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Washington Landlord-Tenant Law

In this guide, we will focus on Washington landlord-tenant law and Seattle’s landlord-tenant law at the end of the guide.

We ranked the best landlords in the US and the landlords in Washington are in the top five in the nation. There are almost one million tenants in Washington, making up 13.5% of the state’s population. Seattle has the highest concentration of renters in Washington; 34% of the city’s population are tenants.  

Washington Landlord-Tenant Law

Security Deposit Laws in Washington

In Washington, landlords can forego security deposits if they would like. However, if a landlord collects a security deposit, Washington regulates how landlords must collect and hold security deposits.

What are the security deposit requirements in Washington?

Landlords must hold their security deposits in a separate trust account. The trust account must be for security deposits only and must be in the state of Washington. When the landlord collects the security deposit, the landlord must give the tenant a receipt that states the name and address of the institution holding the deposit. The landlord is entitled to all interest held on the account.

If the landlord collects a security deposit, the rental agreement must be written. The lease must state the terms of the deposit and must include a statement or checklist indicating the condition and cleanliness of the premises. The landlord and tenant must sign the statement or checklist. If a landlord collects a security deposit without a statement or checklist of the condition of the premises, then a tenant can sue the landlord for the amount of the security deposit and attorney’s fees.

When must a landlord return the security deposit?

The landlord must return the deposit within 21 days of the tenant moving out. If the landlord is withholding any part of the security deposit, within 21 days of the tenant moving out, the landlord must specifically state the reason for withholding the deposit. Landlords in Washington generally withhold security deposits for unpaid rent, unpaid utilities, property damage, and early termination of the rental agreement.

If the landlord intentionally refuses to return the deposit to the tenant or refuses to give the tenant a statement clarifying why the landlord is not refunding the deposit, then the landlord may be liable for up to two times the deposit, plus the tenant’s attorney’s fees.

According to our survey, most landlords in Washington collect a security deposit equal to the cost of one month of rent.

How much do you collect for a security deposit?

Security Deposit Amount

Rental Agreement Laws in Washington

Rental agreements must be in writing if the lease is for 12 or more months in Washington. Even if the lease is shorter than 12 months, the least must be written if the landlord charges a security deposit or a non-refundable fee. Even if a landlord had a rental agreement that was shorter than 12 months and did not collect a security deposit or non-refundable fee, we would still recommend using written agreements.

Written agreements make it easier to prove what the landlord and tenant agreed upon. If a rental dispute goes to court, it will be essential to establish what the landlord and tenant agreed upon to prevail. Written agreements are the best way to show the terms of the rental agreement.

Rentalutions has an attorney-approved Washington Rental Agreement that includes all the necessary notices and disclosures based on the location of your rental unit. Start your rental agreement here.

Repair Laws in Washington

In general, landlords must keep the rental unit in a livable condition. In addition to keeping the rental unit in good repair the landlord must also:

  • Supply heat and hot water
  • Arrange for the regular removal of waste
  • Provide adequate locks and keys
  • Have a reasonable program for the control of infestation by insects, rodents, and pests

If there is a defect in the unit, the tenant must provide the landlord with written notice that states the type of defect in the unit and the address of the unit. The amount of time a landlord has to respond to a written notice for repairs depends on the severity of the defect.

  • If the defect is immediately hazardous to life or deprives the tenant of heat or running water, then the landlord must start to make repairs within 24 hours of receiving the written notice.
  • If an appliance that came with the unit or plumbing fixture needs repair, then the landlord must start to make repairs within 72 hours of receiving the tenant’s written notice.
  • In all other cases, the landlord has ten days to respond to a tenant’s written request for repairs.

If the landlord does not have the financing to make the repairs, then the landlord must make repairs as soon as possible.

Tenants’ Rights Regarding the Landlord’s Duty to Repair

If the landlord does not make repairs in a timely manner, the tenant may make the repairs themselves and deduct the cost of repairs from the rent. The tenant could also seek a reduction of their rent in court. In the most extreme scenarios, the tenant can terminate the lease early without consequence. However, the tenant must be current with rent before any of these remedies are available to the tenant.

Repair and Deduct

If the landlord fails to make repairs in a timely manner, the tenant can make repairs herself and deduct the cost of repairs from the cost of rent. The cost of repairs cannot exceed two months’ rent in a twelve-month period. Before contracting for repairs, the tenant must present the landlord with the estimate of the cost of repairs from the party making the repairs. If the landlord still doesn’t make repairs then the tenant can move forward with contracting for repairs. Upon completion of repairs, the tenant must allow the landlord to examine the repairs.

