9 Basics of Washington's Security Deposit Law

Learn How Much You Can Collect and Reasons You Can Keep a Tenant's Deposit

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Basics of Washington's Security Deposit Law. Sam Edwards/OJO Images/Getty Images

The state of Washington has specific laws landlords and tenants must follow. Included in these laws are rules for security deposits. Here are nine basics every Washington landlord should know. These are state laws, so make sure to check with your local town or county to see if additional rules may apply.

9 Basic Questions About Security Deposits in Washington:

  1. Maximum Amount- No Limit
  2. Requirements to Collect a Deposit- Written Agreement and Written Checklist
  1. Nonrefundable Deposit- Not Allowed
  2. Storing Deposit- Trust Account, Financial Account or Escrow
  3. Written Notice After Receipt- Required
  4. Keeping Deposit- Unpaid Rent, Damages or Other Breaches to Lease
  5. Walk-Through Inspection- Not Required
  6. Returning Deposit- 14 Days After Move Out
  7. Selling Property- Transfer Deposit to New Owner

1. Is There a Security Deposit Limit in Washington?

No. There is no statewide limit in Washington on the maximum amount a landlord can charge a tenant as a security deposit.

2. Landlord Requirements Before Collecting a Security Deposit

In order for a landlord to collect a security deposit from a tenant, the landlord must:

  • Have a Written Agreement- A landlord must have a written lease or rental agreement with the tenant. This written agreement must include the reasons the landlord can withhold all or a portion of the tenant’s security deposit.
     
  • Include a Written Checklist- This checklist must detail the condition, cleanliness and any existing damage to the property. This includes, but is not limited to:
    • Windows
    • Walls
    • Floors or Carpets
    • Appliances
    • Furniture
    Both the landlord and tenant must sign and date this statement. The tenant must also receive a copy of this checklist.

    Failure to provide a written checklist could result in the landlord having to return the tenant’s full security deposit plus reasonable court costs and attorney fees.

    3. Can You Charge a Nonrefundable Deposit?

    No. A landlord in the state of Washington cannot charge a nonrefundable security deposit. Landlords, however, may charge nonrefundable fees, which cannot be considered deposits. An example of a nonrefundable fee could be a fee for having a pet in the property.

    In order to charge a nonrefundable fee, the landlord must have a written lease or rental agreement with the tenant. In addition, these fees are only considered nonrefundable if they are clearly spelled out as such in the lease or rental agreement.

    A nonrefundable fee becomes a deposit and must be returned to the tenant at the termination of tenancy if:

    1. The landlord and tenant do not have a written lease or rental agreement.

      Or/and
       
    2. The nonrefundable fee is not clearly listed as nonrefundable in the lease or rental agreement.

    4, How Must You Store the Security Deposit in Washington?

    Landlords in the state of Washington have three choices for storing a tenant’s security deposit:

    1. Place the deposit in a trust account, set up by the landlord, which is exclusively 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 is entitled to this interest unless the landlord and the tenant agree, in writing, to different terms.

    5. Is Written Notice Required After Receipt of the Security Deposit in Washington?

    Yes. After receiving a tenant’s security deposit and appropriately depositing it, Washington landlords are required to provide the tenant with written notice. This notice must include:

    • A written receipt indicating 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, he or she must again notify the tenant in writing with the name and address where the deposit is now being held.

    6. What Are Some Reasons You Can Keep a Tenant’s Security Deposit in Washington?

    In the state of Washington, a landlord may be able to keep all or a portion of a tenant’s security deposit to cover:

    • Unpaid Rent
    • Damage in Excess of Normal Wear and Tear
    • Other Breaches to the Lease Agreement

    7. Is a Walk Through Inspection Required in Washington?

    A walk through inspection is not required prior to a tenant’s move-out in the state of Washington. Prior to collecting a security deposit from a tenant, however, both landlord and tenant must sign off on a checklist describing the condition of the property.

    8. When Must You Return a Tenant’s Security Deposit in Washington?

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

    Deductions:

    If any deductions have been made from the deposit, the landlord must include a written notice stating what money 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 comply with 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.

    The landlord also has the right to pursue legal action against the tenant if the tenant’s security deposit does not cover the amount of money the landlord is owed.

    What Happens to the Security Deposit If You Sell Your Property?

    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.

    Landlords who have lost their property to foreclosure are still responsible for returning tenants’ security deposits. The landlord must either return the deposits directly to the tenants or must transfer the deposits to his or her successor. Failure to do so could result in the tenant being awarded up to two times his or her security deposit plus court costs and reasonable attorney fees.

    What Is Washington's Security Deposit Law?

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