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My Former Landlord Says I Owe Damages

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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. Publication 6372EN

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My former landlord did not refund my security deposit and says I owe damages. What can I do?

If you believe you are not responsible for damages, you should dispute this in writing.  The Residential Landlord Tenant Act states you are not responsible for

  • Damages present when you move in

  • Damages caused by a vandal or someone besides you, your family or guests

  • Damages that are the result of normal wear and tear

Even if you caused some damage to the place, your former landlord cannot charge you an unreasonable amount to make repairs.

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

What should I say in my letter disputing damages?

It depends on your situation.  Here are some examples:

  •  Your former landlord is charging you to repaint the place or install new carpet. There was no damage to the walls or carpet.  The carpet or paint was just old. The law considers this “normal wear and tear.”

  • Your former landlord is charging you to replace a broken window.  Someone threw a rock through the window. You reported the damage to the police and landlord when it happened. Neither you, a family member, nor a guest caused the damage.

  • Your former landlord is charging you to change the bedroom carpet.  When you moved in, the bedroom carpet had cigarette burn marks. The Move-In Inspection report noted this.

  • Your former landlord is charging you to replace the blinds in one bedroom.  You admit you damaged them. The landlord is charging three times the cost of replacement.  You dispute the damage amount and want proof of the cost of repair.

See our SAMPLE LETTERS disputing damages for different reasons. Make sure you keep a copy of the letter you send your former landlord.

What if my former landlord has sent the debt to collections?

The collection agency must send you a letter stating

  • how much the debt is

  • the name of the original creditor (your former landlord) 

  • that you have 30 days to dispute the debt in writing and ask for proof (verification) of the debt

*IT IS IMPORTANT TO DISPUTE THE DEBT.  When you dispute a debt in writing and ask for proof, the collection agency must stop all collection efforts until they have provided you proof.

See SAMPLE LETTER TO SEND A COLLECTION AGENCY.

Why is it important to dispute the damage claims?

Damage claims can hurt in many ways:

  • Your former landlord (or a collection agency) can sue you.  If this happens, make sure you respond to the summons and complaint on time. (How do I Answer a Lawsuit for Debt Collection has more info.) A landlord or collection agency that gets a judgment can garnish your wages and bank account.

  • The damage claim will appear on your credit report and tenant screening reports. This can make it hard to find another place.

  • If you have a Section 8 voucher, not paying undisputed damages may cause you to lose your voucher.

I am disputing the damage claim. What if my former landlord does not respond?

You should keep copies of all correspondence between you and the landlord.  If you sent a collection agency letters, you should keep copies of those, too.  You should also keep copies of all pictures and videos you took when you moved out.

Where can I get more info?

These resources might help:

 

 

SAMPLE LETTERS

 

SAMPLE LETTER #1 (normal wear and tear)

June 10, 2017

Joe Landlord
123 Main St.
Newtown, WA  98901

Dear Mr. Landlord:

I received your letter dated May 30, 2017 stating I owe $900 in damages to paint the apartment.

I dispute these damages.  The Residential Landlord Tenant Act states tenants are not liable for “normal wear and tear,” such as repainting the apartment.  I lived in this apartment for four years and did no damage to the walls. You cannot charge me for ordinary use of the premises.  See RCW 59.18.260 and 59.18.280.

Sincerely,

Ms. Tenant
(your address)


SAMPLE LETTER #2 (pre-existing damage)

June 10, 2017

Joe Landlord
123 Main St.
Newtown, WA  98901

Dear Mr. Landlord:

I received your letter dated May 30, 2017 stating I owe $2300 in damages.

I dispute these damages. The damages you list were present before I moved in.

You are charging me to replace the living room carpet due to stains on the carpet. The Move in Inspection Report that your manager and I both signed when I moved in indicates that there were already red stains on the carpet “like someone spray painted furniture.” See the attached Move in Inspection Report.

Sincerely,

Ms. Tenant
(your address)


SAMPLE LETTER #3 (no move-in inspection)

June 10, 2017

Joe Landlord
123 Main St.
Newtown, WA  98901

Dear Mr. Landlord:

I received your letter dated May 30, 2017, stating I owe $2,500 in damages.

I dispute these damages.  When I moved into your apartment, you accepted a $650 security deposit from me. You never did a Move in Inspection Report with me.  The Residential Landlord Tenant Act required you to conduct a Move in Inspection with me at the time I moved in.  Because you did not do this, you could not ask for a security deposit.

Many of the damages you are saying I owe are for conditions that existed when I moved in.  If you had provided a checklist, there would be no dispute as to whether I owe any damages.

I am willing to reimburse you for the cost of any damage I did in fact cause.  If you have proof of this, please make it available to me.  Please include proof of the actual costs incurred to remedy these specific damages.

Sincerely,

Ms. Tenant
(your address)


SAMPLE LETTER #4 (replacement)

June 10, 2017

Joe Landlord
123 Main St.
Newtown, WA  98901

Dear Mr. Landlord:

I received your letter dated May 30, 2017, stating I owe $440 in damages to replace the carpet and the kitchen floor. 

I dispute these damages. A few days before I moved out, you told me you were going to have a professional service come and clean the carpet after I moved. You did not indicate to me that the carpet needed replacing because of damages caused by my family or me.

I also dispute that the kitchen floor needed replacing.  Four squares broke when my husband fell on a wet floor.  This minor damage did not require replacement of the entire floor.

We are willing to reimburse you for the cost of any damage we did in fact cause, but not to replace items that did not need replacing.

Sincerely,

Ms. Tenant
(your address)


SAMPLE LETTER IN RESPONSE TO A COLLECTION AGENCY LETTER

June 10, 2017

Collection Agency Name       (CERTIFIED MAIL, RETURN RECEIPT)
Collection Agency Address
Everett, WA  98213

RE:  (your name)
Original creditor (your former landlord or management company)
Account #

Dear Sir or Madam:

I dispute the validity of this debt and would like verification of the debt.  Please send me copies of all documents related to damage claims, including proof that I caused the damage and proof of the cost of each repair.

Sincerely,

(your name)
(your address)

 

6372EN

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 2017.

© 2017 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.)

Last Review and Update: Oct 20, 2017
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