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WA state landlord tenant act, tenant's rights to early termination of a lease

Seattle, WA |

I am being laid off from my job and am needing to terminate my lease 1 month early. My property manager stated that if I find a new tenant to sign a new lease at the new higher rent amount then I can get out of the lease a month early. The catch is he is stating that I would need to pay for a full months rent however move out of the unit 1-2 weeks early to allow for him to prepare the unit for the new tenants. Additionally, he is stating that my security deposit will not be returned to me due to breaking the lease although the lease does not state this anywhere. Is it legal for him to keep my deposit for anything outside of damages if the unit has been rented out prior to my departure and me giving him 2 weeks of rent paid for him to take his time and prepare the unit for the next tenant?

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Attorney answers 2


Hello: Generally if you terminate a lease early a court will award the landlord one month's rent to compensate them for the breach. Your property manager is offering to allow you to mitigate this by helping to find a new tenant. If you find a new tenant then you do need to be out. If you remove yourself and repair any issues so that the place isn't damaged by your occupancy, he'll still need time to brighten it up to attract a new tenant - but only if you have not all ready gotten him a new tenant. So, he wants to have it both ways.

Courts see two types of deposits - security and damage. More leases now say that the security deposit is to compensate the landord for any type of breach, not just damage to the premises. It depends on what your contract says. You'll want to look at it, and not take legal advice from your property manager.

If you can avoid having an eviction on your credit history this will make your next tenancy easier. Yes, it will cost you some money, but only you can evaluate the risk and benefit to you. Hope this helps. Elizabeth Powell


Depending upon the amount of your security deposit it may be better for you to stay in the leased premises for the last month. As to the security deposit itself, if you are in the state of Washington the following laws apply and they may be helpful to you:

59.18.260 Moneys paid as deposit or security for performance by tenant -- Written rental agreement to specify terms and conditions for retention by landlord -- Written checklist required.

If any moneys are paid to the landlord by the tenant as a deposit or as security for performance of the tenant's obligations in a lease or rental agreement, the lease or rental agreement shall be in writing and shall include the terms and conditions under which the deposit or portion thereof may be withheld by the landlord upon termination of the lease or rental agreement. If all or part of the deposit may be withheld to indemnify the landlord for damages to the premises for which the tenant is responsible, the rental agreement shall be in writing and shall so specify. No deposit may be collected by a landlord unless the rental agreement is in writing and a written checklist or statement specifically describing the condition and cleanliness of or existing damages to the premises and furnishings, including, but not limited to, walls, floors, countertops, carpets, drapes, furniture, and appliances, is provided by the landlord to the tenant at the commencement of the tenancy. The checklist or statement shall be signed and dated by the landlord and the tenant, and the tenant shall be provided with a copy of the signed checklist or statement. No such deposit shall be withheld on account of normal wear and tear resulting from ordinary use of the premises.

59.18.270 Moneys paid as deposit or security for performance by tenant -- Deposit by landlord in trust account -- Receipt -- Claims.

All moneys paid to the landlord by the tenant as a deposit as security for performance of the tenant's obligations in a lease or rental agreement shall promptly be deposited by the landlord in a trust account, maintained by the landlord for the purpose of holding such security deposits for tenants of the landlord, in a financial institution as defined by RCW 30.22.041 or licensed escrow agent located in Washington. Unless otherwise agreed in writing, the landlord shall be entitled to receipt of interest paid on such trust account deposits. The landlord shall provide the tenant with a written receipt for the deposit and shall provide written notice of the name and address and location of the depository and any subsequent change thereof. If during a tenancy the status of landlord is transferred to another, any sums in the deposit trust account affected by such transfer shall simultaneously be transferred to an equivalent trust account of the successor landlord, and the successor landlord shall promptly notify the tenant of the transfer and of the name, address, and location of the new depository. The tenant's claim to any moneys paid under this section shall be prior to that of any creditor of the landlord, including a trustee in bankruptcy or receiver, even if such moneys are commingled.

59.18.280 Moneys paid as deposit or security for performance by tenant -- Statement and notice of basis for retention -- Remedies for landlord's failure to make refund.

Within fourteen days after the termination of the rental agreement and vacation of the premises or, if the tenant abandons the premises as defined in RCW 59.18.310, within fourteen days after the landlord learns of the abandonment, the landlord shall give a full and specific statement of the basis for retaining any of the deposit together with the payment of any refund due the tenant under the terms and conditions of the rental agreement. No portion of any deposit shall be withheld on account of wear resulting from ordinary use of the premises. The landlord complies with this section if the required statement or payment, or bot

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