Washington State Landlord-Tenant Laws Summary

Is there a standard for charging an application fee or holding deposit?

Landlords may not charge an applicant more than the actual costs of a background check. The landlord must provide a receipt to the tenant for fees or deposits charged to hold a dwelling and also give a written description of the conditions under which the deposit may be returned. The landlord must follow the rules listed below when conducting tenant screening.

 

The landlord is required to first notify the applicant in writing, or by posting, of the following:

•What type of information will be accessed to conduct the tenant screening;

•What criteria may result in denial of the application; and

•In the event of a denial, if a consumer report is used, the name and address of the screening company and the applicant’s right to get a free copy of the report and a statement of the applicant's right  to dispute the accuracy of information in the report.

 

Warning: If the landlord does not abide by these requirements they may be held liable to owe tenant a sum of up to but not more than one hundred dollars plus the cost of legal and attorney charges.

 

Is it lawful to set a late fee for unpaid or untimely payments?

If there are any late charges that the landlord intends on imposing they must be stated in the lease and may not be collected unless it is written so.  The fee must not be unreasonable and may be charged each month that rent is in default.


Is it permitted to charge a per day late fee?

There are no stated restrictions regarding the charge of a per day late fee, although, such charges should remain modest.

 

If the tenant sends a bounced check or bad payment can I set a penalty fee?

A landlord may collect reasonable handling fees if not paid within 15 days. The penalty may not exceed $40 or the amount of check, whichever is less. Wash. Rev. Code § 62A.3-515 http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=62A.3-515


 

May I increase the amount of rent charged to my tenant or make changes to provisions in the lease?

If the landlord wants to change the provisions of a month-to-month rental agreement, for example: raising the rent or changing the rules; the tenant must be given at least 30 days notice in writing. (less notice is not allowed under the law.) These changes can only become effective at the beginning of a rental period (the day the rent is due).

 

Rent Increases: The Landlord-Tenant Act does not limit how much the rent can be increased, or how often.  A landlord may never raise the rent in retaliation against a tenant.

If the landlord wishes to convert the rental property to a condominium the tenant must be given a 90-day notice.  

Under a fixed term lease, in most cases, changes cannot be made until the lease ends or unless both landlord and tenant agree to the proposed change.

 

What is the maximum amount I can collect as a security deposit?

There are no restrictions on the maximum amount that may be collected as a security deposit.

 

Are there any special terms regarding the collection of a security deposit?

The laws regarding the collection of a security deposit are found in RCW 59.18.260 http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=59.18.260 .   The landlord must provide an inspection checklist signed by both parties stating the condition and cleanliness of the premises along with the written rental agreement. The conditions under which a deposit may be retained must also be described within the lease. Additionally, the landlord must place the deposit in a trust account within Washington State and give the tenant a receipt indicating the location.

IMPORTANT: If any type of fee or refundable deposit is being paid by the tenant, the rental agreement must be in writing.  In the agreement it must state condition of the premises, which can include walls, floors, any counter or banister tops, appliances supplied by the landlord, blinds or window coverings.  Itemizations of these objects will need to be signed and dated by the landlord and tenant at lease signing.  The tenant has a right to retain a copy of the checklist and if damages fall under normal wear and tear they may not be deducted from the deposit. If this list is not provided along with the signed lease only the landlord is held liable for the damages, and if it is a case that goes to court the winning party may recover court costs and legal fees

 

My tenant has moved out, what do I do with their security deposit?

A landlord is required mail or hand deliver a security deposit return with a record of cost deductions per damaged article, within 14 days after the tenant moves out, to a tenant’s last known address.

According to the Law : http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=59.18.280 , the 14 day period begins on the day that the landlord finds that the tenant has left the rental home or the move out date submitted to the landlord from the renter. The landlord may not refuse or try to deter returning the security deposit as there are considerable consequences.

What is a common problem where security deposits are concerned?

A landlord on occasion may try to take the security deposit to put toward damages that fall under normal wear and tear.  So that things may be appropriately covered items, they must be realistically looked at and evaluated.  An itemized list can help organize deductions as well as proof of damages.  If a landlord tries to claim deductions they must include all of the repair costs along with the itemized list, and they must include any third party that charges for repairs.  

 

How can I end a Washington lease agreement?

A Periodic Lease may be terminated by either party giving the other a written notice at least 20 days prior to the end of the rental period. A Fixed Term Lease generally terminates automatically on the last day of the lease period without any notice required from either party. However, the parties may agree in the lease that the tenant or landlord must give notice of an intent to either continue or end the tenancy.

