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, a landlord may have to do a little more. If you have someone who consistently violates the terms of their rental agreement, eviction may be your best recourse. Here’s a landlord’s guide to the Washington eviction process.
Types of Notices for Termination with Cause
In order to evict a tenant from the rental unit, a landlord must first have a valid reason. Legal reasons for termination include:
- Failure to make rent payments
- Failure to comply with rental agreement terms
- Waste or nuisance
- Committing an illegal act
- Expiration of a lease or rental agreement
Before a landlord can evict a tenant, they must first give them a written notice. The type will vary depending on the cause of eviction. Common notices to vacate are:
A 3-day notice to pay or vacate
Most evictions happen because of nonpayment of rent. This informs the tenant that they have three days to pay their monthly rent due or leave. Failure by the tenant to act within this time frame means that the landlord can proceed with the eviction lawsuit.
10-Day notice to vacate or comply
This notification is given when the tenant violates any of the terms of the lease or rental agreement. This gives tenants 10 days to resolve the lease violation or leave. If the tenant refuses to do either, the landlord can then go ahead and file an eviction lawsuit against them.
3-Day notice for nuisance or waste
This is given to tenants who conduct illegal activities, cause nuisance or litter on the rental premises. Rental owners should only serve this when these lease 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. Rental owners should serve this at least 20 days before the last date of the rental period.
In all these cases, the landlord must not evict a tenant for retaliatory or discriminatory reasons. Otherwise, the tenant has cause to sue you, the landlord, in court.
Types of Notices for Termination Without Cause
If landlords want to terminate a lease agreement without cause, they must wait until the term period expires. In some cases, the Washington eviction laws require a landlord to give the tenant a written notice to move out.
If the tenancy is on a month-to-month basis, landlords must give the tenant a “Notice of Termination of Tenancy.” This is also known as a “20-day Notice”. Once the 20 days have lapsed, a landlord may file a lawsuit.
Here, landlords don’t need to issue notifications to end the tenancy. This is because a fixed term lease agreement expressly specifies when the tenancy ends.
Serving a Proper Notice
According to Washington law, a landlord must serve the notice to evict tenants 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 it with an adult at the rental unit
- By delivering it via certified and regular mail
It’s advisable that as the landlord, 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 Eviction Hearing
In this case, the burden solely lies on the tenant. A show cause hearing requires the tenant to give reasons why eviction proceedings shouldn’t be carried out. If the tenant doesn’t show up to the court hearing, the rental unit returns back to the property owner.
Washington State Tenant’s Defenses to an Eviction
Even when a landlord has a legal cause to evict them from the rental unit, a tenant may still choose to fight an eviction. Common defenses tenants use to fight a notice to vacate 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 in nature or 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
A landlord can only remove a tenant from their unit by winning an eviction lawsuit. And even then, only an authorized person, such as a Washington State law enforcement officer, can perform the eviction.
Washington eviction laws make self-evictions illegal. A landlord cannot:
- Threaten the tenant
- Remove the tenant’s personal belongings from the property
- Padlock the doors and windows
- Shut off utilities
Doing any of these can land a landlord a hefty fine. In some instances, they may be fined up to $500 for each day the tenant’s property is in your possession.
Removal by Writ of Restitution
Assuming the landlord wins the case, the judge will decide how much the tenant owes, including in court costs, the Washington eviction attorney’s 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 the eviction process in Washington 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.