Washington residential lease agreements are governed by the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act. A lease whose term is for more than a year can be exempt from the Act but only if an attorney retained by the tenant approves the exemption.
A rental agreement may be oral or in writing, though it must be in writing if it is a lease. A lease is for a fixed term while a rental agreement is one that is weekly or monthly with no time limit and continues until the landlord or tenant decides to terminate it upon proper notice. If the rental agreement is not in writing, the landlord cannot charge a security deposit.
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Another difference between leases and a typical monthly rental agreement is that the landlord can raise the rent or alter the terms of the agreement after giving 30-days’ notice before the end of the monthly rental period. The landlord cannot raise the rent or change the lease terms in a lease agreement until the fixed term expires.
Residential lease agreements are contracts between the tenant and landlord and may include any provision so long as it reasonable and does not violate local ordinances, state or federal laws. For instance, federal law prohibits discriminating against prospective or current tenants based upon race, age, color, gender, national origin, religion, familial status and disability. Any lease agreement must contain certain disclosures as well.
Contents of the Lease
Any Washington residential lease agreement should have basic provisions to protect both parties and to ensure certain required disclosures are made and that the rights and obligations of both tenant and landlord are clearly set forth. Also, you are required to give a copy of the lease agreement to the tenant along with other documents as indicated below.
Provisions that should be included in your lease agreement are as follows:
- Name of the landlord and address to where rent and notices are to be sent
- Names of the tenants who will be residing in the unit
- Lease term—weekly, monthly, yearly or other
- Rent amount
- Due date for rent, grace period and late fees
- Provide rent receipt to tenant if rent paid in cash
- Returned check fees—no more than $40 or face amount of check, whatever is less
- Landlord’s obligation to provide a habitable residence and to make repairs, to comply with applicable state and local laws
- Tenant’s obligation to keep residence clean and sanitary, to not damage any part of it, to not alter or change anything without consent and to not offend or be a nuisance to other tenants in their quiet enjoyment of their units
- Notice of entry by landlord to make repairs—48 hours unless an emergency—only 24-hours’ notice for showings to prospective buyers or future tenants
- Security deposit—notice of where deposit is kept
- Circumstances under which any portion of the security deposit may be kept
- Other deposits—screening, first and last months’ rent, application or holding fee, cleaning deposit, damage deposit, pets
- If any fee is nonrefundable, it must be disclosed
- No unlawful use of residence by tenant
- Responsibility for utilities
- Parking and common areas
- Inventory checklist on move-in that must be signed by both parties
- Pet clause and deposit
- Subletting clause
- Notice regarding vacating unit if a monthly lease
- Disclosure of the presence of any lead-based paint or hazards on the property for rental property built before 1978—both landlord and tenant must sign an EPA-approved disclosure form and the tenant provided an EPA pamphlet entitled “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home.”
- Disclosure about health hazards provided by the department of health associated with the presence of indoor mold
- Notices of termination for nonpayment of rent or for other lease violations
- If you are a landlord in Seattle, attach a summary of the Washington State and Seattle City Landlord/Tenant regulations
What Cannot be in a Lease
Certain provisions cannot be in a lease and are unenforceable, though their inclusion will not affect the validity of the remainder of the lease. A tenant can bring court action for damages if a prohibited lease term is included. Prohibited terms include:
- Waiver of any right provided by the Landlord-Tenant Act
- Limiting the landlord’s liability for injuries or failure to adhere to local, state or federal laws
- Allowing landlord entry to the unit without required notice
- Requiring tenant to pay landlord’s attorney’s fees for any dispute
- Allowing the landlord to have a lien on your property for nonpayment of rent
- Waiver of any other rights protected under state and federal laws
Security and Other Deposits
A Washington landlord is permitted to require certain fees or deposits, some of which may be nonrefundable, so long as that fact is included in the lease. These include:
- Screening fee—costs for conducting criminal background, credit and rental history checks. This must be disclosed if you are performing any of these. If you reject a tenant on any of these bases, you must disclose the reason in writing. The fee may be nonrefundable but must be stated in the lease or application.
- Security deposit—no limit on amount that may be charged and deposit may be used for nonpayment of rent and damages or for last month’s rent if you, as landlord, agree. You must also provide tenant with name and address of institution where the deposit is kept, provide tenant with written checklist for premises, a receipt for deposit, a copy of the lease, and pay interest if you also agree. The deposit must be returned within 14 days after the tenant vacates or a letter stating why some portion is being retained is sent that itemizes the damages and costs.
