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My Former Landlord Says I Owe Damages. What Are My Rights?

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6372EN - My former landlord did not refund my security deposit and says I owe damages. What can I do? It is important to dispute damages you are not responsible for in writing. Sample letters to the landlord are included in this publication.

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

It is important to dispute damages you are not responsible for in writing.  The Residential Landlord Tenant Act states a tenant is 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 apartment, your former landlord cannot charge you an unreasonable amount to make a repair.

What should I say in my letter disputing damages?

It depends on the facts in your situation.  Here are some examples:

  • Your former landlord is charging you to repaint the apartment or put in new carpet, even though there was no damage to the walls or carpet.  You want to dispute this charge because 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 the landlord when it happened.  You want to dispute this charge because the damage was not caused by you, a family member, or one of your guests.

  • Your former landlord is charging you to change the bedroom carpet.  When you moved in, the bedroom carpet had cigarette burn marks. This was noted on the Move-In Inspection report.  You want to dispute this charge because the damage was present when you moved in.

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

SAMPLE LETTERS disputing damages for different reasons are attached to the back of this publication.

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?

When a debt is sent to collections, the collection agency must send you a letter stating

  • the amount of the debt

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

  • that you have 30 days to dispute the debt in writing and ask for proof or 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.
A SAMPLE LETTER TO SEND A COLLECTION AGENCY is attached.

Why is it important to dispute the damage claims?

Damage claims can hurt you 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 in a timely manner.  (Our packet called How do I Answer a Lawsuit for Debt Collection has more information).  If the landlord or collection agency gets a judgment, they can garnish your wages and bank account.

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

  • If you have a Section 8 voucher, failure to pay undisputed damages may cause you to lose your voucher.

What if I dispute the damage claim and my former landlord does not respond?

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

Where can I get more information?

These resources might help:

What if I need legal help?

CLEAR is Washington's toll-free, centralized intake, advice and referral service for low-income people seeking free legal assistance with civil legal problems. 

  • Outside King County: Call 1-888-201-1014 weekdays from 9:15 a.m. until 12:15 p.m. 

  • King County: Call 211 for information and referral to an appropriate legal services provider Monday through Friday from 8:00 am – 6:00 pm. You may also call (206) 461-3200, or the toll-free number, 1-877-211-WASH (9274). You can also get information on legal service providers in King County through 211's website at www.resourcehouse.com/win211/.

  • Persons 60 and Over: Persons 60 or over may call CLEAR*Sr at 1-888-387-7111, regardless of income.

Callers who are deaf and hard of hearing can call 1-800-833-6384 or 711 to get a free relay operator. They will then connect you with 211 or CLEAR.


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 July 2015.

© 2015 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.)


SAMPLE LETTER #1 (normal wear and tear)

June 10, 2015

Joe Landlord
123 Main St.
Newtown, WA  98901

Dear Mr. Landlord:
I received your letter dated May 30, 2015 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, did no damage to the walls and cannot be charged 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, 2015

Joe Landlord
123 Main St.
Newtown, WA  98901

Dear Mr. Landlord:
I received your letter dated May 30, 2015 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, 2015

Joe Landlord
123 Main St.
Newtown, WA  98901

Dear Mr. Landlord:
I received your letter dated May 30, 2015, stating I owe $2500 in damages.
I dispute these damages.  When I moved into your apartment, you accepted a $650 security deposit from me but 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 at the time 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, 2015

Joe Landlord
123 Main St.
Newtown, WA  98901

Dear Mr. Landlord:
I received your letter dated May 30, 2015, 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 when I moved out.  At no time did you indicate to me that the carpet needed replacing because of damages caused by me or my family.
I also dispute that the kitchen floor needed replacing.  There were four squares on the floor that broke when my husband fell on a wet floor.  This was minor damage. It 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, 2015

 

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 the damage was caused by me and proof of the cost of each repair.
Sincerely,

(your name)
(your address)

Last Review and Update: Aug 06, 2015
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