Landlord Tenant Rights

Whenever there is a lease, either verbal or written, Washington State laws (Revised Code of Washington Chapter 59.18) give tenants certain rights like the right to receipts for every payment and the right to know where and how the security deposit is being held.

The landlord, too, gets rights such as the right to the interest earned by security deposit unless otherwise agreed upon.

Note: These rights are automatic, which means they attach to either party even if the lease does not provide for them.

Additionally, please check with your local Washington county or municipality for additional rules and protections for both landlords and tenants.

Warranty of Habitability in Washington

Landlord Responsibilities. In Washington, the state’s landlord-tenant laws establish certain livability standards revolving around the physical conditions of a rental housing unit. Landlords operating in the state are responsible for upholding these standards by providing certain essential amenities to all tenants as well as providing repairs to said amenities when they fall out of operational or efficient order. Several of these essential amenities include the following:

  • Roofs, floors, walls, chimneys, fireplaces, foundations, and other structural components that are “usable” and weathertight
  • Clean, sanitary, and safe common areas
  • Timely pest abatement services
  • “Reasonably adequate” locks
  • Safe electric wiring, outlets, and fixtures
  • Adequate plumbing
  • In-unit heating
  • A garbage receptacle with routine removal services
  • An adequate supply of hot and cold water on demand
  • A smoke detector

Washington tenants have a right to request repairs to any of the amenities listed above at any time during the course of their lease agreement. After this kind of request is received, the state of Washington requires landlords to respond and act within in the following time frames based upon the severity and nature of the requested repair:

  • Issues that deprive tenant’s use of hot water, cold water, heat, or electricity – No more than 24 hours
  • Issues that deprive tenant’s use of oven, range, refrigerator, or a major plumbing fixture – No more than 72 hours
  • All other issues of a non-emergency nature – No more than 10 days

If a Washington landlord fails to provide these kinds of repairs with their statutory time frames, their tenant may have cause to claim that their dwelling is statutorily uninhabitable. If this condition is confirmed by an outside regulatory inspector, an affected Washington tenant may be empowered to take alternative action or terminate their lease on the grounds that their landlord has not met their legal responsibilities adequately.

Tenant Responsibilities. Besides the responsibility to pay rent on time, Washington tenants are primarily tasked with keeping their dwelling “as clean and sanitary as the conditions of the premises permit.” To this end, all Washington tenants are required to remove rubbish from their unit in a timely manner. They are also required to use all electrical, gas, heating, and plumbing according to their landlord’s instructions such that they are not likely to be damaged.

Landlords in Washington state are required to enforce these cleanliness standards, even when they are not explicitly outlined in an applicable lease agreement. Specifically, a Washington landlord who observes a tenant failing to meet their habitability obligations may issue them a written 10-Day Notice to Cure that outlines their specific infractions and what steps can be taken to remedy the. If those notice provisions are not fulfilled within the 10 day notice period, a Washington landlord has the right to evict a non-compliant tenant.

Also, Washington tenants have the right to take alternative action against their landlords in several habitability-related situations. For example, if a landlord delays a necessary repair indefinitely, a Washington state tenant can perform the repair on their own and deduct the associated costs. If this kind of repair requires a professional, a Washington tenant cannot deduct more than the value of 2 months’ rent, while a non-professional repair can only result in a deduction equal to 1 months’ rent at most.

Along the same lines, a Washington tenant who discovers that their landlord has failed to provide an essential amenity or has failed to provide a necessary repair in a timely manner may withhold rent entirely. However, a Washington tenant who wishes to do this must inform the appropriate government regulatory authority in advance and begin depositing any rent-related funds into an escrow account.

