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When Can My Washington, D.C. Landlord Make Deductions From my Security Deposit?

It is not uncommon for renters to have some security deposit deductions they were not ready for. In fact, a Rent.com survey explains that one out of four renters had funds withheld when they anticipated a full refund of their deposit. Thus, leaving renters wondering – how did this happen? Is it legal for the landlord to withhold funds? The important answers to these questions involve several variables that both tenants and landlords must be aware of. So, if you question whether charges are warranted, or landlords are simply overcharging, check out the information below.

What Can Landlords Legally Deduct from a Security Deposit?

Each state has different landlord-tenant laws the govern security deposit deductions and disbursement. Therefore, as a tenant requesting the return of your deposit, you must understand exactly what your landlord can legally charge you for.

Typically, landlords want to return a full security deposit when the tenant vacates the property. Moreover, this means there was no excessive cleaning needed or damage above normal wear and tear. In other words, the tenant left the home in great shape! Most landlords would much prefer refunding deposit funds instead of taking the time and money to repair damages.

That said, when it comes to what landlords can and cannot charge for, it comes down to condition. Therefore, a simple way to look at it is that landlords cannot charge for average wear and tear. However, some situations allow for security deposit deductions, such as –

  • Excessive damage above normal wear and tear
  • Extreme filth or excessive trash and personal items left behind
  • Unpaid rent or other fees
  • Lease break costs or penalties
  • Costs for returning unapproved alterations to their original state

 How to Know What Is Wear and Tear vs. Damage?

Legally, landlords may deduct to return the property to move-in-ready condition, except for conditions linked to normal wear and tear. So, any damages outside the ordinary could lead to security deposit deductions. Check out the examples of normal wear and tear below –

Examples of Normal Wear and Tear

  • Curtains faded by the sun.
  • Linoleum stains resulting from shower spray
  • Insignificant marks or nicks in walls, or dents from a doorknob hitting a wall
  • Moderate dirt and spots on carpets
  • Minimal nail or tack holes in walls
  • Carpets and rugs are worn by regular use
  • Worn gaskets on refrigerator doors
  • Faded paint on walls in the home
  • Marking on hardwood floors which have lost their finish and are worn to the bare wood
  • Warped cabinet doors that do not close properly
  • Staining on porcelain fixtures that have lost their protective coating
  • Dusty or moderately dirty window blinds
  • Black spots on bathroom mirrors due to “de-silvering.”
  • Clothes dryers that do not produce hot air due to a faulty thermostat
  • Toilets that do not flush properly because of mineral deposits clogging the jets

What is Considered Tenant Damage?

On the other hand, a landlord can deduct from a security deposit to cover expenses related to damage or excessive filth such as –

  • Cigarette burns on carpets or curtains
  • Broken bathroom tiles
  • Large marks or holes in the walls
  • Doors that are off their hinges
  • Carpets that are ripped or stained from pet urine
  • An excessive number of nail holes and gouges in the walls that would require patching
  • Rug stains that were caused by a leaky fish tank
  • Broken refrigerator shelves
  • Walls with water damage due to hanging plants
  • Water-stained wood floors and windowsills due to being left open during rainstorms
  • Sticky cabinet faces and interiors
  • Toilets and bathtubs that are coated with grime
  • Missing window blinds
  • Mirrors that are caked with makeup and lipstick
  • Clothes dryers that are damaged due to being overloaded
  • Toilets that are damaged from tenants flushing diapers

 Tips for Getting Your Security Deposit Back

Whether you have just moved in or are moving out of your rental property in Washington D.C., there are steps every tenant can take to help ensure there are minimal, if any, security deposit deductions. Continue reading below as we review our top tips for getting your security deposit back.

