In theory, your old landlord has 14 days to send your security deposit after you move out, at least according to local renter’s laws. But Seattle apartment movers have heard enough horror stories to know things don’t always work out like that in real life. Even if your landlord does send you your security deposit promptly, you could still open up the envelope to find you’ve received pennies on the dollar, even after spending days cleaning, scrubbing the bathroom floor, and paying for carpet cleaning.
Whether you’re relying on that security deposit to make a down payment on your first home, just need to pay for another security deposit, or want to treat yourself to season tickets for your favorite Seattle sports team, it’s crucial that you get your deposit back. So, as a Seattle apartment dweller, how can you make sure you get that security deposit back, on time and in one piece?
1. Take Photos Of Your Apartment After You Move In
Unfortunately, if you’re moving out, then you’ve already missed the opportunity to take some really important steps to protect yourself. For instance, when you first move into your apartment, it’s crucial that you take pictures of the apartment’s condition. Carefully note any scratches or damage to the unit, that way you don’t get stuck paying for repairs for damages you never caused. Once you’re done taking photos, write up a short list of pre-existing damages and ask your landlord to sign it.
2. Is Your Deposit In Escrow?
According to Washington law, your landlord can’t just keep your security deposit in his or her private checking account. Instead, they’re legally required to keep your funds separate, in what’s called an escrow account. Not only that, but they’re supposed to provide you written proof of that account. Often, when landlords try to (illegally) delay sending out security deposits, it’s because they have the funds tied up somewhere they shouldn’t.
Don’t take no for an answer!
3. On Moving Day…
Often, the damage that ends up being deducted from your security deposit occurs on moving day, in your final days in the unit. Many apartment renters assume they can’t afford local Seattle apartment movers, and so they never even bother to get a free quote. Professional movers are the best way to ensure no damage occurs to your apartment while moving out, because the best Seattle moving companies will provide floor protectors, corner protectors, and everything else your vulnerable apartment fixtures need to make it through moving day.
If you are moving on your own, take extra care not to scratch floors while lifting or moving heavy furniture. Consider buying protective wrap or pads to prevent damage, and ask anyone helping you move to be mindful of their surroundings.
4. Write A Security Deposit Demand Letter
The Tenant’s Union of Washington State recommends writing your landlord a formal letter requesting your security deposit by a certain date. Remember, your landlord only has 14 days from the date you vacate the apartment (or your lease ends). Head to their website for more helpful tips and a sample security deposit request letter you can use.
“There is no specific legal language you need to use in a demand letter to your landlord. However, it is a good idea to cite relevant state laws to claim that the landlord is withholding your deposit money illegally or unreasonably. You can set a reasonable deadline for a response from them.”
5. Read Your Lease
Finally, spend a few minutes actually reading your lease. And yes, the entire lease. If you don’t want your security deposit to show up light, make sure there aren’t any hidden (and illegal) hidden fees or non-refundable deposits included in your lease. If there are, sending a security deposit request letter that cites local law will let your landlord know that you mean business.
Of course, most people don’t receive their full security deposit back, no matter how hard they clean before or after moving day. But there’s a big difference between paying for minor damage or cleaning and getting left holding the bag for damages you never caused.
And if it’s too late to follow every item on this checklist, then at least you’re better placed to recover your security deposit moving forward. You might know those floor scratches were there when you moved in, but your landlord might not. Always take photos after moving into a new apartment, and don’t let your landlord’s friendly demeanor fool you. Never be afraid to ask for terms in writing, and always know your right’s as a tenant.