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In 2017, 27.5% of West Virginia households occupied a rental unit they called home.

When moving out of a rental apartment or house, a tenant has rights relating to receiving the security deposit back and any property left behind.

The rental contract, or lease, is the place to start to determine what rules govern these situations. Also, state law plays a role.

Under West Virginia law, the landlord has only a certain amount of time for refunding a tenant’s security deposit. The refund must be the full amount if no damage was done. Normal wear–and–tear maintenance expenses, such as for painting walls, are not considered damage the tenant is expected to pay for.

If the landlord retains some or all of a person’s security deposit, an itemized list of damages and any other charges must be given to the tenant.

A tenant may sue a landlord, usually in magistrate court, for the return of the security deposit. If the tenant wins, he or she can also be awarded a penalty of 1 1/2 times the security deposit balance for the annoyance and inconvenience of suing.

When moving out of a rental, some tenants aren’t able to remove all of their belongings by the last day of the lease period.

West Virginia law requires the landlord to store those belongings, in the rental unit or some other safe place, for at least 30 days after the landlord mails the tenant a letter giving notice of the abandoned items and posts a notice about them at the rental property.

If those items have a value of $300 or more and the tenant contacts the landlord about reclaiming them, the landlord must continue to store them for another 30 days but can also charge a storage fee after the original 30 days ends.

When the tenant comes for those items, the landlord is not permitted to hold onto them until back rent or other charges, if owed, are paid. The landlord cannot hold the tenant’s property hostage, so to speak.

After the holding period ends, the landlord is free to dispose of all remaining property.

Some tenants find it necessary to sue the landlord about their missing belongings. It is up to the tenant to prove the current value of each item. Photos of the missing items can be useful evidence.

More detailed information about these and other landlord/tenant issues is on the website under the Main Menu’s section on Tenants & Landlords: Rights & Responsibilities.

To ask about rental concerns or other legal questions, those age 60 and over may contact West Virginia Senior Legal Aid at 800-229-5068 to talk to a staff attorney at no cost.