When a tenant moves out of your rental property, you need to decide how much of the security deposit will be returned. You are legally permitted to withhold any part of that deposit that is needed to pay for cleaning and damages the tenant leaves behind. However, you cannot keep part of the deposit to cover any normal wear and tear or maintenance that you would need to take care of as the property owner.
As a landlord, you should be thinking about your tenants’ departure even while they are moving in. You need to use a detailed checklist that documents the condition of the property at the time of move in. When you are precise and detailed about how the property looks when the tenants move in, you’ll be able to compare that condition to how the property looks when the tenants move out. Take a lot of pictures and focus on floors, walls, doors, appliances, tubs, sinks, toilets and anything else that the tenant might damage while living in your property. Have your tenants read over and sign the checklist before they move in. That way, if you need to deduct from their security deposit when they move out, you’ll have their acknowledgement that the property was in good shape before their tenancy.
Normal wear and tear will have to be covered by the property owner. For example, you cannot charge a tenant for a small mark on the wall that is due to a sofa leaning or rubbing against it. Small holes in the wall from hanging pictures are also considered wear and tear unless you state no nail holes are allowed in the lease document. There are other options to hang pictures. However, if there’s a large hole in the wall because of an accident, that will be considered damage and you’re allowed to charge for it.
Security Deposit Timing
According to the Seattle Landlord and Tenant Act, you have 14 days after the tenants departure to make a written accounting of the security deposit to the tenant. If you are going to keep part or all of the deposit to pay for damages, you’ll still need to pay attention to the 14 day deadline, and provide a written explanation of how much you are withholding and why. Again, use your checklist so there is no confusion about the security deposit funds you are keeping. If you do not make an accounting of the security deposit or an explanation of why you’re keeping it, you may have to explain why in court.
When it comes to move out damage and security deposits, make sure you’re charging for tenant damage only and make sure you get your security deposit back to the tenant within 14 days of the end of the lease. If you need any help or you have any questions, please contact us at Dave Poletti & Associates.