Learn About Tenants' Security Deposit Rights in Washington State

Essential Rules for Landlords and Tenants

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Disputes over the security deposit are one of the main issues between landlords and tenants. As a renter in the state of Washington, you need to be familiar with the security deposit laws that are meant to protect you. Here are nine basic rights every landlord and tenant should understand.

Washington's landlord tenant law does not set a limit on the amount a landlord can charge a tenant as a security deposit. The landlord is free to charge one dollar or one million dollars. Luckily for tenants, most landlords will still charge between one and two months' rent.

Requirements Before Collecting Security Deposit

Washington landlords must do two things before they are allowed to collect a security deposit from a tenant:

  1. Have a Written Agreement: A landlord must have a written lease or rental agreement with the tenant. The reasons the landlord can withhold all or a portion of the tenant’s security deposit must be included in this agreement.
  2. Include a Written Checklist: A landlord must provide a written checklist which details the condition, cleanliness and any existing damage to the property.
    1. Both the landlord and tenant must sign and date this statement.
    2. The tenant must also receive a copy of this checklist.
    3. A tenant could be entitled to the return of their security deposit, plus reasonable court costs and attorney's fees if a landlord does not include this written checklist.

    Ability to Charge Nonrefundable Fees

    Landlords in Washington are not allowed to make a tenant's security deposit nonrefundable. They can, however, charge separate non-refundable fees, which are different from non-refundable deposits. An example of a non-refundable fee could be a fee for having a pet in the property.

    A landlord can only charge a nonrefundable fee if: the landlord has a written lease or rental agreement with the tenant or it is clearly spelled out in the lease or rental agreement that the fee is nonrefundable.

    If the two above criteria are not met, a nonrefundable fee becomes a deposit and must be returned to the tenant at the termination of tenancy.

    3 Options for Storing Tenant's Security Deposit

    Washington landlords have three different choices for storing a tenant’s security deposit:

    1. Place the deposit in a trust account, set up by the landlord, which is only for tenants’ security deposits.
    2. Place the deposit in a state or national financial institution, which includes banks, trust companies, savings and loan associations and credit unions.
    3. Place the deposit with an escrow agent, who is licensed and located within the state of Washington.

    Who Gets the Interest?– If the deposit is placed in an interest-bearing account, the landlord gets this interest unless the landlord and the tenant agree, in writing, to different terms.

    Provide a Written Receipt to the Tenant

    After collecting and depositing a tenant’s security deposit, Washington landlords must provide the tenant with written notice.

    This notice must include:

    • A written receipt which states the amount of the security deposit.
    • Name of the institution where the deposit is being held.
    • Address of the institution where the deposit is being held.

    If the landlord moves the security deposit to a different institution during the tenant’s tenancy, the landlord must again notify the tenant in writing with the name and address where the deposit is now being held.

    3 Reasons to Keep a Tenant’s Security Deposit in Washington

    In the state of Washington, a landlord may be able to make deductions from of a tenant’s security deposit to cover:

    Is a Walk Through Inspection Required in Washington?

    A walk through inspection is not required before a tenant’s move-out in the state of Washington. However, landlords and tenants are required to sign off on a checklist describing the condition of the property before a landlord can collect a security deposit at the beginning of tenancy..

    14 Days to Return Security Deposit

    In Washington State, a landlord has 14 days from the date of lease termination or tenant move out to return the portion of the security deposit owed to the tenant.

    Deductions:

      • If the landlord has made any deductions from the deposit, the landlord must include a written notice stating the amount of money that has been withheld and why.
      • With this statement, the landlord must return the portion of the security deposit, if any, that is due back to the tenant.

    Delivery:

      • The landlord is required to mail the security deposit and written statement to the tenant via Unites States first-class mail or must personally deliver it to the tenant
      • These documents must be sent or hand delivered to the last known address of the tenant.

    Failure to Comply:

      • A landlord who fails to follow these rules may have to return the entire security deposit to the tenant even if deductions would have been allowed.
      • A landlord who wrongfully withholds all or a portion of a tenant’s security deposit may be liable for paying up to two times the tenant’s security deposit, plus court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.
      • Different rules may apply if the tenant abandoned the premises. See the revised Code of Washington Annotated §§ 59.18.310 for information regarding tenant abandonment.

      If the tenant's security deposit does not cover the amount of money the landlord is owed, the landlord has legal rights as well. The landlord can sue the tenant to recover the full amount owed. 

      When the Rental Property Is Sold in Washington

      If a landlord in Washington sells his or her investment property, or the property otherwise changes ownership, the landlord must transfer all tenants’ security deposits to the new owner. The new owner is then responsible for placing the deposits in the correct financial or trust account and for notifying all tenants in writing of the name and address where their deposits are now being held.

      For the original text of security deposit code in the state of Washington, please refer to the Revised Code of Washington Annotated §§ 59.18.260 - 285.