 

Are there circumstances where I am required to release a tenant from a lease agreement?

As the landlord you may have to release a tenant from the agreement if destruction to the living unit renders it unsafe for living, if the damage is not caused by tenants own actions or If the tenant must do military service. If there is any occurrence of domestic violence,http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=59.18.575, the couple of victims including any family members may be release from the agreement.  Additionally, a tenant may seek release from a rental agreement with the court when a landlord does not abide by the state’s landlord obligations.

 

My tenant has not paid rent, how much notice do I have to give a tenant in order to evict them?

Before a Summons and Complaint for eviction can be filed, a 3 day notice to pay or vacate is required. The day of posting does not count, nor does any day in which the court is not open such as holidays or weekends. After the 3 day notice is served, then a court proceeding can be initiated. If, however there are other violations such as failure to correct a violation of the rental agreement or lease, than a 10 day-written notice to comply or vacate would be necessary.

 

Destruction of property, causing a nuisance, conducting an illegal business or engaging in drug related activities would require a 3 day written notice.

 

How long does the eviction process take?

As with any legal matter, exact timing is almost impossible as it depends on many factors. Overall, with no complications, the eviction process usually takes approximately 4-5 weeks.

 

Can I require the prospective tenant to buy renters insurance?

The landlord may not require the tenant to insure the premises, however, the landlord may encourage the tenant to purchase rental insurance to cover their personal belongings from any damages that may occur.

 

How do I tell if my tenant has “skipped” out of the apartment?

Under the law, abandonment occurs when a tenant has both failed to pay rent PLUS has clearly indicated by words and/or actions an intention not to continue living in the leased premises.

 

What do I do with property left behind?

When the leased premises has been abandoned, the landlord may enter the unit and remove any abandoned property. This property must then be stored in a reasonably secure place. Landlord must send written notice that must be mailed to the tenant specifying where the property is being kept and when it will be sold or disposed of. If the landlord does not have a new address for the tenant, the notice should be mailed to the leased premises so it can be forwarded by the post office.

 

How long must the landlord wait before selling or disposing of the abandoned property?

That depends on the value of the goods. As stated in the written law http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=59.18.312, if the total value of the property is less than $250, the landlord must mail a notice of the sale to the tenant and then wait seven days. Family pictures, keepsakes, and personal papers cannot be sold until 45 days after the landlord mails the notice of abandonment. If the total value of the property is more than $50, the landlord must mail a notice of the sale to the tenant and then wait 45 days. After those 45 days personal papers, family pictures and keepsakes can be sold at the same time as other property. The money raised by the sale of the property gets applied to any money owed to the landlord, such as back rent and the cost of storing and selling the goods. If there is any money left over, the landlord must hold it for the tenant for one year. If it is not claimed within that time, it belongs to the landlord.

Be careful: If a landlord takes a tenant's property and a court later determines there had not actually been an abandonment, the landlord could be ordered to pay the tenant for loss of the property, as well as paying any
court and attorney costs.

Do I have the right to enforce no smoking in my rental property?

A landlord may establish a “No Smoking” policy by providing so in the lease.

 

Do I have to give the tenant notice before I enter the rental property?

In case of an emergency, or if the property has been established as abandoned, the landlord can enter without notice.  A tenant cannot deny the landlord entrance to the rental unit for home inspection, make repairs, decorate, or home improvements, carry out services agreed upon or required for upkeep, or show the rental to tenants, workers or contractors. The Landlord shall not abuse the right of access. The landlord may not enter the dwelling unit without consent unless it is an emergency. Important:To show the leased premises to prospective or actual buyers or tenants, the law says that tenants may not unreasonably refuse to allow the landlord to enter the rental when the landlord has given at least one-day's notice of intent to enter at a specified time. Any provision in a rental agreement which allows the landlord to enter without such notice is not valid under the law.

 

Aside from the lease agreement, are there any additional documents necessary?

Yes, If the leased premises was constructed prior to 1978, the landlord must provide all tenants with the Lead-Based Paint EPA Disclosure and the Lead-Based Paint EPA Pamphlet. The Mold Disclosure must also be provided to tenant.

 

Please Note: All Seattle rental properties must include the addendum The Summary of Washington State and City of Seattle Landlord/Tenant Regulations.

 

Disclosure: The information provided herein is intended as a general discussion of legal issues concerning landlord tenant law. There are now warranties or guarantees of the accuracy of this information. This summary  provided is NOT legal advice or a legal opinion the reader is strongly advised to seek independent counsel for any concerns or specific issues.