How to Report a Landlord in Washington for Unsafe Living Conditions
August 18, 2023
When a renter in Washington can’t obtain necessary repairs, before beginning a court case it’s usually possible to file a report with the proper government departments about the unsafe conditions on the property. Code inspectors have the power to order repairs or fine noncompliant landlords.
What Are Considered Unsafe Living Conditions in Washington?
In Washington, unsafe living conditions exist when a rental property doesn’t have safe and working:
Garbage containers and removal (except in single-family residences).
Required smoke alarms (CO detectors are provided by the landlord but maintained by the tenant).
Locks and keys.
Structural components like walls and foundations.
Features that affect health, safety, or habitability.
After receiving a complaint, an inspecting officer might contact the tenant for more information. Then the officer will usually inspect the property and cite the landlord for any code violations.
How Can a Tenant Report a Health or Safety Violation in Seattle?
A tenant in Seattle can report a health or safety violation by calling the Department of Construction & Inspections at (206) 615-0808 or using the providedonline form. Select a location, detail the issue (including attachments, optionally), review, and submit.
How Can a Tenant Report a Health or Safety Violation in Spokane?
A tenant in Spokane can report a health or safety violation by calling Code Enforcement at (509) 755-2489 or using the providedonline form. Select a location, provide details and contact information, and submit.
How Can a Tenant Report a Health or Safety Violation in Tacoma?
A tenant in Tacoma can report a health or safety violation by calling Code Compliance and Enforcement at (253) 591-5000 or using the providedonline form. First provide a location. Many issues fall under “Abandoned/Neglected House or Building.” Attach photos (optional), describe the issue, provide contact information, and submit.
What Could Happen to a Landlord After a Complaint Is Made in Washington?
After a tenant files a complaint about unsafe living conditions in Washington, an officer may inspect the property. The landlord must fix noted code violations. Otherwise, the landlord could be fined and the local government might file to condemn the property.
“The landlord will at all times during the tenancy keep the premises fit for human habitation, and shall in particular: (1) Maintain the premises to substantially comply with any applicable code, statute, ordinance, or regulation governing their maintenance or operation, which the legislative body enacting the applicable code, statute, ordinance or regulation could enforce as to the premises rented if such condition endangers or impairs the health or safety of the tenant; (2) Maintain the structural components including, but not limited to, the roofs, floors, walls, chimneys, fireplaces, foundations, and all other structural components, in reasonably good repair so as to be usable; (3) Keep any shared or common areas reasonably clean, sanitary, and safe from defects increasing the hazards of fire or accident.”
“The landlord will at all times during the tenancy keep the premises fit for human habitation, and shall in particular: (4) Provide a reasonable program for the control of infestation by insects, rodents, and other pests at the initiation of the tenancy and, except in the case of a single-family residence, control infestation during tenancy except where such infestation is caused by the tenant; (5) Except where the condition is attributable to normal wear and tear, make repairs and arrangements necessary to put and keep the premises in as good condition as it by law or rental agreement should have been, at the commencement of the tenancy; (6) Provide reasonably adequate locks and furnish keys to the tenant; (7) Maintain and safeguard with reasonable care any master key or duplicate keys to the dwelling unit.”
“The landlord will at all times during the tenancy keep the premises fit for human habitation, and shall in particular: (8) Maintain all electrical, plumbing, heating, and other facilities and appliances supplied by him or her in reasonably good working order; (9) Maintain the dwelling unit in reasonably weathertight condition; (10) Except in the case of a single-family residence, provide and maintain appropriate receptacles in common areas for the removal of ashes, rubbish, and garbage, incidental to the occupancy and arrange for the reasonable and regular removal of such waste; (11) Provide facilities adequate to supply heat and water and hot water as reasonably required by the tenant.”
