Rental issues: Facing security deposits and damage charges

August 8

Q: The D.C. apartment that I am moving into has a monthly rent of $1,450, but the security deposit is $1,700. Is that legal? Also, the unit is not in the best condition. I don’t want to be penalized for damage that I didn’t cause. How can I make sure that I get my entire security deposit back when I move out?

A: The District has comprehensive regulations governing tenant security deposits. Get familiar with the law and be prepared in the event that legal action becomes necessary. Here is an overview of what you need to know.
The amount of the security deposit cannot exceed the amount of one month’s rent. If the monthly rent is $1,450, a $1,700 deposit is unlawful.
Ask your landlord to schedule a joint move-in inspection. Photograph or videotape any disrepair that exists upon moving in, and give the landlord a written list of any problems.
The security deposit must be placed in an interest-bearing account in the District. The landlord must apprise you annually as to where the security deposit is held and the prevailing interest rate for each six-month period. Upon moving out, you are entitled to the same information for the duration of the entire tenancy.
You are entitled to know the date and time of any “move-out” inspection. Within 45 days after you move out, the landlord must return the security deposit and interest in full, or provide a written explanation as to why any portion has been withheld.
Within 30 days after that, the landlord must give you an itemized list of repairs and the cost of each — and must return the balance of the security deposit and interest.
Grounds for challenging any amount withheld include:
1. The damage existed prior to your moving in.
2. The alleged damage is “normal wear & tear” (for which tenants are not liable).
3. The charges are excessive, for example, if you are charged for re-carpeting the entire unit but you only damaged a small area of carpeting that was worn anyway.
If the landlord has acted in bad faith, then “treble” damages apply, meaning any monetary award you receive should be tripled.
Tenant security deposit cases are heard at Small Claims Court or the D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings. Contact the OTA to discuss your rights and remedies.

About the Advocate
The D.C. Office of the Tenant Advocate is an independent agency of the District government providing legal assistance, policy advocacy, education and outreach services to District renters. Learn more and contact the agency at ota.dc.gov or 202-719-6560. The office says it is the first tenant advocacy voice within any state or city government in the U.S.

Read more from Ask the Advocate:

Can landlords enforce law and order?

What is “normal wear and tear”?

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