Tenant Sues Landlord Over Security Deposit

Jessica gave a 20-day notice and then on August 27 vacated the house she had been renting.  Jessica did not turn in her keys until September 3—in part because of the Labor Day holiday—but the landlord had access to the rental property as of August 27. The landlord treated September 3 as the move-out date.

After completing its move-out inspection, the landlord contacting a vendor on September 9—12 days after it had access to the rental. On September 13 the landlord gave an estimated statement.  The landlord followed up with a final statement on October –43 days after Jessica vacated the rental property.

For residential tenancies the landlord is required to provide within fourteen days of the termination of the tenancy and vacation of the rental property, a “full and specific statement of the basis for retaining any of the deposit.” [1]  The landlord is liable for the full amount of the deposit unless prevented from giving a full specific statement within the fourteen day period by “circumstances beyond the landlord’s control.” [2]

Jessica sued her landlord in small claims court. She won, and the landlord appealed to superior court. The superior court commissioner ruled in favor of the landlord. Jessica appealed to the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals held that a landlord may not avail itself of the statutory  exception unless it accounts for any active or passive delay sufficient to show that it made a conscientious attempt to comply with the statutory 14 day notice. The Court held that Jessica’s landlord had failed to make this showing, and ruled in favor of Jessica.

The Court noted that the landlord did not contact a vendor until 12 days after it had access to the unit. Within only two days the vendor had completed its work and the unit was rentable. The Court concluded that had the landlord contacted the vendor promptly, the work would have been completed within the 14-day period.

This case illustrates the need for the landlord to act promptly upon the tenant vacating a rental property.


[1] RCW 59.18.280.