A residential landlord in Washington needs to follow all the steps in the Washington eviction process before legally expelling a tenant. This includes serving the proper notice based on the reason for the eviction and allowing the tenant time to correct the breach of the lease, if applicable, and obtaining a court order if there is no compliance.
Self-Evictions are Unlawful
No tenant may be forced to leave without a court order and only after the landlord has stringently followed the Washington eviction process. Self-eviction is illegal and may subject the landlord to civil liability by the tenant. This includes shutting off essential services such as heat, water and electricity; padlocking the doors and windows; removing the tenant’s personal belongings and threatening the tenant.
Tenants can recover up to $100 per day for each day they are without utilities as well as actual damages, and up to $500 per day for each day they are without their personal property if it was taken by the landlord up to a maximum of $5000.
Washington 3-Day Notice
• Nonpayment of Rent
The majority of evictions are for nonpayment of rent. In these cases, the landlord needs to serve a written 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Vacate. The tenant can stop the eviction by tendering the entire amount owed within the 3 day period. If cash is paid, the landlord is required to provide a written receipt.
A tenant may not withhold rent for a landlord’s failure to make repairs except in some limited circumstances. The eviction notice may be served the day after the rent is due or after any grace period if indicated in the written rental agreement. Washington law does not require a grace period in any rental agreement.
• Illegal Activity, Waste or Nuisance
A Washington eviction notice of 3-days is also required for tenants who commit waste, nuisance or for conducting illegal activities on the property. Most nuisances are for severe noise violations but the disturbances warranting the eviction should probably be consistently annoying to other tenants. Getting arrested a number of times may also constitute a nuisance. Waste refers to major property damage to the premises.
Any kind of criminal or gang-related activity that occurs on the premises is grounds for service of a 3-day notice. Under these circumstances, a landlord need not allow the tenant an opportunity to cure or remedy the breach.
Washington 10-Day Notice
For lease violations that are other than nonpayment of rent or for gross lease violations, the Washington eviction notice is 10-days. These include such violations as having unauthorized persons or pets on the premises, but the tenant is given 10-days to correct the violation or to vacate the property.
Washington 20-Day Notice
In month-to-month leases, the Washington eviction notice is 20-days. No cause need be given for the eviction. The notice must be in writing and be served at least 20-days before the last day of the rental period. A landlord may not evict a tenant even in these types of tenancies if it is for a discriminatory or retaliatory reason.
• Just Cause in Seattle Evictions
There is an exception for tenants renting within the city limits of Seattle, which requires that even in month-to-month tenancies, the landlord must show “just cause” for evicting a tenant. Just cause includes:
Nonpayment of rent
Consistently late rent payments
The unit is to be occupied by the landlord or an immediate family member
The unit is up for sale
The tenant has received 3 or more 10-day notices in a 12-month period
Summons and Complaint
If the tenant fails to comply or to vacate the property, the next step in the Washington eviction process is to serve a Summons and Complaint. Some landlords try to save money by not filing the Summons and just serving the documents in hopes of persuading the tenant to leave without further court action or expense or to settle with the landlord.
The Summons and Complaint must be served by a neutral party and according to the normal service process. The Summons will contain the time required for a written response. If the tenant fails to file a written Answer or file a Notice of Appearance within the time indicated, the tenant will lose by default.
• Order to Show Cause
The tenant may also receive an Order to Show Cause, which advises the tenant of a court date called the Show Cause Hearing. If the tenant responded to the Complaint, then the judge may either have the trial on the Show Cause date or reschedule it.
• Payment or Sworn Statement Requirement
In nonpayment of rent cases only, the landlord may serve a notice called a “Payment or Sworn Statement Requirement” along with the Summons and Complaint. The tenant must file a written Answer to the Complaint and file a sworn statement by the deadline indicated on the notice or pay the amount of the rent allegedly owed to the court registry within 7-days of the date of the case filing or by the date indicated on the notice. Once filed or paid, the tenant retains the opportunity to present any defenses at the hearing.
Order to Show Cause Hearing
If the tenant responded to the Complaint and Sworn Statement, if also served, the judge will decide if the hearing will take place on Show Cause date or if it should be rescheduled. If the tenant did not respond or fails to appear on this day, a default judgment will issue.
If the eviction trial is held, the landlord must produce evidence of the lease arrangement; notices provided; proof of service of the notice, Complaint and Sworn Statement notice; rental receipts; police reports and any other evidence to support the allegations and reasons for evicting the tenant.
Tenant’s Eviction Defenses in Washington State
A Washington residential tenant has a number of defenses available in an eviction action:
• The breach of a lease provision is not substantial enough to warrant an eviction.
• The lease provision allegedly violated is unreasonable.
• The allegations are false.
• There was improper service.
• The notice was improper.
• The landlord waived eviction by accepting any part of the rent.
• The eviction is in retaliation for the tenant having filed a complaint regarding the condition of the property to the landlord or to a government agency or for joining a tenant’s rights organization.
• The eviction violates the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits evicting a tenant based upon the individual’s religion, race, sex, national origin, creed, age, family status, source of income or disability.
A tenant can also reinstate the tenancy if the eviction was for nonpayment of rent and the lease term has not expired, if the tenant tenders the entire judgment amount into the court registry.
Writ of Restitution
If the landlord wins the eviction action, the court will issue a judgment to include rent owed, court costs and attorney’s fees, if any. A Writ of Restitution will be issued to be served on the tenant by the Sheriff, giving the tenant 3 to 4 days to vacate the property.
A tenant should avoid an eviction if possible. An eviction filing and a judgment can seriously impair the tenant’s ability to enter into subsequent lease arrangements with other landlords since the eviction is a matter of public record. Any tenant facing eviction should consult with an attorney or contact a legal aid attorney.
The Landlord Guidance
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