You have decided to move into your own apartment. You found the perfect spot for just the right amount of rent. As you enter the building to sign a contract your new landlord asks you for a $500 deposit and a $500 fee. What does this mean? Before you decide to rent, there are a few things you should know. Washington State has laws concerning deposits and fees that you should understand.

When you move into a rental unit a deposit and a fee are usually required. The difference between a deposit and a fee is that one is refundable and the other is not. A deposit is an amount of money that a tenant must pay before or at the time he/she moves in. The deposit is often refunded at the end of the rental period if it was not used to compensate the landlord for damage or repair. A fee is an amount of money that a tenant pays to the landlord for his or her use. The landlord might use the money to shampoo the carpet when you and your pet leave, or to hire a cleaning service. Don’t expect a fee to be refunded.

If you give the landlord a deposit, here are a few guidelines to follow:

• The rental agreement should be in writing. It must state what the deposit is for and what the tenant must do in order to get it.
• The tenant must be given a written receipt for the deposit.
• When a tenant moves into the rental unit he/she should fill out a checklist or a description of the condition of the unit. The landlord and the tenant will sign the checklist. Make sure you receive a copy of the document signed by both parties.
• The tenant must be informed in writing where the landlord has placed the deposit.
• When the tenant moves out of the rental unit, the landlord has 14 days to return the deposit. If the landlord decides to keep all or part of the deposit, he/she must explain why.

Under law, the rental unit must be restored to the same condition as when the tenant first moved in. A deposit cannot be used to repair normal wear and tear or damage that was present when the tenant moved in. Make sure that all obvious wear and tear, damages, or problems are listed on your apartment checklist when you first move in, and be sure to keep a copy of that document. This will assist you in getting your deposit back when you move out.

Now you are ready to pay your deposit and fee. Be smart. Make sure you are aware of the law, and don't put yourself in a position where you may lose hard earned cash.
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