Tips for frustrated renters who want their security deposit back
Natasha Weled was told she would get back the security deposit she put down on a two-bedroom apartment in Bellevue. Instead she got a letter from a debt collections agency.
Weled sued her former landlord, Allied Residential, and won. These are her tips for tenant success.
Tenants should not pay for normal wear and tear when they move out of rental housing. Attorney Scott Crain of Northwest Justice Project recommends documenting when, for example, a stove stops working as a result of normal use. Keep photos and send written notice to your landlord, he said.
“If they don't fix it, at least you've got evidence at the end of the tenancy that that thing broke two years ago, the landlord never fixed it, and now they're charging you to replace three burners on your stove,” Crain said.
Landlords have 24 hours to fix hazardous conditions, like restoring heat, electricity, or hot or cold water.
Natasha Weled has another tip: If your landlord uses an online system to track maintenance requests, take screenshots of your requests and the landlord’s response for your own records, just in case.
Document the condition of the apartment when you move out.
“It's much harder for a landlord to allege damages that didn't occur,” Crain said.
Photos of the move-out inspection were key to the Weleds’ case.
Natasha Weled read online that she should not only take photos of the condition of the apartment, but also of the person performing the move out inspection. During the trial, the judge specifically picked up the photos containing the property manager and showed the courtroom.
Weled recommends going a step further: “If you have enough memory on your phone, record it. Video record what the resident manager says."
Weled got help from a Neighborhood Legal Clinic, a program of the King County Bar Association.
Catholic Community Services has the Tenant Law Center.
Challenging a landlord’s claim that you owe money is easier if you do it sooner when the “evidence is fresh,” rather than later when it’s already on your credit report, Crain said. “It can really impair your ability to get housing in the future, unless it's been paid off.”
And you might not want to pay off, say, thousands of dollars that you don’t believe you owe.