Topics on this page:
Before using any of this online tenant information, please read our OVERVIEW:
- Understanding Landlord-Tenant Law
- Tools for Tenants
- Best Practices and Tips for Renters
Solid Ground Tenant Counselors are not attorneys, and this information should not be considered legal advice. To read specific laws in the Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act, click on the RCW (Revised Code of WA) links throughout this site.
QUESTIONS? Tenant Services Message Line
Since landlord-tenant laws are self-enforced, it is up to you as a tenant to proactively take steps to ensure the conditions of the unit are thoroughly documented when you move in and when you vacate. The following questions outline your rights regarding the use of your deposit and give you information on how to protect yourself from deposit loss. For more detailed information, see the RCW codes and read the Washington LawHelp document, Can I Get My Security Deposit Back?
1) Is the landlord asking you to pay a holding deposit to secure tenancy?
2) Did the landlord provide you with a move-in checklist
3) Did you receive a rental agreement in writing?
4) How much is the deposit?
5) Is the landlord charging nonrefundable fees? Are they clearly stated as nonrefundable in the rental agreement? Is any portion of the deposit considered nonrefundable?
6) Did the landlord charge you a nonrefundable cleaning fee?
7) Is your deposit being held in a trust account?
1) Protect your deposit by documenting damages as they occur during your tenancy.
2) Provide at least 20 days’ written notice before you vacate.
3) Document the condition of the unit before you vacate.
4) Wait 21 days.*
5) Determine if the landlord’s deductions are legal. (If your landlord hasn’t sent you anything in writing, you can skip to the next step.)
6) Evaluate your arguments for the return of your deposit.
Since laws regarding deposits have their limitations and are self-enforced, you may want to access resources to gain leverage in your negotiations with your landlord. Below are some more options you can try to recover your deposit money.
1) Write a demand letter.
2) Pursue mediation.
3) File a lawsuit against your landlord in Small Claims Court.
Last Month’s Rent
Landlords will often collect first and last month’s rent upon move-in. This money can only be used for rent and is not considered a deposit. If the rental agreement does not specifically state how tenants should apply their last month’s rent, then it is up to tenants to communicate with their landlord about it.
It is a good idea to send a letter the month you vacate asking your landlord to apply your last month’s rent, or include the letter in your notice to vacate. In cases where the tenant has already paid rent for the month in which they gave notice to vacate, they can ask their landlord for a refund. If the landlord does not comply, a tenant can write a demand letter for the refund of their last month’s rent, or pursue Small Claims Court or other remedies for the return of the money.
Last month’s rent payments do not appreciate in value over time, and the landlord does have the right to collect the difference. Let’s say you moved into a unit 10 years ago and paid $500 for your last month’s rent. If the rent had been raised over time to be $650 a month by the time you moved out, your landlord could charge you the difference in the last month you live in the unit.BACK TO TOP
- RCW 59.18.253: Holding deposits
- RCW 59.18.200: 20-days’ notice to vacate
- RCW 59.18.260: Deposit checklist
- RCW 59.18.270: Deposit in trust account, deposit transfer to new owner
- RCW 59.18.280: Deposit statement in 21 days
- RCW 59.18.285: Deposits must be refundable
- RCW 59.18.130 (10): Nonrefundable cleaning fee, and normal wear and tear
- RCW 59.18.280: Normal wear and tear
- RCW 59.18.260: Rental agreement required
- RCW 59.18.060: Tenants’ damage charges
- Sample Letter: Deposit Return: Created by Solid Ground Tenant Services
- Sample Letter: Request for Holding Deposit Return: Created by Solid Ground Tenant Services
- Demand Letter for Return of a Rental Security Deposit for Washington: LawHelp Interactive website
- Can I Get My Security Deposit Back?: Washington LawHelp
- Move-In/Move-Out Inspection Checklist: HUD
- Guide to Damages and Normal Wear and Tear
- Small Claims Court in Washington State: Washington LawHelp
- King County Small Claims Court Information: King County District Court’s website
- Resolution Washington: An Association of Dispute Resolution Centers