Evicting a tenant is not a pleasant process but sometimes a necessary one when there is outright refusal to abide by Washington State laws. Eviction might be the only option left for a property manager with their uncooperative tenant.
That is why it is important to equip yourself with as much knowledge as possible having to do with the state’s landlord-tenant laws.
Initial Steps for Tenant Eviction
The first action in the Washington State eviction process involves the landlord serving the tenant with an eviction notice form. The eviction notice in Washington is known as a “3-Day Notice to Pay Rent of Vacate.” This applies if the landlord is evicting for non-payment of rent – the most common reason. If the landlord is evicting the tenant for breaking the rules in the rental agreement (unauthorized pets, etc.), then the landlord needs to serve the tenant with a 14-Day Notice to Comply or Vacate.
If the landlord opts to not renew the lease with a tenant, he needs to give the tenant a 20-Day Notice to Terminate Tenancy – and this must be delivered to the tenant at least 20 days before the end of the lease.
Curable & Non-Curable Violations
Another common reason for tenant eviction is a gross lease violation. Washington categorizes these violations into two types: curable and non-curable. An example of a curable violation is if the tenant is subletting or making alterations to the property without permission.
For curable violations, the law mandates that a landlord serves a 10-Day Notice to Comply. This, in essence, gives the tenant 10 days to cure or correct the violation or the tenant will be evicted.
As for non-curable violations, these are serious violations that do not have the alternative of curing. Examples of these more severe violations include conducting illegal businesses and engaging in criminal activities. In these instances, you as the property owner must serve the tenant with a 3-Day Notice to Quit. That provides the tenant with three days to move out or else face an eviction.
Serving the Eviction Notice
In Washington State, the landlord needs to initially serve or deliver the eviction notice to the tenant in person. If the tenant is not at home, the landlord can leave the notice with someone at the property. The landlord must mail a copy – you must do both to make this effective. If the tenant is not at the property, the landlord can also post the notice on the property and mail it – and make sure you do both. It is normally ideal for the landlord and a witness to personally serve the notice on the tenant.
In the majority of cases, tenants will cooperate with the eviction notices by curing the violation or moving out. It is then that the landlord must determine whether to return the tenant’s security deposit. Regardless, there will be some tenants who will not leave the premises until judgement is rendered by the court. For the latter case, as the landlord, you will need to file the complaint and summons with the court.
The court clerk will give you two copies: one for you and one for the tenant. After you have served the tenant their copy, they will have seven days to respond to the accusation. If the tenant decides to challenge their eviction, they will need to do so within seven days.
There are some common eviction defenses that tenants in Washington can present:
- A claim by the defendant that the landlord is discriminating against them. The Federal Fair Housing Act criminalizes any act of discrimination against a tenant based on protected characteristics. These characteristics are: race, gender, familial status, national origin, disability, and religion.
Washington State also includes military status, gender expression or identity, and sexual orientation on its list of protected classes.
- You are retaliating against them for exercising their legal right. Retaliating against a tenant is illegal, as is discrimination. Some retaliatory acts could include: increasing the rent, refusing to renew the lease, cancelling cable access, removing laundry facilities, or draining the pool.
Every tenant in Washington State has a right to join or organize a tenant union, to withhold rent entirely for an uninhabitable unit, to withhold money from rent for repairs, and to complain to authorities for subpar living conditions.
- The unit you have provided is uninhabitable. You cannot evict a tenant for exercising their right to refuse to pay rent until you fix a maintenance problem.
It is your responsibility as a landlord to maintain the property according to the requirements established by law. For example, you are held accountable for all electrical, heating, and plumbing, and for ensuring all appliances you have supplied operate properly.
- You did not adhere to the correct eviction procedure. Your tenant can also cite your ignorance of the law as a defense in court. Failing to provide the right eviction notice or failing to provide a notice altogether are typical mistakes.
Landlords can take solace in the fact that these measures might only delay the eviction process, but not stop it.
- You used “self-help” means to evict the tenant. The only legitimate way to evict a tenant is by adhering to due process as set forth under the law. It is not legal for you as the landlord to take it upon yourself to, for example, change the locks or shut off the utilities.
If you take either of these or similar actions, your tenant could come back and sue you for damages caused.
Court Hearing & Judgement
A court hearing can only be scheduled after the tenant responds to the eviction notice. Washington State is not specific about when a hearing must be conducted. Generally, it depends on the schedule of the court.
If your tenant opts to not be present for the court hearing, then no hearing will be held and you will win by default.
Both you and the tenant will have the choice of requesting a trail by jury. A disadvantage of this option is that it will only lengthen the legal process.
If the judge rules in the landlord’s favor, the court will then issue a writ of restitution. This gives a sheriff the authority to forcefully remove a tenant from a property.
Be aware that an eviction process can be a lengthy, laborious, and costly process. For you to succeed, you, as the landlord, will need time, money, and a thorough understanding of the Washington statues.
Full-Service Property Management with Jerry D. Abrams Company, Inc.
Jerry D. Abrams Company, Inc. manages several commercial properties throughout the Tri-Cities. We aggressively work toward reducing operating expenses and increasing cash flow for our clients. Our objectives include performance excellence, professionalism, communication, responsive/personal service, and attention to detail.
At Jerry D. Abrams Company, Inc. we specialize in the management of Commercial Buildings, Rental Homes, Apartment Complexes, and Homeowner Associations.