My former landlord says I owe damages
It is important to dispute in writing damages you are not responsible for. Sample letters to the landlord included. #6372EN
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
If you paid money as a refundable deposit at the start of your tenancy, your landlord must, within 21 days after the end of your tenancy:
Refund the deposit in full or
Give you a "full and specific" statement explaining why your landlord will not refund all or part of the deposit or
Give you a "full and specific" statement explaining why your landlord will not refund the deposit and why you owe additional money
The landlord could send the debt to a collection agency or report the debt to a Housing Authority. Each of these can have serious consequences:
Other landlords might not rent to you if they think you caused damage in another rental or owe a former landlord money.
Reports that you owe money could hurt your credit score.
If you have housing assistance from a Housing Authority, such as Section 8, the Housing Authority might decide to stop your assistance.
First, write your landlord a letter asking for the return of your deposit. You should say the type and amount of deposit. You should also say the date you moved out and returned the keys, and that you have not heard from your landlord at all within 21 days. You should ask your landlord to return your deposit immediately. You should give the address where you want the deposit sent.
Mail this letter to the landlord by certified mail, return receipt requested. Keep a copy of the letter and the certified mail receipt for your records.
*You can use sample letter # 1.
Read the letter carefully. See why your landlord says they are keeping your deposit or that you owe money. Your landlord cannot keep your deposit for normal wear and tear resulting from ordinary use of the premises.
You should write the landlord a dispute letter. It should explain in detail why you disagree with some or all charges. Attach any proof you have.
Here are some examples of things you might dispute:
Your former landlord is charging you for last month's rent. You paid for last month's rent when you moved in. Your landlord cannot use that money for any reason other than to pay the last month's rent. Your letter should remind the landlord of in the purpose of this money and that it cannot be applied to any damage costs. You should attach a copy of the lease.
Your former landlord is charging you for repainting walls. The walls were clean when you moved out. Your letter should explain this. Attach all your evidence – photos, videos, a move-out report, and so on.
Your former landlord is charging you to install new carpet. You took good care of the carpet and while you lived in the rental. The carpet was getting old. Your landlord should not charge you. Your letter should explain that the carpet was approaching the end of its useful life, and there was no damage, just ordinary wear and tear. Attach all your evidence – photos, videos, a move-out report, and so on.
Your former landlord is charging you to replace a window. Someone other than you, your family or your guests broke the window. Your letter should explain that you were not responsible for that person's behavior and you cannot be charged. If you reported the broken window to the police, explain this. Attach a copy of the police report.
Your former landlord is charging you to replace the blinds in one bedroom. You damaged them, but you think the landlord is charging too much. Your letter should ask for proof of how much the landlord actually paid for the labor and parts to replace the blinds.
Your former landlord says they are keeping your deposit and you owe money. Your landlord only included estimates of what repairs would cost instead of actual costs the landlord paid for those repairs. You should respond to the landlord in writing that under the court case called Goodeill v. Madison Real Estate, providing estimates of repair costs within 21 days of when you moved out is not good enough. Ask the landlord to return your deposit in full. Say that if you have to go to court, you can ask the judge to award you double the amount of the deposit because the landlord only provided repair cost estimates.
In any of these situations, your letter should ask the landlord to immediately return your deposit or the portion you think you should get back. Give the address where you want the deposit sent. Mail this letter to your landlord by certified mail, return receipt requested. Keep a copy of the letter, evidence, and the certified mail receipt for your records.
*You can use sample letter # 2.
You should keep, in a safe place, copies of all correspondence between you and your landlord. You should also keep copies of all your evidence, such as photos, videos, move-in report, move-out report, and so on. These will be important if you decide to sue your former landlord or if you are sued.
If the collection agency contacts you first by phone, they must follow up with a written notice within 5 days.
When the agency sends you the written notice, you should respond immediately. The collection agency should get your letter within 30 days of when you got their first notice. Keep records of all your communications with the collection agency.
You should respond to the collection agency in writing to dispute the debt if you do not think you owe the money. You should ask for verification of the debt. If you have proof you do not owe the debt, attach it.
You should send this letter by certified mail, return receipt requested. Keep a copy of the letter, evidence, and the certified mail receipt for your records.
*You can use sample letter # 3.
To learn more about how to respond to creditors, read Debtors' Rights: Dealing with Collection Agencies.
You should send the Housing Authority a letter right away. The Housing Authority should get your letter within10 days of when you got the letter from them. Your letter should explain your side of the story. Attach any evidence you have, including a copy of any dispute letter you sent your former landlord. You should also ask the Housing Authority for a grievance hearing about this issue.
You should hand deliver this letter to the Housing Authority. Keep a copy for your records. When you are at the Housing Authority office, ask them to stamp your copy of the letter with that day's date. Then you can prove when you gave them the letter.
*You can use sample letter # 4.
Read Protecting your Section 8 Voucher to learn more about how to protect your housing assistance. Read Public housing grievance procedure if you live in a public housing project.
Do not ignore this. Even if you do not think you owe the money, and even if the court paperwork does not have a case number, you must file and serve a written response by the deadline listed in the court paperwork.
If you do not, you will automatically lose the case. The court will enter a court order called a judgment against you and some of your income or resources could be taken.
For help responding to a lawsuit, see the sample court statements at the end of this packet and read How do I answer a lawsuit for debt collection to learn more.
Be up-front with potential landlords. Tell them your former landlord will say you owe money. Explain your side of the story. Show the potential landlord photos and video you took of your last rental when you moved out to show it was in good shape. If you can, offer to pay the potential landlord an extra deposit. This might make the potential landlord feel more comfortable renting to you.
If you are seeking less than $10,000, you can sue in small claims court. Read How do I sue in Small Claims Court to learn more.
A court case called Silver v. Rudeen Mgt. Co., Inc. 484 P.3d 1251, 1254 says your time limit to file a lawsuit is 3 years within moving out, under RCW 4.16.080(2).
You must name the owner and/or manager or person to whom you paid rent as the "defendant" in your lawsuit. If you cannot find out who owns the place, try calling a title insurance company - you can find listings online - or the county assessor's office to ask for the name and address of the owner of the property you rented.
Before deciding to sue, talk with a lawyer to understand the risks and benefits of filing a lawsuit. You might win the case and get your deposit back. Or the court might decide you owe your old landlord money. You could end up with a judgment entered against you and some of your income and resources could be taken.
Get Legal Help
Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help.