In Washington if a landlord charges you a deposit there must be a written rental agreement (lease) and a condition inspection checklist. These should be signed by both landlord and tenant and each party should have their own copy. Landlords can also charge non-refundable fees. They cannot technically charge a non-refundable deposit. Be sure to check your lease or other written agreements for the official nature of any fees and deposits. Unlike in some other states, there is no limit on security deposits in Washington. The following are some types of deposits and fees:
Written rental agreements come in two forms. The more common for Puget Sound students is a lease. Leases require the tenant to stay for a specific amount of time, typically a year. A lease must be in writing to be valid. During the term of the lease, the rent cannot be raised or the rules changed unless both the landlord and tenant agree. View a sample lease.
Month-to-month agreements are for an indefinite period of time, with rent typically paid on a monthly basis. Under this kind of agreement, the landlord can raise the rent or make other changes to the agreement with 30 days written notice. Month-to-month agreements offer flexibility but perhaps less security to landlords and tenants.
Read written rental agreements completely (and then read them again!) before signing. Lack of knowledge of the terms of the lease does not relieve you of obligations and responsibilities. Everyone who will be living in the residence should sign the lease individually! As your read over the lease, take note of the following:
Some provisions which may appear in rental agreements are not legal and cannot be enforced under the law. These include requiring the tenant to waive rights given to them by state regulations. If you have any questions about a lease, don't hesitate to ask the landlord.
As you discuss a lease with a landlord, make sure to put all verbal agreements into writing. Verbal agreements are binding between two parties but they are difficult to prove in a court of law. Write down your agreement, and make sure both tenant and landlord get a signed and dated copy.
An inspection of the rental unit before it is first occupied is very important. An inspection checklist is often part of the lease, or completed at the same time the lease is signed. It should note all damages (such as damage to walls or woodwork, number of nail holes, carpet or floor stains, missing fixtures, and condition of appliances). Note that the checklist is intended as a record of the condition of the rental unit, but does not obligate the landlord to make any repairs; tenants and landlords should discuss repairs. Information about completing the condition inspection checklist before moving out in order to get all or part of your damage deposit back.