Washington landlord-tenant laws ensure that the interactions between landowners and leaseholders follow the laid down procedures and do not violate the rights of either party.
The Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA) is the main source of regulations that govern housing in Washington but there are additional laws such as the Fair Housing Act.
Washington State Rental Agreement
A lease or rental agreement is a verbal or written contract between a landlord and a tenant to let out a property.
The rental agreement gives the tenant the right to temporal use of the property in exchange for rent payment.
A written rental agreement is better than a verbal one because it provides evidence of the negotiations. These laws also impose certain restrictions and provide remedies for default.
The contents of a lease are explained below.
The landlord's responsibilities include:
- Ensuring that the building meets all building codes and regulations.
- Regularly maintaining the roof, walls, and structural components of the property.
- Keeping common areas reasonably clean and safe
- Implementing a pest control program.
- Providing necessary facilities for the supply of heat, electricity, and hot and cold water.
- Installing adequate locks to ensure security.
- Maintaining any appliances that are provided.
- Complying with local and state laws.
In the event that the landlord fails to fulfill these obligations, the tenant may use state or federal laws to:
- Terminate the rental agreement and vacate the premises after providing written notice to the landlord.
- Initiate legal or arbitration proceedings against the landlord.
- Make limited repairs to the property and deduct the cost from the month's rent amount.
The tenant is responsible for:
- Paying rent
- Keeping the property clean and sanitary
- Preventing any damage to the unit
- Proper disposal of garbage
- Using fixtures and appliances appropriately
- Restoring the property to its original state (excluding overuse)
- Adhering to the terms of the rental agreement.
Failure to meet these obligations may result in eviction by the landlord. In cases where the tenant neglects to take care of the property, the landlord may:
- Evict the tenant
- Carry out necessary repairs and charge the tenant
- Take legal action to claim damages or enforce compliance with the rental agreement.
Can Landlords Tell Tenants How to Pay Rent in Washington?
Recent changes in Washington's rental payment regulations prohibit landlords from dictating how tenants pay their rent.
Previously, landlords could insist on electronic payments, but this law was repealed in June 2022. Landlords must now accept rent payments through methods such as rent checks, cashier's checks, or money orders.
However, a tenant may be forced to pay electronically if their rent check has bounced within the last nine months.
Terminating a Tenancy
If the tenant violates his or her obligations, the landlord may revoke the contract by activating eviction orders.
There are laid down procedures that a landlord must adhere to before terminating a tenancy. For a periodic tenancy, a landlord must issue a written notice at least 20 days before the month's end.
If a landlord must evict a tenant because of condominium conversion, a 90-day notice is required.
If a tenant vacates without giving proper notice, litigation may be issued to compel the tenant to pay rent for the remainder of the rental period.
Terminating Lease Due To Domestic Violence or Threatening Behavior
Under Washington tenant laws, a tenant has the legal right to terminate the lease agreement owing to domestic violence, harassment, sexual assault, or stalking without incurring a penalty. The tenant should file for termination of the lease within 90 days of the unlawful incident.
If a tenant has a protection order, they may request the landlord to change locks in order to prevent an abuser from accessing the tenant's property.
A tenant may also terminate a lease due to threatening behavior from another tenant.
Under this clause, the tenant is exempted from paying rent for any period following the date of departure. They must also receive a prorated refund of any rent that was paid in advance.
Washington Late Fees and Other Lease Agreement Rules
The rental agreements and terms are binding once both parties have agreed to them, and cannot be changed until the rental period ends.
However, for a periodic tenancy, the rules can be revised with a written notice of 30 days. Rent increases cannot be used for retaliatory actions against tenants who exercise their lawful rights.
The landlord can only impose a late payment fine if the rental agreement has such a provision.
Illegal Actions by the Landlord
It is unlawful for landlords to:
- Lock tenants out of their rented premises
- Confiscate a tenant's property due to unpaid rent (unless the landlord finds the rental unit abandoned)
- Cancel tenants' amenity services knowingly
Under state law, landlords cannot terminate a tenancy, increase rent, or alter other terms of the lease in order to take retaliatory actions against tenants who assert their rights under the landlord-tenant act or report violations of housing laws.
The Federal Fair Housing Act forbids bias in the housing sector based on race or color, religion, sex, national origin, familial, status, or disability.
