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Learn the important laws every Washington landlord and tenant should know
Imagine waking up one morning to find your apartment infested with rodents, or receiving an unexpected eviction notice just as you've settled into your dream home.
Washington landlord-tenant laws exist to safeguard the interests of both parties to a rental agreement, ensuring that landlords and tenants enjoy a harmonious, trouble-free living experience.
Here’s a look at some of the key landlord-tenant laws in Washington and how they might affect your living situation.
Your landlord will require you to sign a rental agreement before moving into a rental unit. There are two main types of rental agreements in Washington:
|Month-to-month rental agreements||Fixed-term rental agreements|
All residential rental agreements in Washington must adhere to the Washington Landlord-Tenant Act. Here are some examples of language that would violate the Act:
- Your rental agreement cannot make you give up your right to defend yourself in court.
- Your rental agreement cannot require you to pay your landlord’s fees in court, even if you win.
- Your rental agreement cannot allow the landlord to take your things if you fall behind in rent.
- Your rental agreement cannot require you to pay for damages that are not your fault.
A security deposit is a sum of money that a tenant pays to the landlord before moving into a rental unit. It serves as a form of financial protection for the landlord in case the tenant fails to fulfill their obligations under the rental agreement. These obligations can include paying rent, covering the costs of repairs for damages caused to the property, or cleaning the unit when vacating.
The security deposit is typically equivalent to one or two months' rent, although the specific amount can vary depending on local laws and regulations.
Once the tenant's lease ends and they move out, the landlord is required to return the security deposit minus any deductions for unpaid rent, damages, or other expenses outlined in the rental agreement.
Washington law bars landlords from keeping any part of the deposit for wear resulting from ordinary use (i.e., reasonable wear and tear).
If a tenant makes a security deposit, Washington law requires the landlord to give the tenant the following:
- A receipt for the deposit
- A written rental agreement
- A checklist or statement describing the rental unit’s condition (this must be signed by the tenant and the landlord)
- The name and address of the bank where the landlord is keeping the security deposit
Washington landlord responsibilities
Landlords have certain responsibilities under the Washington Landlord-Tenant Act.
Under the Act, landlords must:
- Maintain the rental unit so it doesn’t violate state and local laws in ways that endanger your health and safety.
- Maintain the structural components of a rental property.
- Provide a reasonable program for the control of infestation by insects, rodents, and other pests.
- Make repairs when something breaks in the unit, except if it is caused by normal wear and tear.
- Provide reasonably adequate locks and furnish keys to the tenant.
- Maintain all electrical, plumbing, heating, and other facilities and appliances supplied by him or her in reasonably good working order.
- Provide smoke detectors and make sure they work when you move in.
- Fix electrical, plumbing, and heating systems if they break.
- Make repairs needed so the house is weather-tight.
Washington tenant responsibilities
As a tenant, you may be focused on all of the things your landlord is required to do. But tenants have obligations too. Your responsibilities can be broken down into things you must do and things you must not do.
As a tenant in Washington, you must:
- Pay rent and any utilities agreed upon
- Keep the rental unit clean and sanitary
- Dispose of all trash properly
- Properly use plumbing, electrical, and heating systems
- Restore the rental unit to the same condition as when you moved in (with the exception of normal wear and tear)
As a tenant in Washington, you must NOT:
- Engage in gang activity, drug activity, or any other criminal activity on the property
- Allow damage to the property
- Allow a significant amount of garbage to collect in or around the rental unit
- Cause a nuisance or substantial interference with other tenants’ use of their property
- Allow guests to engage in any prohibited activity
Rental unit repairs
Landlords in Washington have a responsibility to keep an apartment habitable. This responsibility is grounded in the legal principle of the "implied warranty of habitability," which mandates that rental properties be maintained in a safe and livable condition. This obligation includes providing essential services such as adequate heating, plumbing, electricity, and sanitation, as well as ensuring the structural integrity of the building. In addition, landlords must make major repairs within a reasonable period of time.
If you have repairs that you need your landlord to make, take the following steps:
- Write a letter: Write the landlord a letter describing the problem and what needs to be fixed. Be sure to send the letter “certified mail with a return receipt requested,” so there’s proof the landlord received the letter.
- Wait for the repair: Wait for the landlord to fix the problem. You have to give your landlord a reasonable amount of time to fix the problem. Under the law, the amount of time you need to give your landlord depends on the nature of the problem.
If your landlord doesn’t make the repair within a reasonable amount of time, you typically have three options:
- Move out: You may be able to move out of your apartment if your landlord doesn’t make the required repairs within a reasonable period of time. You need to provide your landlord with a letter notifying them that you’re moving out due to their failure to fix the problem.
- Go to mediation (if the landlord agrees) or court: You can hire a lawyer and go to court or mediation in order to force the landlord to make repairs.
- Repair and deduct: You may be able to repair the problem yourself and deduct the cost from your rent payment. There are some specific steps you must follow if you go this route, so it’s a good idea to talk to an attorney before you repair the problem and deduct the amount of the repair from your rent.
Does my landlord have a right to enter my apartment?
Typically, a landlord is required to provide a minimum of two days' written notification prior to entering a tenant's rental property for the purposes of conducting repairs or inspections. If the intention is to showcase the rental unit to prospective tenants or buyers, a one-day written notice is generally sufficient. However, in emergency situations or instances of abandonment, landlords may access the property without prior notice.
Tenants should not unreasonably deny a landlord's access to perform necessary maintenance, improvements, or services. Conversely, landlords are not permitted to enter a tenant's unit with the intention of harassment.
Landlords must have a legal reason for evicting a tenant. The two most common legally acceptable reasons for evicting a tenant are as follows:
- Failure to pay rent: If you’re behind in rent, even by one day, your landlord can give you a 14-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Vacate.
- Failure to follow the rental agreement: If you substantially break a material term of the rental agreement, your landlord can give you a 10-day notice. If you remedy the problem within 10 days, your landlord must stop the eviction process.
There are a handful of additional reasons your landlord can make you leave your rental unit. For example:
- Lying on your rental application
- Engaging in criminal activity
- Damaging rental property
- Interfering with another tenant’s use of their property
If you refuse to leave your rental unit, your landlord can start a legal proceeding called an Unlawful Detainer Action. To start the process, your landlord must deliver a Summons and Complaint to you.
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