- Damage deposit—if no security deposit is required, you may charge a damage deposit that may only be used for damage not due to or caused by normal wear and tear.
- Cleaning fee—may be nonrefundable regardless if used or not so long as this is stated in the lease.
- Application fee–nonrefundable fee for landlord to hold the unit and not rent to anyone else. If tenant rents the unit, it must be applied towards the first months’ rent or security deposit.
Termination of Lease and Notices
For a fixed-term lease, no notice is required since the lease expires as of the final date. If the lease states that is will continue, or the landlord accepts rent for the month following the expiration of the fixed term, it converts to a month-to-month lease.
To terminate a monthly lease, the tenant or landlord is required to give 20-days’ notice before the end of the monthly period. If improper notice is given, the tenant is obligated to pay the rent for that month after the tenant vacates or the rent for the next 30-days from the time you do find out. You do have to mitigate the tenant’s losses, or your own, by using reasonable measures to find a replacement tenant.
If the tenant is to be deployed in the armed services, then less than 20-days’ notice to vacate may be given if the assignment or deployment is less than 20-days from termination of the lease or monthly agreement. The tenant must provide a copy of the deployment orders within 7-days of the deployment.
A landlord generally need not give a reason for terminating a lease unless you live in Seattle.
You may give a 3-Days’ Notice to Quit at any time the tenant is late with the rent. If the tenant pays the rent in full within the 3-days, then you may not evict the tenant.
For all other lease violations, you must give 10-days’ notice to allow the tenant to remedy the violation, such as removing an unauthorized pet or tenant, before beginning eviction proceedings. This notice is also to given for damage to property or for tenants who create a nuisance or unsafe condition on the property.
There are certain violations or activities that if performed by the tenant are grounds for eviction without the need to give any type of notice and which may not be cured by the tenant. These include:
- Drug-related activities
- Gang-related conduct
- Physically assaulting another person while on the premises
- Use of a firearm on the premises
- Any activity that poses an imminent risk of harm to the safety of others on the premises
Special rules apply to tenants who are victims of domestic violence or abuse or stalking. The tenant must provide proof of domestic violence status on a particular form. If provided, the tenant may terminate a fixed term lease so long as it is within 90 days of the domestic violence incident.
As landlord, you may not refuse to rent or renew a lease, or terminate a lease, based upon the prospective tenant’s, or current tenant’s, status as a victim of domestic violence, though the tenant may still be liable for the remainder of that month’s rent.
The tenant is also permitted to add locks on the unit at the tenant’s expense.
Tenants’ Right to Withhold Rent
Although a tenant cannot simply refuse to pay the rent if the landlord fails to make requested repairs, there are circumstances where a tenant may deduct from the rent the cost of making certain minor repairs if the request has been made and ignored. Landlords have a certain limited time to make certain repairs:
- 24 hours to restore heat, electricity, or water or any other condition that is imminently hazardous to safety or health
- 72 hours to repair major plumbing, refrigerator, range and oven
- No more than 10-days for any other repairs or conditions
For 10-day repair conditions, the tenant must give notice and wait 10-days before getting a repair estimate that must be submitted to the landlord and then must wait another 2-days before going forward with the repairs unless the landlord does the repairs or hires a contractor. For 24 hour or 72 hour repairs, the tenant can contract for and begin repairs immediately without notice or request to the landlord.
The cost cannot exceed one months’ rent for any repair or two month’s rent for repairs done over any 12-month period. For self-help repairs, tenants must give the proper notice first depending on the type of repair and the notice required. The cost must be no more than one-half of the month’s rent, which is subtracted from the following months’ rent. The landlord must first be given the opportunity to make the repairs.
No Retaliatory Eviction
As with all leases and rental agreements, a landlord must follow the notice and/or eviction processes before forcing a tenant out. Retaliatory eviction refers to instances where a landlord forces, or attempts to force, a tenant out by changing locks, shutting off utilities or taking the tenant’s property without obtaining the proper court order.
A landlord also may not evict a tenant who has exercised certain rights such as notifying authorities of the landlord’s failure to correct code or other violations, who deducted repair costs from the rent or who took court action because the landlord included unenforceable provisions in the lease. If the eviction proceeding is within 90 days of these activities, it is presumed to be retaliatory in nature.
A Washington residential lease agreement must include certain provisions, and not include others, or you may be liable to the tenant for damages and other costs. Be sure your conduct adheres to local and state laws and that your lease complies with all relevant local, state and federal laws before using it.