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Want Your Security Deposit Back? Follow These Five Tips

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Photo: Tax Credits

If you've rented long enough, you've had the following experience. You move out, make sure your old place is in reasonable condition, maybe you even hire a carpet cleaner or cleaning service to leave things extra nice. You sit back and wait for your $1,000 security deposit to arrive and when it does you open the envelope to reveal a check for $150. Where did it all go???

Seattle landlords have certain rules that they must follow when it comes to security deposits, but if you want to ensure that you'll see as much of that money as possible, make sure to follow these simple tips.

1.) Read Your Lease: Seriously, don't skim it. Read it line by line and make sure your landlord isn't trying to pull any fast ones. Landlords can't insert provisions in rental contracts that require tenants to pay for all damages that aren't your fault. If they're collecting a nonrefundable fee for cleaning or otherwise, it has to be stated up front.

2.) Take Photos When You Move In: First of all, make sure there is a checklist or statement that describes the condition of the place before you move in. Then make sure it's signed by both parties and that you get a copy. Next, take photographs of the place's condition when you move in. In every photo, include a copy of the day's newspaper to verify the date. A court judge may not accept your camera's date stamp, so consider this the foolproof backup. If your landlord tries to say you damaged the unit, you have visible proof.

3.) Make Sure The Deposit Is In Escrow: Seattle landlords are required to put security deposits in escrow (a bank account separate from their own account). They must also provide you with written documentation of where that account is. This ensures that your deposit isn't used for alternative purposes and becomes unavailable if you need to move out sooner than expected.

4.) Count the days: After you move out, Seattle landlords are required by law to deliver your deposit within fourteen days. If they're mailing you the deposit, they need to make sure it's postmarked and send first class by the fourteenth day, otherwise, you can sue them for double the deposit amount. (Of course, make sure that your landlord has your new contact information. Otherwise, it won't be their fault if they can't get you your money).

5.) It's Just Business: There's a long history of tenants who were all buddy-buddy with their landlord until it came time to divvy up the security deposit. Your friendly, neighborhood landlord is running a business, and you have to assume they'll ultimately treat your relationship thusly. So, while you're being friendly, never forget that this is a business arrangement. Chances are when you move out and the landlord is deciding how much money to put into your place for the next tenant, they will.

Got any more tips that would help or have a landlord horror story that goes to show how important these tips are? Let us know in the comments below.
· Know Your Rights [Tenants Union of Washington State]