Local laws prohibit landlords from discriminating against age, marital status, physical or mental disability, personal appearance, sexual orientation, family responsibilities, political beliefs, criminal history, source of income, and more.
Security Deposits, Condition Check-in List, and Nonrefundable Fees
Landlords can request security deposits as a commitment from the tenant to fulfill their rental commitments. However, these charges must not be discriminatory or used as a means of seeking revenge against the tenant.
If a deposit or non-reimbursable fee is charged, the terms and specifications should be stated clearly. When a prospective tenant first pays a security deposit, the landlord should provide a condition check-in list that accurately describes the current state of the unit.
The Security deposit is put into a trust, bank, or licensed escrow account and the tenant is provided with a receipt and details of the account. However, any interest earned goes to the landlord.
Once the tenant moves out the landlord has 14 days to return the deposit or provide a written explanation for its non-refund failure to do so will result in the full amount of the deposit being paid out to the tenant, any disputes between the landlord and the tenant notwithstanding.
Normal wear cannot be used as a justification for withholding a deposit
Repairs and Maintenance
The primary burden of carrying out repair and maintenance tasks rests with the landlord. This includes repairing damage caused by natural disasters or third parties.
To ease the financial burden of damage by natural calamities, landlords are advised to take out a windstorm, hail, & lightning cover. They should insure against rent loss during repairs with loss of rent cover.
The landlord must maintain cleanliness and safety in common areas while ensuring that amenities and appliances are accessible and functioning properly.
Tenants also have some responsibilities which include:
- Ensuring that rental units are kept clean and safe.
- Prohibiting deliberate or negligent destruction or removal of any part of the property.
- Notifying the landlord in writing when major repairs are needed.
Unless circumstances are beyond the landlord's control, there are specific timeframes for making repairs:
- 24 hours for restoring lost heat or water, or addressing conditions that pose an imminent hazard to life.
- 24 hours for providing hot or cold water, heat, or electricity.
- 72 hours for repairing major plumbing fixtures, as well as the refrigerator, range, and oven if supplied by the landlord.
- Not more than 10 days for other repairs
Withholding Rent for Repairs
Tenants are not legally entitled to withhold rent, except in cases where they have the right to make minor repairs and deduct the cost from their rent.
The maximum cost for each repair should be specified while tenants must provide reasonable notice to their landlord before undertaking any repairs.
Landlord Access to Rental Property
A landlord may enter the premises with the consent of the tenant to:
- inspect the premises
- make repairs
- supply necessary or agreed services
- show the facility to purchasers, prospective tenants, or contractors.
A two-day notice should be given to tenants while entry is restricted to reasonable times. The landlord may enter the premises without the tenant’s permission when:
- There’s an emergency
- The tenant abandons the premises
- The landlord obtains a court order.
Landlords are prohibited from accessing the premises to harass a tenant.
Landlords have the authority to disallow pets on the premises or establish their own guidelines and restrictions regarding pets. For instance, they may require tenants to have references or charge extra fees to cover the costs of specialized cleaning.
An eviction or an unlawful detainer is the process a landlord takes to remove a tenant from a rental unit.
To justify unlawful detainer action, the landlord must first have a legal reason, such as failure of the tenant to pay rent, violating the rental agreement, or committing an illegal act.
- The eviction process begins with the landlord serving the tenant with the appropriate eviction notice, depending on the reason for eviction. This includes a three-day notice to pay rent or quit, a ten-day notice to Cure or quit, or an Unconditional Quit Notice.
- If the tenant fails to comply with the notice, the landlord must file an unlawful detainer lawsuit in a small claims court to eject the tenant.
- The tenant can file a countersuit if they dispute the unlawful retainer
- If the tenant loses the court hearing, the sheriff will be ordered to start the eviction process and physically remove the tenant and their belongings from the rental unit.
How can Landlords Protect Themselves From Financial Loss?
Although Washington landlords have legal options to address tenant vandalism, insurance coverage is not included in these options. It's important for landlords to note that Washington is not a landlord-friendly state, which means tenants have more power in disputes.
To protect their rental property, landlords should consider comprehensive insurance coverage that covers risks like vandalism, burglary, windstorms, hail, and more.
Contact the local landlord insurance experts to a get personalized insurance policy that protects landlords from financial loss and unexpected repair costs.