As a landlord, you'll have to deal with troublesome tenants in your rental property every now and then. Most tenant troubles can be solved with a reprimand or two.
With some tenants, however, you may have to do a little more. If you have someone who consistently violates the terms of their lease agreement, eviction may be your best recourse. Here's a landlord's guide to the eviction process in Washington State.
Types of Eviction Notices in Washington State for Termination with Cause
In order to evict a tenant, you must first have a valid reason. Legal reasons for termination include:
- Nonpayment of rent
- Failure to comply with a lease term
- Waste or nuisance
- Committing an illegal act
- Expiration of a lease
Before you evict a tenant, you must first give them a notice. The type of notice will vary depending on the cause of eviction. Common notices to vacate are:
A 3-day notice to pay or move out
Most evictions happen because of nonpayment of rent. A 3-day notice informs the tenant that they have three days to pay their rent due or leave. Failure by the tenant to act within this time frame means that you can proceed with the eviction lawsuit.
10-Day notice to comply or vacate
This notice is given when the tenant violates any of the terms of the lease agreement. The notice gives tenants 10 days to resolve the violation or leave. If the tenant refuses to do either, you can then go ahead and file an eviction lawsuit against them.
3-Day notice for nuisance or waste
This notice is given to tenants who conduct illegal activities, cause nuisance or litter on the property. You should only serve this notice when these violations are severe enough to warrant an eviction. For example, a tenant who's had multiple arrests can be considered a nuisance.
20-Day notice to terminate a tenancy
In Washington, the eviction notice is 20 days for month-to-month leases. You should serve this notice at least 20 days before the last date of the rental period.
In all these cases, you must not evict a tenant if it's for retaliatory or discriminatory reasons. Otherwise, the tenant has cause to sue you in court.
Types of Eviction Notices in Washington State for Termination Without Cause
If you want to terminate a lease agreement without cause, you must wait until the lease term expires. In some cases, the Washington state eviction laws require you to give the tenant a written notice to move out.
If the tenancy is on a month-to-month basis, you must give the tenant a "Notice of Termination of Tenancy." This notice is also known as a "20-day Eviction Notice" in Washington State. Once the 20 days have lapsed, you may file a lawsuit.
Here, you don't need to issue a notice to end the tenancy. This is because a fixed term lease agreement expressly specifies when the tenancy ends.
Serving an Eviction Notice in Washington State
In Washington, you must serve the notice in one of the following ways:
- Personal delivery to the tenant
- Delivering to the tenant via an employee, manager or another adult
- By personally leaving the notice with an adult at the rental unit
- By delivering it via certified and regular mail
It's advisable that you personally serve the notice to a tenant in the presence of a witness.
Serving a Summons and Complaint
Unlike an eviction notice, a summons and complaint cannot be served to the tenant personally. Instead, it can only be served by a neutral third party like a sheriff.
After receiving the summons, a tenant must file a written response within a specified period. In Washington, tenants have one week to do it. Otherwise, they automatically lose the eviction case.
Show Cause Hearing
In this case, the burden solely lies on the tenant. A show cause hearing requires the tenant to give reasons why an eviction shouldn't be carried out. If the tenant fails to show up in court, the property returns back to you.
Tenant's Defenses to an Eviction in Washington State
Even when you have a legal cause to evict them, a tenant may still choose to fight an eviction. Common defenses tenants use to fight a notice to vacate in Washington State include:
- The allegations are false.
- The lease provision allegedly violated is unreasonable.
- The breach of a lease provision isn't substantial enough to warrant an eviction.
- The notice was improper.
- The notice was improperly served.
- The eviction violates the Fair Housing Act.
- The eviction is a retaliatory act.
- The landlord waived the eviction by accepting any part of the rent.
Removal of the Tenant from the Washington Property
You can only remove a tenant from your property by winning an eviction lawsuit. And even then, only an authorized person, such as a law enforcement officer, can perform the eviction.
Washington state eviction laws make self-evictions illegal. You cannot:
- Threaten the tenant
- Remove the tenant's personal belongings
- Padlock the doors and windows
- Shut off utilities
Doing any of these can land you a hefty fine. In some instances, you may be fined up to $500 for each day the tenant's property is in your possession.
Removal by Writ of Restitution
Assuming you win the case, the judge will decide how much the tenant owes, including court costs, attorney fees, and rent.
Once a writ of restitution is served, the tenant will only have 3 or 4 days to vacate. If the tenant fails to move out within that timeframe, the sheriff will carry out the eviction.
The Washington landlord-tenant laws require you to store any property that's left behind after an eviction. Any hauling and storage costs will be shouldered by the tenant.
When dealing with problematic tenants, there are times when eviction is your best course. If that's the case for you right now, keep the tips above in mind, and you'll do just fine.
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