It’s a common dispute between housing providers and renters: the refund of the renter’s security deposit. The security deposit is an additional one month of rent paid when the renter first moves into the rental unit. Generally, renters expect to collect the deposit plus interest when they move out, provided the provider doesn’t find damage beyond “ordinary wear and tear.”
Some property managers interpret the term “ordinary” more strictly than others, but thanks to a new law, there is an official definition.
How do you define “ordinary wear and tear”?
On February 18th, 2017, the Residential Lease Clarification Amendment Act of 2016 (DC Law 21-210) defined “ordinary wear and tear” – what it is, what it is not, and how security deposits are to be applied.
Per the law, “ordinary wear and tear” means deterioration that results from intended wear of a dwelling, including breakage or malfunction due to age or deteriorated condition.
But, “ordinary wear and tear” does not include deterioration that results from negligence, carelessness, accident or abuse to the unit, furniture, equipment or other tangible personal property by the renter, immediate family member or a guest.
Ordinary wear and tear
When there is a disagreement between you and the housing provider on the type and amount of damage and the return of your security deposit, contact DC’s Office of the Tenant Advocate (OTA) for advice on possible legal remedies, including taking the landlord to court.
The 2017 law also covers giving notice to vacate, subletting, and when a housing provider may enter a unit. See these FAQs from OTA for more.
Understanding your lease
To truly understand your lease and other renter issues, including security deposits – you will also need a general overview.
You will find such an overview in The Coalition for Nonprofit Housing’s online copy of the 2013 Washington DC Tenant Survival Guide, Eighth Edition (visit cnhed.org/policy-advocacy/research, scroll down to “Additional Research Information”). This guide was written by the Harrison Institute for Housing and Community Development of Georgetown University Law Center.
Information on security deposits is on pages 9-10. Their lease section, pages 6-8, includes:
Application for a Lease: “Read the application thoroughly and give accurate information. If you give false information, the housing provider may later be able to evict you.”
Discrimination: “It is illegal for a housing provider to refuse to rent to you, make a false representation of the availability of the unit, change the terms of the rental agreement or discriminate in other ways against you because of your race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity, familial status, family responsibilities, disability, student status, or political affiliation.”
Signing a Lease: “Read the lease before your sign it and look for opportunities to negotiate with the housing provider about the lease provisions. If you don’t understand any of the provisions, ask for an explanation.”
Plus, the meaning of certain lease clauses, such as the “Waiver of Notice to Quit,” illegal lease clauses, and what happens when your lease expires.
Free lease reviews
DC’s Office of the Tenant Advocate is DC’s renter’s agency. OTA’s case management specialists can review your lease and answer any of your renter questions.
All DC renters – whether they are renting an apartment, condo, co-op or house – can use the free services of a case management specialist. OTA is located in the Reeves Center (2000 14th Street, NW Suite 300, 202-719-6560, ota.dc.gov).
High-Rise Life: Informing DC’s renters… since 2012
DC is a city of renters – we are 60% of DC’s population. And we’ve been writing about them since Forest Hills Connection was founded, to serve our neighborhood’s own large community of renters.
Or experience an annual renter summit – with videos from OTA’s 2017 event.
Or for some fun – check out a dog’s life in a high-rise.
Stay in touch with us and the DC renter community.