“The landlord will at all times during the tenancy keep the premises fit for human habitation, and shall in particular: (a) Provide a written notice to all tenants disclosing fire safety and protection information. The landlord or his or her authorized agent must provide a written notice to the tenant that the dwelling unit is equipped with a smoke detection device as required in RCW 43.44.110. The notice shall inform the tenant of the tenant’s responsibility to maintain the smoke detection device in proper operating condition and of penalties for failure to comply with the provisions of RCW 43.44.110(3). The notice must be signed by the landlord or the landlord’s authorized agent and tenant with copies provided to both parties. Further, except with respect to a single-family residence, the written notice must also disclose the following: (i) Whether the smoke detection device is hard-wired or battery operated; (ii) Whether the building has a fire sprinkler system; (iii) Whether the building has a fire alarm system; (iv) Whether the building has a smoking policy, and what that policy is; (v) Whether the building has an emergency notification plan for the occupants and, if so, provide a copy to the occupants; (vi) Whether the building has an emergency relocation plan for the occupants and, if so, provide a copy to the occupants; and (vii) Whether the building has an emergency evacuation plan for the occupants and, if so, provide a copy to the occupants. (b) The information required under this subsection may be provided to a tenant in a multifamily residential building either as a written notice or as a checklist that discloses whether the building has fire safety and protection devices and systems. The checklist shall include a diagram showing the emergency evacuation routes for the occupants. (c) The written notice or checklist must be provided to new tenants at the time the lease or rental agreement is signed.”
“The landlord will at all times during the tenancy keep the premises fit for human habitation, and shall in particular provide tenants with information provided or approved by the department of health about the health hazards associated with exposure to indoor mold. Information may be provided in written format individually to each tenant, or may be posted in a visible, public location at the dwelling unit property. The information must detail how tenants can control mold growth in their dwelling units to minimize the health risks associated with indoor mold. Landlords may obtain the information from the department’s website or, if requested by the landlord, the department must mail the information to the landlord in a printed format. When developing or changing the information, the department of health must include representatives of landlords in the development process. The information must be provided by the landlord to new tenants at the time the lease or rental agreement is signed.”
“The landlord and his or her agents and employees are immune from civil liability for failure to comply with subsection (13) of this section except where the landlord and his or her agents and employees knowingly and intentionally do not comply with subsection (13) of this section.”
“By July 1, 2010, the building code council shall adopt rules requiring that all buildings classified as residential occupancies, as defined in the state building code in chapter 51-54 WAC, but excluding owner-occupied single-family residences legally occupied before July 26, 2009, be equipped with carbon monoxide alarms.”
Maintenance of fire safety systems is usually the landlord’s responsibility under the International Building Code which Washington incorporates, e.g., 2018 Int’l Fire Code § 907.8.5 (2018) (“The building owner shall be responsible to maintain the fire and life safety systems in an operable condition at all times.”). However, Washington makes the tenant explicitly responsible for maintenance of CO detectors:
“The rules adopted by the building code council under this section must (a) consider applicable nationally accepted standards and (b) require that the maintenance of a carbon monoxide alarm in a building where a tenancy exists, including the replacement of batteries, is the responsibility of the tenant, who shall maintain the alarm as specified by the manufacturer.” Rev. Code Wa. § 19.27.530(1) (2022)
“If at any time during the tenancy the landlord fails to carry out the duties required by RCW 59.18.060 [landlord’s duty to maintain the property] or by the rental agreement, the tenant may, in addition to pursuit of remedies otherwise provided him or her by law, deliver written notice to the person designated in RCW 59.18.060(14) [authorized agent of landlord; actually subsection (15) after an amendment to the law], or to the person who collects the rent, which notice shall specify the premises involved, the name of the owner, if known, and the nature of the defective condition. The landlord shall commence remedial action after receipt of such notice by the tenant as soon as possible but not later than the following time periods, except where circumstances are beyond the landlord’s control: (1) Not more than twenty-four hours, where the defective condition deprives the tenant of hot or cold water, heat, or electricity, or is imminently hazardous to life; (2) Not more than seventy-two hours, where the defective condition deprives the tenant of the use of a refrigerator, range and oven, or a major plumbing fixture supplied by the landlord; and (3) Not more than ten days in all other cases. In each instance the burden shall be on the landlord to see that remedial work under this section is completed promptly. If completion is delayed due to circumstances beyond the landlord’s control, including the unavailability of financing, the landlord shall remedy the defective condition as soon as possible.”