Evictions in Washington

Though most Washington landlords only seek out evictions as an option of last resort, they are still fairly likely to seek out eviction if a tenant exhibits one of the following three common types of non-compliance:

  1. Nonpayment of rent – In Washington state, tenants are required to pay rent in full at the time specified in their lease or rental agreement. If a Washington landlord fails to receive all necessary rent payments from a particular tenant at that time, they may issue a written 3-Day Notice to Pay that details the full amount of rent and associated payments owed within the next 3 days. If those charges are not paid in full by the conclusion of the notice period, then that Washington landlord has the right to proceed with formal eviction at their own discretion.
  2. Violation of lease terms – Washington state landlords are allowed to enforce the terms of their lease agreements at their own discretion but are always encouraged to do so fairly. This includes in instances where a tenant violates one or more lease terms. At that point, a Washington state landlord must issue a 10-Day Notice to Cure that outlines the nature of the tenant’s lease term violations, as well as any viable remedy that they may immediately pursue. If those notice terms are not met before the conclusion of the 10 day notice period, that Washington state landlord may seek a formal eviction against their tenant on the grounds of their unresolved lease violation.
  3. Illegal Acts – Washington state’s landlord-tenant laws do not enumerate specific illegal acts that always justify an eviction. However, these same laws do set out penalties for tenants who engage in illegal drug activities as well as gang-related activities. As a result, it is assumed that these activities and any others specifically mentioned in the applicable lease agreement can be met with a 3-Day Notice to Quit. Because this kind of notice does not need curing provisions, the notified tenant is expected to move out swiftly or face a forced eviction in only 3 days’ time.

Evictions without a lease. Washington state law indicates that tenants who rent from a landlord without entering into a formal lease agreement are considered categorically “at-will.” While this generally means that they are allotted fewer protections while renting, it does not cause an “at-will” tenant to give up their right to informed notice of an impending eviction. As such, “at-will” tenants in Washington state are entitled to receive 20 days of notice in advance of an eviction order becoming active against them.

Illegal Evictions. In Washington state, landlords are specifically prohibited from seeking retaliatory evictions against their tenants. As a result, an eviction order that a tenant believes is connected to a recent health or safety code violation report or may be connected to a tenant’s choice to join a tenant union may be voided if challenged in court.

Similarly, Washington’s several fair housing laws prohibit discriminatory evictions against tenants. As such, a landlord in Washington cannot implicitly or explicitly seek an eviction against a tenant on the basis of their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, family status, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, participation in a Section 8 Program, or veterans/military status.

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Security Deposits in Washington

These following regulations have been set forth in Washington’s landlord-tenant code for the purposes of maintaining fair and equitable security deposit transactions within the state:

  • Standard Limit / Maximum Amount – Currently, Washington state does not establish a maximum amount a landlord operating within the state can charge a tenant for a security deposit. As a result, a Washington landlord is free to set their security deposit rates as high as they want, even if the amounts charged for a security deposit are not relative or in any way connected to the amount charged to a tenant for rent each month.
  • Interest and Maintenance – Washington state landlords must promptly deposit all collected security deposit funds in a trust, banking account, or escrow. These accounts may be interest-bearing, though this is not required. Washington tenants are entitled to receive a receipt for any interest paid out from these types of accounts, though specific amounts of interest that must be paid out periodically must be established through a lease agreement in advance.
  • Time Limit for Return – A Washington state landlord must return any and all remaining security deposit funds owed to a tenant within 14 days of that tenant’s lease termination (naturally or otherwise). Washington state also requires a landlord to provide their tenant with an itemized list of deductions, but this only needs to arrive with 21 days of a tenant’s lease termination.
  • Penalty if Not Returned on Time – If a Washington landlord is found to have improperly returned their tenant’s security deposit (including a failure to provide a deductions list), they may be required to pay back the entire deposit plus a penalty of up to twice that deposit’s value if any funds were wrongfully withheld at the same time.
  • Allowable Deductions – Generally speaking, Washington state landlords are only allowed to make deductions for regular reasons that are outlined in an applicable lease agreement. This includes covering late or absent rent payments as well as covering the cost of repairs associated with damage that exceeded regular wear and tear.

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Lease Termination in Washington

Notice Requirements. Washington tenants who have entered into a fixed end-date lease agreement are not required to provide any advance notice to their landlord when they intend for their lease to terminate naturally. However, month-to-month tenants in Washington are required to provide 20 days of written notice to their landlord when they intend to break off their lease going forward.

