DC Resident Guide to the Top Four Security Deposit Deductions

Security deposits are a hassle. 

Not only are they a considerable expense, but you’ll also be left to worry whether you’ll get anything back. Every time you scuff the floor, stain a carpet, or dent an appliance, you might worry about how much cash this mistake may cost you.

If you’re looking to hold onto your security deposit for your DC rental, it helps to know about the deductions you’re most likely to encounter. By staying aware and performing occasional maintenance, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of getting your deposit docked in the Washington, DC, rental market. 

What Are DC’s Housing Laws Say About Rental Security Deposits

DC law mandates that landlords either return the full security deposit or notify tenants in writing regarding funds withheld under your security deposit agreement’s terms. What’s more, landlords must deliver this notice in writing—either personally or by certified mail.

The landlord may inspect the rental unit to determine security deposit deductions but must do so within three days before or after the lease’s termination. Tenants must be notified of the time and date of inspection in writing and delivered to the tenant ten days or more before the inspection date (and the inspection must take place on this date.)

Deduction #1. Physical Damage to Surfaces, Appliances, and Structures

Unsurprisingly, the top items on most deduction lists involve damage or significant wear on large areas and appliances. Note that, overall, tenants are not responsible for reasonable* wear and tear that’s not a result of misuse or lack of maintenance (carpets wearing down, a few scattered pinholes on walls).

Instead, your security deposit is in jeopardy for far more extensive damage. 

Typical deductions include: 

  • Fixing damage done to walls (often from excessive holes for hanging artwork)
  • Unclogging toilets, sinks, and drains
  • Repairing and/or repainting damaged walls and ceilings
  • Replacing or fixing damage on doors, windows, window screens, lights, mirrors, and other appliances and fixtures
  • Repairing rugs, hardwood floors, linoleum, and other surfaces in poor condition
  • Repairing water damage (often caused by plumbing or windows left open)

Deduction #2. Repainting Damaged Surfaces

Generally speaking, landlords are charged with repainting their properties regularly. Painting costs can become a deduction when tenants have damaged the walls or painted over their original color.

Check your lease terms first if you’re interested in repainting your unit. Many prohibit painting altogether, while others may allow it so long as it’s returned to its original color once the term ends.

Deduction #3. Deductions for Professional Cleaning Costs

You’ve collected and carefully packed every possession, hauled them into a truck, and unloaded them. Of course, you’re not finished moving until you’ve thoroughly cleaned them into a truck before driving them miles and miles away.

Despite that herculean effort, you’re not done until you clean the place.

It’s no surprise that cleaning costs are extraordinarily common deductions, given that it’s the last and potentially most exhausting task involved in moving. If your landlord has to hire a professional to return the property to its original state, expect a sizable cleaning charge.

  • Mold or mildew
  • Pet stains
  • Excessive dirt and dust
  • Insects and other pests

Remember, you’re not expected to return your old place in perfect condition. You’re trying to return it to its shape when you first moved in (allowing for a reasonable amount of wear and tear). 

Trouble arises when the condition of your home requires a professional to remedy it.

Deduction #4. Removing & Disposing Large Items

Much like the final cleaning, removing unreasonably large items–appliances, furniture, and other items–is an often skipped last step. As such, it’s an extremely common security deposit deduction.

We’re not talking about leaving a fork behind the oven; again, when the items are so large or numerous, your landlord must dedicate time and resources to remove them. Expect deductions if your landlord has to rent a vehicle to make a landfill visit.

Hire Cleaners if You Need to; Just Don’t Skip the Post-Move Clean

Moving is a hassle already. After doing all the work to sort and export every possession you own, the last thing you want to do is a full house clean. We won’t judge you for skipping that step, but its consequences are best avoided.

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