants statewide. However, some cities in Washington have enacted laws that do limit how much landlords can collect for security deposits. 

The city of Seattle, for example, passed an ordinance in 2018 that caps security deposits at the amount of the first full month's rent. So if a tenant's monthly rent payment is $1,500, the landlord can only collect a maximum security deposit of $1,500 as well. This limit applies to unfurnished units under the Seattle ordinance.

For furnished units rented in Seattle, the security deposit is capped at 2 times the monthly rent under city law. So for a furnished unit rented for $2,000 per month, the maximum security deposit would be $4,000 in that case.  

Other cities in Washington may have local laws that restrict security deposit amounts for rentals as well. Tenants should check their specific city's rental ordinances to see if any legal limits apply in their jurisdiction.

Statewide, landlords in Washington may require security deposits in any amount, as long as the terms are specified in the written rental agreement. Without local ordinances, there is no limit set in state law on security deposit amounts that can be charged.

Checklists and Inspections Required in Washington

In Washington, landlords are required to provide tenants with a written checklist documenting the condition of the rental unit before collecting a security deposit. This checklist must be completed before the tenant moves in and takes initial possession of the unit. 

The written checklist must include a comprehensive listing of the condition of all areas of the rental, including walls, floors, appliances, fixtures, and any existing damages. Photos documenting the condition can also be included with the checklist.

Both the landlord and the tenant must sign and date the condition checklist, keeping a copy for their records. This provides documentation of the baseline condition of the unit that can prevent deposit disputes down the line.  

If the landlord fails to provide a signed checklist, the tenant has grounds to recover their full deposit amount without deductions. The landlord cannot legally withhold any deposit funds without having completed the written checklist process.

Under Washington law, tenants are entitled to receive one free replacement copy of the condition checklist if they request it. This allows renters to have a documented record of the unit's initial state even if they lose their original copy. Having the checklist provides protection if any discrepancies arise when the landlord attempts to make deposit deductions for damages.

Completing a detailed checklist and having both parties sign prevents misunderstandings about what was pre-existing damage versus new damage caused by the tenant. Landlords and renters should thoroughly inspect the unit together and note any flaws, no matter how minor. This sets clear expectations and evidence to avoid security deposit disputes.

Returning Security Deposits in Washington

In Washington state, landlords must return a tenant's full security deposit or provide a written statement explaining why any portion is being withheld within 21 days after the tenancy ends and the tenant has vacated the unit. 

The landlord can deduct money from the security deposit to cover:

  • Unpaid rent
  • Damage to the unit beyond normal wear and tear 
  • Excessive cleaning costs if the unit was left unreasonably dirty
  • Utility bills not paid by the tenant
  • Cost to restore, replace, or repair any furnishings provided in the unit

The landlord must provide receipts and invoices to justify any deductions being made. If no invoices or estimates are provided, the landlord cannot legally withhold that amount or turn it over to a collection agency.

Normal wear and tear is expected deterioration from standard use of the unit. Things considered normal wear and tear that cannot be deducted from the deposit include:

  • Minor scratches, scuffs, nail holes, or fading paint and carpets
  • Stains that can be buffed out through standard cleaning
  • Faded paint or slight damage on walls from hanging pictures
  • Worn out keys or locks needing replacement over time

Excessive damage like broken appliances, large holes in walls, or ruined carpeting can be deducted. The landlord must clearly document and prove excessive damage to justify keeping any portion of the deposit.

Disputes and Remedies for Wrongfully Withheld Deposits

If a landlord in Washington State wrongfully withholds all or part of a security deposit, the tenant has several options to recover their deposit:

  • The tenant can send a written demand letter requesting return of the full deposit within 14 days. This letter should outline why the tenant believes none of the deposit should have been withheld.  
  • If the deposit is still not returned after the demand letter, the tenant can file a lawsuit in small claims court for return of the deposit plus up to 2x the deposit amount in damages. Lawsuits must be filed within 2 years of the end of the tenancy.
  • The tenant can also file a complaint with the Washington State Attorney General's office, which may investigate the landlord for violations of the security deposit law. 
  • If a landlord is found to have willfully retained a deposit in bad faith, they may be liable for 3x the deposit amount in damages.