Legally Breaking a Lease Early. Washington tenants who need to break a lease early should look over their lease and see if it includes an early termination clause. These provisions are usually the easiest method to accomplish this goal legally, though not all lease agreements in Washington state are required to include one. There are also other ways to break off a lease early in Washington state, including through the following legal provisions:

  1. Active Military Duty – Federal law allows service members who are relocating due to deployment or permanent change of station to terminate their lease as early as 30 days from the next rent period.
  2. Unit is Uninhabitable – A Washington state landlord is legally bound to carry out their duties to maintain a tenant’s dwelling in a habitable condition. To that end, they must provide all essential amenities outlined in the state’s laws as well as provide all necessary repairs to the same amenities in a timely manner. Failing to carry out these duties may result in a unit becoming statutorily uninhabitable. Washington tenants are not obliged to live under these conditions and may be allowed to terminate their lease if it is allowed to continue.
  3. Landlord Harassment – Under Washington state law, landlords are required to provide at least 2 days of advance notice before attempting to enter a tenant’s unit. This entry standard applies to most standard causes for entry, including when a landlord needs to perform a repair or show the unit to a prospective renter. Landlords who routinely fail to abide by this entry standard may be accused of harassment, which itself can be used as grounds for a unilateral lease termination.
  4. Domestic Violence – A Washington state tenant who has provided proof of their status as a domestic abuse victim has the right to request a lease termination. This termination may go into effect immediately but must be filed within 90 days of a documented incident of domestic abuse. Also, a tenant who obtains a termination via this legal protection remains financially liable to pay rent for the month in which their lease terminates.

Washington state landlords are obligated by state law to assist in the re-renting process as part of their duty to mitigate damages associated with a tenant’s early termination. Specifically, a Washington state landlord must make a reasonable effort to re-rent a former tenant’s unit before passing on the cost of said unit to the former tenant. These laws also indicate that when a tenant is found, their rent payments can be applied to any debt arising from this situation.

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Rent Increases & Related Fees in Washington

Rent control & increases. Current laws on the books in Washington state fully preempt local jurisdictions from implementing policies and ordinances which “regulate the amount of rent to be charged for single-family or multiple-unit residential rental structures.” As a result of this state-wide prohibition on rent control, landlords in this state are free to charge as much as they want for rent. They are not able to raise their rent rates whenever they wish, though, due to a state statute requiring 30 days of written notice before a rent increase can go into effect.

Rent related fees. Washington state landlords are fairly free to charge whatever kinds of fees they deem necessary for the successful operation of their business. Due to the state’s lack of regulation on late rent payment fees, for example, a Washington state landlord may charge such a fee when they see fit and at any rate they see fit. However, some fees are still capped by state statute. This includes returned check fees, for which a Washington state landlord cannot charge more than $40 or the value of the check (whichever is less).

Housing Discrimination in Washington

Federal Protections. The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from being discriminated against due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. However, the law does not apply to all housing, such as owner-occupied homes with 4 or fewer units or housing operated by religious organizations.

State Protections. Washington state actually provides numerous protections for tenants that exceed the requirements of the federal Fair Housing Act. Specifically, this state establishes a handful of supplementary protected classes that extend the state’s civil rights enforcement power to more types of tenants. To that end, these following classes are protected from housing discrimination in Washington state:

  • Marital status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Age
  • Participation in a Section 8 Program
  • Veteran/military status
  • HIV/ Hepatitis C status

Discriminatory Acts & Penalties. The Washington State Human Rights Commission serves as the primary enforcement agency when it comes to this state’s several fair housing laws and regulations. This includes establishing which business practices utilized by Washington state landlords may be considered discriminatory if they are targeted at one or more of the state’s protected classes. Several examples put forth by the Commission include the following:

  • Falsely representing the availability of a unit
  • Offering different terms, conditions, or privileges between tenants
  • Advertising the sale or rental of a dwelling in a manner that indicates a discriminatory preference
  • Failing to provide reasonable accommodations
  • Enforcing a “neutral rule” that disproportionately impacts one or more classes of tenants over another

Tenants in Washington state who believe they have been a victim of unlawful discrimination may file complaints digitally through the Washington State Human Rights Commission’s website. This will initiate an investigation process that will seek to confirm or deny the legitimacy of the complainant’s central claim of discrimination. However, the Commission does not publicly detail how these investigations are carried out, what types of conclusions they are allowed to reach, or what types of penalties (if any) the Commission is allowed to levy.

Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in Washington

While it is important for Washington state landlords and tenants alike to know every law that impacts their leasing relationship, these following regulations are among the most important to fully understand because they are the most likely to result in a dispute between these parties:

Landlord Entry. Washington landlords are only permitted to enter a tenant’s dwelling if they obtain permission to enter at least 2 days in advance. This kind of advance notice is required for most standard causes for entry, including when a landlord needs to show the space to a prospective renter or needs to perform a requested repair. However, this standard does not apply in emergency situations, at which time a Washington landlord may enter a tenant’s dwelling without any notice or permission to warn them of an impending threat to their safety.

Small Claims Court. The Washington state small claims court system is available to landlords and tenants who need to resolve their disputes in a formal venue. While landlords and tenants are not able to file suits relating to eviction in these courts, they are generally able to file cases valued at more than $250 but less than $5,000. However, this upper limitation on case values may differ from county to county.

Mandatory Disclosures. Washington state landlords must issue the following types of informational disclosures to the appropriate tenants in order for their lease agreements to be considered active and binding:

  1. Lead-based paint. For houses built prior to 1978, federal law requires landlords to provide tenants with information about lead based paint hazards. Read more.
  2. Owners, Managers, and Agents. Washington state landlords must disclose their own address and phone number to their tenants. Also, these same landlords must disclose the same information for any owners or property managers associated with or assigned to a tenant’s building or property.
  3. Smoke Detector. Washington state landlords must inform tenants of their responsibility to maintain their own smoke detectors. This disclosure must also include other key pieces of information relating to that detector’s operations, including the following:
    • Whether the smoke detection device is hard-wired, or battery operated
    • Whether the building has a fire sprinkler system
    • Whether the building has a fire alarm system
    • Whether the building has a smoking policy, and what that policy is
    • Whether the building has an emergency notification, evacuation, and/or relocation plan for the occupants (and if so, a copy of that plan must be provided)
  4. Mold. Landlords in Washington state must provide information approved by a local health department relating to mold in residential dwellings. This information must include how a tenant can prevent mold growth.
    Security Deposit Interest and Location. Washington state landlords must disclose where and through what kind of account they are maintaining a tenant’s security deposit.

Changing the Locks. Domestic abuse victims in Washington state may request a change to their unit’s locks at their own expense. They may also request additional locks within reason and at their own expense. Washington state landlords, on the other hand, are prohibited from unilaterally changing a tenant’s locks due to the state’s prohibition on lockouts.

Local Laws in Washington

Landlord tenant rights are not exclusively governed by state law. Cities and counties may enact their own rules and regulations for renters.

Seattle Landlord Tenant Rights

The city of Seattle maintains a special local policy known as the Rental Agreement Regulation Ordinance. This ordinance includes a variety of provisions, including a mandate to provide 60 days of advance notice before a rent rate increase of 10% or more. It also prohibits landlords from charging move-in fees and security deposits that, when combined, are valued at more than a tenant’s first month rent payment. More information on the ordinances other provisions (as well as other Seattle-specific ordinances) can be found here.

Spokane Landlord Tenant Rights

While Spokane does not currently maintain any major local ordinances of note, the city is currently considering a slate of local laws that would add supplementary tenant protections. Specifically, a pair of ordinances currently in the legislative pipeline would institute a tenant relocation program and establish a “just cause” standard for evictions. Landlords and tenants in Spokane should look to the city’s website for further updates.

Tacoma Landlord Tenant Rights

The city of Tacoma recently instituted a Tenant Rights Ordinance. This ordinance requires landlords to provide 90 days of written notice in advance of a tenant’s property being demolished, altered for different use, or renovated. More information about this ordinance (including questions and answers about its application) can be found here.