Is your landlord or tenant holding up their end of the bargain?
The Washington Landlord-Tenant Act establishes a comprehensive legal framework that outlines the duties of landlords and tenants, ensuring that both parties are protected and treated fairly. While there are numerous obligations outlined in the Act, this article focuses on the top five landlord and tenant responsibilities in Washington, as well as the steps that can be taken if either party violates these essential duties.
By highlighting these key duties, we hope to provide a foundation for a successful landlord-tenant relationship and guide those who may find themselves in the middle of a dispute.
Top five landlord responsibilities in Washington
Maintaining a harmonious landlord-tenant relationship can be made simpler by understanding the top five landlord responsibilities in Washington, which are essential to maintaining a safe and comfortable living environment for tenants.
- Habitability: Landlords in Washington are legally obligated to provide a habitable living environment for their tenants under the “implied warranty of habitability.” This includes ensuring that the rental property meets basic structural, health, and safety standards, such as providing adequate heating, plumbing, and electrical systems, as well as maintaining clean and sanitary conditions.
- Maintenance and repairs: Landlords are responsible for maintaining their rental properties in good repair, which includes addressing necessary repairs in a timely manner. Depending on the repair that needs to be made, timely could mean 24 or 72 hours, but, in any case, no more than 10 days.
- Security deposit safeguarding: Landlords are required to manage security deposits appropriately, which includes providing written notice detailing the terms and conditions of the deposit, holding the deposit in a separate account, and returning the deposit within 21 days of the tenant vacating the property, minus any deductions for damages or unpaid rent.
- Notice requirements: The Washington Landlord-Tenant Act requires that landlords provide tenants with appropriate notice in certain situations, such as when rent is going to increase (for month-to-month rentals), when the landlord needs to enter the premises, and when the landlord seeks to terminate the tenancy. The notice must be given in writing and within the specified timeframes outlined in the Act.
- Non-discrimination: Landlords in Washington must adhere to fair housing laws, which prohibit discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. For example, landlords cannot refuse to rent, impose different terms or conditions, or otherwise treat tenants unfairly based on these protected characteristics.
Top five tenant responsibilities in Washington
Landlord-tenant law articles online tend to focus on something the landlord did or did not do. Often lost in the shuffle is the fact that tenants have certain responsibilities. Here are five of the most important tenant duties:
- Timely rent payment: Tenants are contractually obligated to pay their rent on time. Failure to pay rent in a timely manner may lead to late fees or eviction proceedings. Tenants should check the language in their rental agreement if they have questions about when rent is due and how it should be paid.
- Maintain a clean and sanitary environment: Tenants are responsible for keeping their rental unit clean and sanitary, and for disposing of garbage in a proper manner.
- Reporting maintenance and repair needs: Tenants must promptly notify their landlord in writing of any maintenance or repair needs within the rental property. Prompt notification allows the landlord to address issues in a timely manner. What’s more, written notification is crucial if the tenant needs to take legal action down the road.
- Avoid damaging the property: Tenants have a duty to avoid causing damage to the rental property beyond “normal wear and tear.” The Washington Landlord-Tenant Act does not provide a specific definition of “normal wear and tear,” but the term typically refers to deterioration that occurs from the intended use of the rental unit and without negligence, carelessness, accident, misuse, or abuse of the premises or contents.
- Follow any rules outlined in the rental agreement: Tenants are required to adhere to the terms and conditions outlined in their rental agreement, as well as any rules established by the landlord for the property. This may include restrictions on smoking, noise levels, pets, or alterations to the rental unit. Failure to comply with the rental agreement or property rules may result in penalties or termination of the rental agreement.
Legal options for landlords and tenants
If a landlord or tenant breaches a duty under the Washington Landlord-Tenant Act, there are several legal options available for both parties to address the issue:
- Communication and negotiation: The first step in resolving any dispute should be open communication and negotiation between the landlord and tenant. Ideally, the issue can be resolved without legal action.
- Written Notice: If open communication fails to resolve the issue, the aggrieved party can serve a written notice outlining the breach and requesting compliance. For example, if a tenant fails to pay rent, a landlord may issue a 14-day notice to pay or vacate. If a landlord fails to make necessary repairs, a tenant may provide written notice demanding the repairs be made within a reasonable timeframe.
Whenever you send a notice to your landlord or tenant, be sure to send it “certified mail with a return receipt requested.” Doing so will ensure you have proof that the notice was received.
- Mediation: Landlords and tenants may choose to engage in mediation to resolve disputes. Mediation can be more cost-effective than litigation. There is, however, no guarantee the other party will agree to mediation.
- Legal action: If other methods fail to resolve the issue, the aggrieved party may pursue legal action in district court. For landlords, this may involve filing an unlawful detainer (eviction) lawsuit if the tenant fails to remedy the breach. Tenants may file a lawsuit against their landlord for damages, rent abatement, or other remedies if the landlord fails to fulfill their legal duties.
- Contacting local housing authorities or agencies: In certain cases, tenants may seek assistance from local housing authorities or agencies. You can find a list of resources on the Washington State Office of the Attorney General website.