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

Most renters have had their security deposit deducted, even when they are positive that they have done everything their landlord required. A recent Rent.com survey explains that one out of four renters failed to have their security deposit returned when they fully expected to. You may wonder how this happens and how it can be legal. If you question whether there is ever a way to get your entire security deposit returned and whether landlords are simply overcharging, here is some information to guide you regarding security deposit laws in Washington D.C.

What Can a Washington, D.C. Landlord Legally Deduct from a Security Deposit?

In most cases, a landlord wishes to fully return the security deposit that a tenant has paid. This would mean that there was no damage done to the property, and no additional cleaning was required when the tenant vacated the property. Most landlords would much prefer this overtaking the time and money to repair damages.

Every state has different landlord-tenant laws. As you request your security deposit to be returned, you must understand exactly what your landlord can legally charge you for. A simple way to look at it is that landlords can’t charge tenants for daily wear and tear on a rental property, but they may charge for excessive damage or extreme filth during a rental inspection. Additionally, they may keep your security deposit to cover unpaid rent, fees associated with a lease breach, and costs for returning unapproved alterations to their original state.

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

Legally, landlords may deduct from a security deposit to return a property to move-in ready condition, beyond conditions linked to normal wear and tear. Any damage that is out of the ordinary can be taken out of a tenant’s security deposit.

Here are some examples of normal wear and tear, which landlords cannot legally deduct from your security deposit:

  • 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 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

On the other hand, a landlord can deduct from your 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 which 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 which are water damaged 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 which are damaged from tenants flushing diapers

What Should You Do During the Move-out Process?

When you know you will be moving out of a rental property in Washington D.C., there are a few tasks you should perform to ensure you will receive the full amount of your security deposit back from your landlord.

First, the most important thing to do when you find out that you will be moving is to give your property manager or property owner notice of your move-out date and ensure it complies with your lease agreement. If you break your lease early, you can be charged for breach of contract. If you are on a month-to-month lease, you can be charged for an extra month if you do not give ample notice, so be sure to let them know as soon as possible. Doing so will save you from unexpected charges down the road.

Take Time to Clean and Repair Small Issues

The next step in guaranteeing your landlord’s satisfaction with the condition of your rental property and receiving your security deposit is to conduct a pre-move-out inspection. The purpose of this inspection is to allow the landlord or property manager the opportunity to examine the condition of the property and provide you with a list of any possible issues that would cause a deduction from your security deposit.

Working from this list, you will then be able to clean the property and repair any damages. This will save your landlord the trouble of hiring a professional to tackle the issues and thus improve your chances of receiving your full security deposit. At the very least, you should give the D.C. rental property, a deep cleaning and repair any minor damages that you are responsible for.

Any questions related to the return of your security deposit ultimately come down to what is stated in your lease agreement. The best rule of thumb is to be sure you understand the terms of your agreement before you sign it and maintain the terms of the contract during your stay in the rental property. You may not directly abuse the property, but your landlord can still charge you for any work that is necessary to return it to the condition it was in before you moved there. If you wish to repaint any rooms within the property or perform upgrades on any fixtures, including lighting, bathroom, and kitchen, be sure to get formal written permission from the landlord first.

If you feel that you have been unfairly charged all or part of your security deposit, you will want to know your rights. In Washington, D.C., your landlord must provide you with a list of security deposit deductions. If they attempt to force you to pay an unfair amount for minor problems, you may have legal rights to fight the charges.

If you’re looking for a place to stay in the Washington D.C. areas, contact Bay Management property managers today to get started!