  1. Take Care of the Unit from the Start
  2. Give Proper Notice
  3. Do Not Leave Items Behind
  4. Complete Minor Repairs Yourself
  5. Clean, Clean, Clean

Take Care of the Unit from the Start

Ensuring your full deposit gets returned starts at move in, not move out. Taking small steps, in the beginning, can pay off long term if you are vigilant. With that in mind, consider the following –

  • Read the Lease – Every rental agreement should lay out everything a tenant can and cannot do when making changes to the unit. For example, if the walls are white and you wish to repaint any rooms within the property – make sure the landlord allows such a change and under what conditions. Looking for easy, no damage decorating ideas? Check out our blog.
  • Carefully Complete a Move-in Inspection – Move-in inspections are vital to compare the condition of the unit at the end of a tenancy. Therefore, any existing damage must be carefully noted so the new tenant is not held responsible. Most property management firms will complete an inspection form and take photos or video evidence. However, as a tenant, taking your own photos is a good idea.
  • Keep Everything in Good Shape – As a renter, you do not own the home, but that does not mean you should be careless. So, move in carefully and mind the walls when placing furniture or personal items. In addition, regularly clean the space and be sure to mop up or clean any spills promptly. If any maintenance issues arise, notify the property manager immediately.
  • Follow All Terms – Whether it is paying on time or knowing your obligations, if you must break the lease, following all terms is essential. Not only is this important to a good landlord-tenant relationship, but it is also key to you protecting your deposit.

 Give Proper Notice

Typically, rental agreements state the amount of notice required to move out. This can be anywhere from 30 to 90 days, depending on your location and the terms of the notice. Regardless, it is up to the tenant to notify the landlord, in writing, of their intent to move within the proper timeframe. Failing to do so could jeopardize your deposit or leave the tenant liable for added rent.

Once the landlord receives notice, they can begin planning for a move-out inspection and any necessary marketing efforts to find a new tenant.

Do Not Leave Items Behind

Once a tenant vacates the property, anything left behind becomes a hassle and inconvenience for everyone involved. So, make sure you pack or discard everything throughout the home. Take time to check drawers, closets, and storage areas to ensure no personal items remain after turning in your keys.

This is important because if the landlord needs to take additional time to remove items or hire an outside vendor for haul out, this will result in a security deposit deduction.

Complete Minor Repairs Yourself

In some cases, there may be minor damage that a tenant can repair themselves. For example, patch holes from picture hanging, replace burnt-out bulbs, remove marks from walls with a Magic Eraser, or deep clean carpeted areas. But, of course, anything more than this may need landlord approval or at least input before tackling yourself. So, when in doubt, reach out to your property manager and ask.

Clean, Clean, Clean

One of the biggest things that prevent tenants from receiving their entire deposit is leaving the unit dirty or disheveled. After packing and removing all items, take the time to clean the unit from top to bottom thoroughly. As an added step, you could request a pre-move-out inspection from your landlord. The purpose is to allow the landlord to examine the property’s condition and provide a list of possible issues that could cause security deposit deductions. Then, working from this list, tenants can clean the property and repair any damages more effectively.

Security Deposit Laws in Washington DC

Knowing the local laws regarding security deposit deductions, rules, and limits is important in any location. Let’s look at the answers to some common questions for landlords and tenants in Washington DC below. For information on your specific location, check the local court website or trusted online legal resource.

  • Is there a limit to how much landlords can charge as a deposit? – Yes! Landlords in Washington DC can charge up to one full month’s rent.
  • How long does a landlord have to return the deposit after move out? – DC landlords have up to 45 days to return all or a portion of the deposit once the tenant has turned in their keys.
  • Does the law require an itemized list of security deposit deductions? Yes! Landlords must include an itemized list of any charges they have withheld from the tenant’s deposit. This accompanies the remaining refund to the tenant within the specified 45-day time limit.
  • Is interest required? – Yes! In Washington DC, landlords must pay tenants interest on the deposit amount at the end of the lease.

If you feel you are a victim of unfair security deposit deductions, it is essential to know your rights. That said, if landlords attempt to charge tenants an unfair amount for minor problems, tenants may have legal rights to fight the charges. The best way to ensure fair and equal treatment is to rent with a respected property management company. So, if you are looking within DC or the surrounding area, contact Bay Management property managers today to check out our latest listings!