The security deposit process in Vancouver and throughout Southwest Washington can be confusing and complex. It seems simple enough: you collect a deposit from tenants at the beginning of a lease, and then return it at the end of the lease if everything remains in good condition. However, there can often be conflict at this point in your tenant relationship, especially if there is disagreement over deductions you may have made to that tenant’s deposit.
It’s important that you understand the security deposit laws and the requirements around how you collect, hold, and return the deposit. While you hold a security deposit in order to protect yourself against unpaid rent and property damage, it’s still the tenant’s money, and it has to be treated as such.
Today, we’re talking about Vancouver security deposits.
You’ll collect the security deposit when your tenant signs the lease agreement. There is no limit in Washington to the amount you can collect. Most landlords collect the equivalent of one month’s rent for a security deposit, but you can set your own deposit amount. If you’re not sure what to collect, talk to a property manager.
Once you’ve collected the security deposit, you must put that money in a separate trust account. You cannot allow the security deposit to mingle with rent that you collect, fees that are paid, or other property expenses. The law requires you to keep the security deposit in a separate account.
Document where this money goes. We recommend you include details on where the security deposit is being held in your lease agreement. It’s transparent and verifiable.
After the tenant has moved out, you will have 21 days to refund the security deposit by sending it to the tenant’s forwarding or last known address.
If you are going to withhold all or part of the deposit, you must notify the tenant of this within those same 21 days. The Washington revised codes are now very specific on this. If you are going to charge them, you have to provide bills which shows fees for the work that needs to be done such as estimates on repairs or invoices. If you are going to do the work yourself, you cannot charge for your time but you can charge for your materials.
Be sure to keep accurate records for this and again be sure to notify the tenant within 21 days in regards to what is happening with the security deposit.
Remember that you are only allowed to charge the deposit for unpaid rent and utility bills as well as late fees or property damage. Normal wear and tear is a cost that must be covered by the property owner. This is where most tenants and landlords will disagree, so document everything and make sure you have detailed photos from your move-in inspection and your move-out inspection. This will allow you to compare the condition of the property before a tenant moved in to after your tenant moved out.
If you need help with security deposits or anything pertaining to Vancouver property management, please contact us at SunWorld Group.