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I’ve Moved Out. My Former Landlord Says I Owe Damages.

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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It is important to dispute damages you are not responsible for in writing. Sample letters to the landlord are included for you to use. #6372EN

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What might happen after I move out?

If your landlord says you owe money, the landlord might

  • keep some or all of your deposits

  • send the debt to a collection agency

  • 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 record score.

  • If you have housing assistance from a Housing Authority, such as Section 8, the Housing Authority might decide to stop your assistance.

I moved out. I did not hear from my landlord at all after 21 days. Now what?

Write the landlord to ask for the return of your deposit. You should say

  • the type of deposit

  • how much it was

  • the date you moved out and returned the keys

  • that you have not heard from the landlord at all within 21 days

Ask the landlord to return your deposit immediately. 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

What if the landlord sends a letter within 21 days saying she is keeping some or all of my deposit, or that I owe her money?

Read the letter carefully. See why the landlord says she is keeping your deposit or that you owe money.

If you disagree with any charges, you should write a dispute letter. It should explain in detail why you disagree with some or all charges. Attach any proof you have. Some examples of things you might dispute:

  • Your former landlord is charging you for the last month’s rent. You paid for that when you moved in. Your letter should remind the landlord that you paid the last month’s rent when you moved in. 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 while you lived in the rental. The carpet was getting old. The 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 blinds in a bedroom. You admit 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 she is keeping your deposit and you owe money. The landlord only included estimates of what repairs would cost, not 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 go to court, you can ask the judge to award you twice 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 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

What if the landlord ignores my letter?

Keep in a safe place

  • copies of all correspondence between you and the landlord

  • 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 are sued.

What if I get a letter from a collection agency saying I owe my former landlord money?

You should respond immediately to the first letter from the collection agency. The collection agency should receive your letter within 30 days of when you received their first letter.

You should 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.

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

I get rental assistance from a Housing Authority. The Housing Authority says they will no longer help me because a former landlord says I owe money. What should I do?

Send the Housing Authority a letter right away. They should receive your letter within ten days of when you received 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 of it for your records. When you are at the Housing Authority office, handing them your letter, 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

What if I receive court paperwork saying I am being sued?

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. If you do not file and serve a written response by the deadline listed in the court paperwork, your former landlord or the collection agency will automatically win the case.  If the person suing you wins the case, the court will enter a judgment (court order) against you. Some of your income or resources could be taken.

*If you have a Section 8 voucher, and your former landlord sued you over damages and won, the Department of Commerce might be able to help you pay what you owe. See http://www.commerce.wa.gov/building-infrastructure/housing/landlord-mitigation-program/.

*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.

What if I want to sue my former landlord to get my deposit back?

If the amount you are seeking is less than $5,000, you can sue in small claims court. Read How do I Sue in Small Claims Court.

If you decide to sue, you must name the owner and/or manager or person to whom you paid rent as the “defendant.” 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 and get your deposit back. On the other hand, even though you file the case, the court might agree with your former landlord that you owe money. A court could enter a judgment (court order) against you. Some of your income and resources could be taken.

My former landlord says I owe money. No lawsuit has been filed. What if potential landlords deny my rental application because of this?

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 the 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.

This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.
This information is current as of October 2018.
© 2018 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014

(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial use only.)

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Last Review and Update: Sep 27, 2018
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