Washington Eviction Law

Posted by Christopher Berkompas in Washington

Note: I am not a lawyer, and this is not intended as legal advice.

Under what circumstances may a tenant be evicted?

A landlord may terminate a month-to-month lease for any reason by giving the tenant notice a minimum of 20 days prior to the end of the month.  However, he may not do so if he is acting in retaliation for a repair request on the part of the tenant.  He may also seek to evict the tenant prior to the end of the lease, but only if the tenant has violated the rental agreement.

What is the process for evicting a tenant?

First, the landlord must notify the tenant at least three days in advance to leave the property.  If the tenant refuses the leave, the landlord may file an "unlawful detainer" lawsuit with the local court, asking that the tenant be evicted and stating his reasons.  The tenant will then be served papers, to which he has to respond in writing, or the landlord will win the case by default.  At trial, the court will hear both sides of evidence, and usually will render judgment within a short period of time.  When a tenant is being evicted because of a rule excluding children or because of conversion to condominiums, 90 days' notice is required.

If the tenant wins, he will be allowed to remain and continue under the terms of the lease agreement as before.  On the other hand, if the landlord wins the case, the tenant will be ordered to leave the rental property.  If he fails to do so, the landlord may obtain a writ of possession, which will allow the local sheriff to forcibly remove him.  It is important to note that the landlord may only evict the tenant through the sheriff.


How are landlords supposed to deal with tenant belongings left behind?

If the landlord obtains a writ of possession, and the sheriff ultimately has to remove the tenant from the property, the sheriff may also remove the tenant's belongings or have the landlord store them. In the latter case, the landlord may charge the tenant a reasonable storage fee.  If the tenant does not reclaim his belongings, the landlord must mail him a reminder to do so, and then can sell them at auction.

Can the landlord shut off utilities or lock a tenant out prior to the completion of the eviction process?

Not if his purpose is to inconvenience the tenant in hopes of getting rid of him.  The landlord cannot physically remove or lock out the tenant himself; he must go through a court of law.  Key utilities, such as water and electricity may also not be turned off except if necessary to conduct a truly necessary repair, or in the case of a real emergency.

Are landlords required to let tenants know why they are being evicted?

When terminating a month-to-month lease, a landlord normally does not have to give the tenant a reason for the termination.  However, some cities (such as Seattle) may require that the landlord have "just cause" in order to do so.

However, when the landlord's goal is the eviction of the tenant, due to failure to pay rent, the landlord should inform the tenant of the following in his 3-day advance notice:

  • The amount of rent owed.
  • The name, address and telephone number of the person to whom the rent must be paid.  Optionally, the notice may state the name, street address and account number of the financial institution where the rent payment may be made.
  • If the payment must be made in person, the usual days and hours that the person is available to receive the rent payment.

The reason the landlord should include this information is to allow the tenant a last chance to pay his due before starting the legal process of eviction.  Essentially, the landlord must give the tenant a chance to address his violation, if possible.

Is it legal for the landlord to deduct legal fees and court costs from the security deposit?

No.  The security deposit can only be used to repair the property or be applied against back rent if the tenant abandons or is evicted from the property.

Can the landlord try to collect unpaid rent for the rest of the time left in the lease?

The court may force the tenant to pay back rent, court costs, and the landlord's attorney's fees.  However, only the court can impose these penalties, and if it chooses not to do so, the landlord may not attempt to collect on his own.


  1. Seattle Just Cause Eviction Ordinance
  2. Washington State Bar Association
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