The security deposit law provides strong remedies for tenants to recover wrongfully withheld deposits. Key time limits are that demand letters must be sent within 14 days, and lawsuits within 2 years after the tenancy ends. With proper documentation, tenants have a good chance of recovering their full deposit plus extra damages from landlords who violate the law.

Special Situations and Exceptions in Washington

Washington state has standard security deposit laws that apply to most rental properties. However, there are some exceptions and special situations to be aware of:

Renting a Single Family Home

If you are renting a single family home, duplex, or other detached housing unit, some of the security deposit laws may not apply. Specifically, landlords who own fewer than 5 single family homes are not required to provide the written checklist before collecting a deposit. However, they still must comply with the laws regarding deposit return timelines and allowable deductions.

Local Laws in Seattle

The city of Seattle has additional tenant protections that go beyond the state laws. In Seattle, landlords must pay interest on security deposits held over one year. The interest rate is set annually based on the Consumer Price Index. Landlords in Seattle also cannot charge last month's rent in addition to a full security deposit.

Outside of Seattle or other local jurisdictions, landlords are allowed to charge last month's rent upfront in addition to a full security deposit under state law. However, the total of last month's rent plus security deposit cannot exceed two month's rent.

Month-to-Month Tenancies  

For month-to-month rental agreements without a fixed end date, landlords in Washington have additional options for deposit deductions. If you stay in a unit on a month-to-month basis, the landlord can deduct for damages whenever you move out, even if it's in the middle of a rental period.

Roommates and Co-tenants

If multiple tenants are on the same rental agreement, the security deposit refund will generally be paid out together in one lump sum. It is up to the roommates to determine how to divide the deposit refund among themselves. Landlords are not required to split security deposits between roommates or co-tenants.

Record Keeping Requirements in Washington 

Washington state law requires landlords to provide documentation to justify keeping any portion of a tenant's security deposit. Within 21 days of a tenant moving out, the landlord must provide an itemized checklist showing any damages or costs they are deducting from the deposit, along with copies of receipts and invoices related to those deductions.

If a landlord fails to provide proper documentation, they forfeit the right to keep any of the deposit or to charge the tenant for any damages or costs. All deductions must be backed up in writing.

Specifically, if deducting for damages, landlords must provide copies of the invoices and receipts for the repair work. If deducting for cleaning costs, copies of receipts from the cleaning company must be provided. 

Landlords must also keep supporting documentation like invoices and checklists for 3 years after the tenancy ends. These records must be made available to the tenant upon request. 

If a landlord tries to turn over undocumented damages or costs to a collection agency, they have no legal right to collect without proper written receipts and invoices.

Proper record keeping protects both landlords and tenants in security deposit disputes. Tenants should be sure to request documentation for any deductions and keep their own records as well.

Last Month's Rent in Washington

In Washington state, landlords are allowed to require payment of "last month's rent" in addition to a security deposit when signing a lease. This is different from the security deposit, which is meant to cover potential damages. 

The last month's rent is literally paying for your final month upfront when you move in. For example, if your monthly rent is $1,000, the landlord could require first month's rent of $1,000, a security deposit of $1,000, and last month's rent of $1,000 when signing the lease.

The main differences between security deposit and last month's rent are:

  • Security deposit can be used by the landlord for damages, while last month's rent just pays for your final month.
  • Security deposit is refundable at move out if no damages, while last month's rent is non-refundable.
  • There are limits on security deposit amounts, but no limits on requiring last month's rent upfront.
  • Security deposit disputes have a specific resolution process, while last month's rent has no special handling.

So in summary, Washington landlords can require first month's rent, a full security deposit, and payment of last month's rent all when signing the initial lease. Tenants should be aware they may have to pay 3x their normal monthly rent upfront to move in. The last month's rent is not refundable like a security deposit, so make sure to use it for your final month.