Reduced Rent

A tenant may also file a claim in court for a reduction in rent. If the court or arbitrator finds that the landlord has failed its duty to repair, then the judge will determine the diminished value of the rental unit. The judgment against the landlord will be for the amount of rent paid in excess of the diminished value of the unit since the unit had an issue. The tenant will not be obligated to pay rent in excess of the diminished value until the defect is repaired.

Escrowed Rent

If the landlord fails to make repairs that expose the tenant to serious harm to their life, the tenant may request the local government to inspect the unit. If the government finds that the conditions the tenant complained about exist, then the tenant can pay their rent into an escrow account. A landlord can apply to get the escrowed rent if the government finds that the conditions have been repaired, in which case, the government will refund the landlord the escrowed amount minus the fees for the escrow account.

Early Termination

If the landlord fails to repair the defects promptly, then the tenant could terminate the tenancy and would be entitled a pro-rata refund of any prepaid rent, a refund of the security deposit and would no longer be responsible for the rent. If the court finds that the unit is uninhabitable and unrepairable, it may order the tenant to move out.

Washington Laws on Retaliation

A landlord cannot retaliate against a tenant because the tenant complained to a government agency about the conditions of the apartment, or asserted his or her rights under the law. The following actions are considered retaliation:

  • Eviction of the tenant
  • Increasing the rent required of the tenant
  • Reduction of services to the tenant
  • Increasing the obligations of the tenant

If the tenant is in good standing under the rental agreement, retaliation is presumed if any of the actions stated above are taken within 90 days of the tenant asserting his or her rights under the law.

Notice of Entry

The landlord can enter the rental unit with the consent of the tenant in the case of an emergency. To make repairs to the unit or to exhibit the unit, the landlord needs to give the tenant advance notice of entry. Before making repairs to the unit, the landlord must provide the tenant 48-hour notice. However, when the landlord is showing the unit to a prospective tenant or buyer, the landlord only needs to give the tenant 24-hour notice. The notice must be written and must state the date and time of entry. The notice must also include a phone number to call to object or reschedule entry.

If a landlord does not give proper notice before entering a unit and continues to do so after notice, then the landlord can be sued for $100 for each violation, plus attorney’s fees.

Keys, Locks, and Security Devices

In general, the landlord must keep the locks and keys in good repair and keep the premises relatively safe. However, the statute does not require the landlord to replace the locks after a tenant vacates the premises. If the locks on the unit need to be replaced, the landlord has ten days to make the repairs (unless the condition of the lock exposed the tenant to immediate harm). As you can see below, a majority of landlords in Washington replace the locks every time a new tenant moves into the unit.

Do you change the locks every time you have a new tenant?

Changing Locks

Rental Payment

In Washington, the landlord can accept payment in any form they like. If the landlord receives payment in cash, the landlord must give the tenant a receipt of payment. Under any other type of payment, the landlord only has to provide the tenant with a receipt if the tenant requests one.

Late Fees and Grace Periods

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There are no laws in Washington regarding late fees or grace periods. Landlords can charge late fees the day rent is late, and landlords can start the eviction process the day after rent is due. To ensure rent is paid on time every month, landlords should complete a thorough tenant screening process.

When screening prospective tenants in Washington, the landlord must tell them what types of information will be collected, what will result in a denial, whether a reusable tenant screening report would be accepted, the consumer reporting agency used, and the right of a tenant to receive a free copy.

Use Rentalutions to screen your tenants and make paying rent easy with online rent payments.

Washington Laws on Eviction

In Washington, the landlord can evict the tenant for a variety of reasons:

  • Not paying rent
  • Occupying the rental unit after the lease is complete
  • Breaking the lease
  • Intentionally or negligently damaging the rental property
  • Operating an unlawful business in the unit
  • Engaging in gang-related activity on the property

In most cases, the eviction process begins with serving the tenant a three-day notice that tells the tenant to cure the issue or move out of the rental unit. If the tenant does not fix the problem by the end of the three day period, then the landlord can file for the eviction of the tenant at their local courthouse. The three-day notice and the summons for evictions must be served in person, to a person of suitable age living in the unit, by mail, or by posting a notice on the rental unit.

In the case where the rental agreement is for an indefinite amount of time, the landlord must give the tenant 20 days’ notice that the landlord wants to end the rental arrangement before filing for an eviction of the tenant.

