Tenant Rights and the Security Deposit
When it comes to tenant rights and the security deposit, there is often a lot of confusion about what can or cannot happen with both parties in the landlord/tenant relationship. Although each jurisdiction has different requirements regarding the deposit, here is a general look at what the tenants rights are in getting their cash back.
1. Normal Wear And Tear Is Not a Chargeable Issue.
If a tenant is in a property for three years and there are dings or scratches in the paint, this is often considered to be damage that is charged against the deposit. The depreciation on paint, however, is often 1-3 years, which means normal wear and tear applies and no charge should apply. Carpets, decking, hardwood floors, and other elements all have unique depreciation schedules which must be evaluated.
2. Evidence Of Cleaning May Prohibit a Security Deposit Charge.
If a tenant has taken pictures of their cleaning with a copy of a current newspaper, then they may have a claim against a security deposit charge for cleaning.
3. Non-Refundable Charges/Fees Don't Come Out Of a Security Deposit.
The nature of a deposit is that it can be returned. Anything charges or fees that aren't refundable should be billed outside of the security deposit, not taken from it.
4. There Is a Deadline As To When It Should Be Returned.
In a state like Washington, the security deposit must be received (not mailed out) in 14 days after the final day of tenancy. Other states have 30-45 day requirements. If that deadline is not met, the landlord may be liable to return the entire security deposit, even if there are legitimate charges against it.
5. An Itemized Invoice Is Typically Required.
Having a bill for “Cleaning - $650” isn't usually good enough. Tenants have a right to know what items were cleaned, how long it took to clean each item, and what the hourly labor rate happened to be. This gives the tenant the chance to research providers to determine if their security deposit was charged a fair rate. Tenant rights and the security deposit are important considerations that every landlord must take under advisement. Be sure to know the specific requirements that are listed under your local landlord/tenant laws to make sure that you stay in compliance with expectations in these areas.
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