Tips for Renters in Washington 

When renting in Washington, there are several things tenants can do to protect themselves regarding security deposits:

Read the rental agreement carefully

Make sure you understand all the terms related to the security deposit, including how much is required, when it will be returned, allowable deductions, and dispute resolution process. 

Conduct a walkthrough inspection

Do a comprehensive inspection when you move in and out, noting any damages or issues. Take dated photos and have the landlord sign your inspection checklist.

Keep documentation

Hold onto copies of your rental agreement, inspection checklists, rent payments, repair requests, and any other relevant paperwork. 

Get receipts for rent and deposit payments

Having receipts will help verify any payments if there is a dispute.

Leave the unit in good condition

Clean thoroughly and repair any damages beyond normal wear and tear when you move out. 

Request an itemized statement if deposit is withheld

You are entitled to a written statement explaining any deductions. Evaluate whether the reasons seem valid.

Dispute improper deductions promptly

Send a formal letter contesting any unreasonable charges and request your full deposit back. 

If your landlord refuses to return your deposit, consult a tenants' rights organization or attorney. You may be able to recover up to 2x the amount wrongfully withheld.

Following these tips can help renters in Washington avoid deposit disputes and ensure landlords comply with all legal requirements. Know your rights and take steps to protect your deposit.

Summary of Washington Security Deposit Laws

Washington has clear laws governing security deposits that aim to protect both landlords and renters. Some key points to remember:

  • Landlords can only charge a security deposit equal to 1 month's rent, or 2 months rent for furnished units. Higher amounts may be illegal.
  • Landlords must conduct a walkthrough inspection and provide a written checklist before collecting a deposit. This helps avoid disputes down the line.
  • Normal wear and tear cannot be deducted from security deposits. Landlords need receipts to justify cleaning or repair charges. 
  • Deposits must be returned within 21 days of move out along with an itemized statement for any deductions.
  • Tenants have several remedies available if a landlord wrongly keeps a deposit, including suing in small claims court.
  • Certain types of rentals like single family homes may be exempt from some provisions. Check your specific rental agreement.

For more help understanding Washington rental laws, consult the Washington State Attorney General's landlord-tenant guide, connect with a local tenants union, or speak to a lawyer if needed. Knowing the laws and your rights is key to avoiding deposit disputes.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the deposit laws in Washington state?

In Washington state, the security deposit laws do not specify a limit on how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit. However, landlords are required to provide a written checklist of conditions of the property at the time of move-in, which both the landlord and tenant sign. Landlords must also place security deposits in a trust account and inform tenants in writing where the deposits are held.

How long does a landlord have to return a deposit in Washington state?

Landlords in Washington state have 21 days after the tenant vacates the property to return the security deposit or provide an itemized statement showing specific reasons for any deductions. This statement must be provided to the tenant in person or by mail.

What is considered normal wear and tear in Washington state?

Normal wear and tear in Washington refers to the natural deterioration of the property that occurs from its intended use, regardless of the best care possible. Examples include fading paint and wallpaper, furniture marks in carpet, and worn gaskets on refrigerator doors. It does not include damages like holes in walls, broken tiles, or stained carpets.

How much can a landlord charge for cleaning in Washington state?

In Washington state, a landlord can deduct from the security deposit for cleaning costs to return the unit to the level of cleanliness it was in at the beginning of tenancy, as detailed by the move-in checklist. Charges for cleaning should be reasonable and reflect actual work that is necessary beyond normal wear and tear.

What is the new renters law in Washington state?

As of my last update, significant new renters' laws in Washington state have included measures to increase tenant protections, such as requiring landlords to provide a minimum of 60 days' notice for rent increases (previously 30 days), and extending the notice period for evictions due to nonpayment of rent from three to 14 days to allow tenants more time to pay rent or vacate. Always check for the most current information, as local housing laws can frequently change.

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