Victims of Domestic Violence

Victims of domestic violence or sexual assault have special protections in Washington. Victims of domestic violence or sexual assault can end their lease early, without consequence, provided the following:

  • The event happened within the last 90 days
  • The tenant has an order of protection
  • The tenant reported the incident to a qualified third party working in their official capacity
  • The report must state the time and date of events, location of events, a short description of the assault, and that the tenant notified the third party of the name of the assaulter. 

Landlords may not refuse to rent to an applicant because the applicant ended a previous rental agreement due to domestic violence or assault.

If a landlord refuses to rent to an applicant because that applicant ended a previous rental agreement early due to domestic violence, the landlord can be held liable for actual damages suffered by the applicant and attorney’s fees. Additionally, screening services cannot tell landlords whether a tenant has ended a previous rental early because of domestic violence.

Additionally, victims of domestic violence or sexual assault can get the member of the household that committed the act evicted from the unit and can change the locks of the unit. Pursuant to the judgment, the landlord cannot give the evicted tenant a copy of the new keys.

Pet Laws

Washington does not require landlords to allow pets in their units. However, the federal law states that people with specific disabilities have a right to request a waiver for a ‘no pets’ policy if they need a service animal for medical reasons.

Required Washington Rental Agreement Notices

Lead Paint: If the property was constructed before 1978, federal law requires landlords to disclose the presence of known lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards in the dwelling before the tenant signs the lease or rental agreement. The landlord also must give the tenant a copy of the federal government’s pamphlet, Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home.

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Mold: Landlords must provide tenants with information provided or approved by the Washington Department of Health about the health hazards associated with exposure to indoor mold.

Condominium Conversion Project: Landlords must give tenants 120 days’ notice if the landlord plans to change the unit into a condo.

Fire Safety: Landlords must provide written a notice of fire safety info and notice that the unit has a smoke detector. The notice must state that the tenant has to keep smoke detector in working order. Landlords must provide this notice to their new tenants when they receive the lease. The notice must include the following:

  • Whether the smoke detection device is hardwired, 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; the building has an emergency notification plan for the occupants and, if so, provide a copy to the occupants;
  • Whether the building has an emergency relocation plan for the occupants and if so, give a copy to the occupants
  • Whether the building has an emergency evacuation plan for the occupants and if so, provide a copy to the occupants

Oft-Cited Washington Landlord and Tenant Laws

Below you will find references to areas of the Washington rules and regulations that govern rental properties and issues related to landlord-tenant law.

RCW 59.12.030

  • The landlord can evict the tenant for:
    • Not paying rent
    • Occupying the rental unit after the lease is complete
    • Breaking the lease
    • Intentionally or negligently damaging the rental property
    • Operating an unlawful business in the unit
    • Engaging in gang-related activity on the property
  • Tenant must be served a three-day notice before a landlord can file for eviction of a tenant in court.

RCW 59.18.060

  • Landlords must keep their rental units in a livable condition.
  • Landlords must provide written notice of fire safety information and notice that the unit has a smoke detector.
  • Landlords must provide tenants with information provided or approved by the department of health about the health hazards associated with exposure to indoor mold.
  • The lease must state name and address of landlord or landlord’s agent.

RCW 59.18.100

  • Tenant may end the lease early if the landlord does not make repairs in a timely manner after receiving written notice from tenant.
  • Tenant may repair defect in the unit and deduct the cost of repairs from rent if the landlord does not may repairs in a timely manner after receiving written notice from tenant.
  • Tenant may seek a reduction in rent until repairs are completed if the landlord does not make repairs in a timely manner after receiving written notice from tenant.
  • Tenant may seek government inspection of rental unit and pay rent into an escrow account until repairs are completed if the landlord does not make repairs in a timely manner after receiving written notice from tenant.

RCW 59.18.280

  • The landlord must return the security deposit within 21 days of the tenant moving out of the rental unit.
  • The landlord must send notice that states specifically any reasons why security deposit is being withheld.

Seattle Landlord-Tenant Laws 

By following state law, landlords are not necessarily in compliance with city laws, particularly in Seattle. Seattle landlords must follow federal and state laws mentioned above, but also city laws. In Seattle, all rentals must be registered with the city. In addition, all rental units in the city are subject to the Just Cause Eviction Ordinance, the Rental Agreement Regulation Ordinance, the Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance, and the Third Party Billing Ordinance. Below is an overview of the essential distinctions for Seattle.

Seattle Evictions

Seattle’s Just Cause Eviction Ordinance has an extensive list of reasons why a landlord can evict a tenant. The significant difference is the penalties available in certain circumstances.

If a landlord misleadingly uses one of the following reasons to evict a tenant, then the landlord may be subject to enforcement action by the City for a civil penalty of up to $2,500. Also, tenants may sue the owner for up to $,3000 and attorney’s fees.

  • The sale of a single-family residence is planned
  • The owner or a family member is to move in
  • Substantial rehabilitation is planned
  • The number of residents must be reduced to eight
  • The owner is discontinuing the use of an approved accessory dwelling unit (ADU) after receipt of a notice of violation
  • The owner fails to carry out the stated reason for terminating the tenancy

Retaliation Laws in Seattle

In Seattle, retaliation is presumed if a landlord takes retaliatory actions 90 days after a tenant has asserted their rights under the law. The difference is in the what is considered retaliatory action. In Seattle, the following actions are considered retaliatory

  • Eviction of the tenant
  • Increasing the rent required of the tenant
  • Reduction of services to the tenant
  • Increasing the obligations of the tenant
  • Entering a tenant’s unit without proper notice
  • Prohibiting a tenant from distributing information in the building assisting tenants to organize

Increasing Housing Cost in Seattle

If a landlord wishes to increase the cost of the rental in Seattle, there are specific notice requirements. Additionally, increases can only happen at the beginning of the rental period.

  • 30 days’ notice is required for increases in rent and fees of less than 10%
  • 60 days’ notice is required for increases in rent and fees of 10% or more

Security Deposits in Seattle

In Seattle, the total amount of security deposits and move-in fees cannot exceed one month of rent. If the total amount of security deposits and move-in fees exceeds 25% of a full month’s rent, the tenant may pay the total amount of the security deposit and move-in fees in installments. Landlords cannot charge extra for installment payments.

  • If the tenancy is six months or longer, the tenant can make six equal monthly payments.
  • If the tenancy is less than six months, the tenant can make four payments of equal duration.
  • If the tenancy is a month-to-month, the tenant can make two payments: the first payment due in the first month and the second payment due the second month.

Last Month’s Rent in Seattle

If a landlord requires the tenant to pay the last month of rent in advance, the tenant can make this payment in installments also. Just as with security deposits, landlords cannot charge extra for installment payments on an advance payment of the last month of rent.

  • If the tenancy is six months or longer, the tenant can make six equal monthly payments.
  • If the tenancy is less than six months, the tenant can make four payments of equal duration.
  • If the tenancy is a month-to-month tenant can make two payments, the first payment due in the first and the second payment due the second month.

Pet Damage Deposit

Landlords can charge a pet damage deposit in addition to a security deposit. The tenant can pay the deposit in three installment payments. However, the deposit must be in the lease or an addendum to the lease. The pet damage deposit cannot exceed 25% of one month of rent.

Move-in Fees

Landlords can also charge move-in fees. Move-in fees cannot exceed 10% of the monthly rent price. Further, the move-in fee cannot exceed the cost of obtaining a tenant screening report, criminal background check, or credit report and the cost of cleaning the rental unit at the end of the lease term.

If a landlord uses a tenant screening report, the cost of the tenant screening report cannot exceed the average cost of a tenant screening report in Seattle. The landlord must provide the tenant with a copy of the report and the name and address of the reporting agency.

Required Seattle Rental Agreement Notices

Landlords must provide the tenant with a summary of Washington and Seattle landlord-tenant law. Landlords can satisfy this requirement by providing a copy of the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections Publication Information for Tenants.

If the landlord fails to provide the tenant with this document, the tenant can terminate the lease by providing the landlord written notice. Also, the landlord could be held liable for damages up to $500 and attorney’s fees. If the landlord did so intentionally, the landlord might be responsible for up to $1,000 worth of damages.

Third-Party Billing Ordinance

If a landlord charges the tenant for utilities provided by the city, the landlord must provide the tenant with the landlord’s billing practices in the rental agreement or separate note.

Washington Landlord-Tenant Law Resources

Below you will find helpful Washington landlord-tenant law resources:

Disclosure Attachments

Disclaimer

This article is designed to convey information, and not to provide legal advice. You should not consider any information in this article to be legal advice. Readers should consider obtaining specific legal advice from an attorney about any decision or course of action contemplated.

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