Apprising yourself of the relevant state laws in Washington governing landlords and tenants will serve you well in your endeavors as a landlord. In this article, we’ll summarize some of the more common statutes and regulations, however, rather than relying upon the internet for advice, you should always engage legal counsel when you have a significant concern involving the law.
Laws and statutes change frequently, so if you have a pressing legal problem, we strongly advise consulting the appropriate governmental agency and/or a qualified attorney. If you need help locating an experienced lawyer, the Washington Bar Association is a good place to start your search for one.
Among the most common areas with which you should be familiar are:
The State of Washington imposes no maximum amount for security deposits and landlords are free to earn interest on them. However, they must be held in a specific account separate from all others. Landlords can also impose non-refundable fees, as long as they are designated as such in the rental or lease agreement. Pet deposits are permitted as well.
A landlord must provide a written lease or rental agreement containing a checklist noting the condition of all items covered by the deposit when a security deposit is collected. Both the landlord and the tenant must sign this checklist and the tenant must be provided with a copy of it after signing.
The tenant must also be given a receipt for their security deposit, containing the name and address of the location where it is to be held. The tenant must be notified and apprised of the new location if it changes during the period covered by the lease/rental agreement. Landlords must provide an itemized list of damages and charges to justify withholding a security deposit.
Landlords can be held liable for the entire amount if they do not comply with the above. If the case goes to court for remedy and they lose they must also pay court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.
Rents, Fees and Lease Payments
Rent payment due dates are not governed by statute in the State of Washington, but they must be specifically defined in the rental/lease agreement. If a subsequent rent increase is to be imposed, the landlord must provide the tenant 30-days’ written notice in month-to-month leases. Grace periods, late fees and prepaid rent are not governed by statute. Landlords are free to establish their own, but they must be specifically defined in the lease/rental agreement.
Bounced check fees of up to $40 or the face value of the check can be imposed—whichever is less. Tenants can withhold rent payments if the landlord fails to provide essential services such as water and heat. Government authorities must be notified in these instances and withheld payments must be placed in an escrow account.
Tenants can deduct the cost of maintenance and repairs from rent payments, but they must provide the landlord with a written estimate if the work requires a licensed professional. The cost cannot exceed two months’ rent. If the tenant can conduct the repair personally, the cost cannot exceed one months’ rent, nor can costs exceed one months’ rent over any 12-month period.
Terminating Leases/Evictions/Entry Notice
Fixed-end leases expire without notice, but month-to-month tenants are entitled to 20 days’ notice—unless they are in the military and are ordered to deploy.
Squatters are liable for rent dating back to the time of their initial possession and must surrender the property when asked to do so by the owner.
Evictions for non-payment of rent must be preceded by three days’ notice to give the tenant time to get the money together. Tenants are entitled to 10 days’ notice before eviction for lease violations, except for illegal or nuisance activities, in which case they are to be afforded only three days.
Before entering a unit to show it to a prospective tenant, landlords must provide one day’s notice. In the event of an emergency, no notice is required. Lockouts are not permitted; neither are utility shutoffs. If they occur, landlords can be held liable for actual damages plus $100 a day—in addition to court costs and lawyer fees if the legal system becomes involved.
For more of Washington’s rules and regulations, download Your Rights as a Tenant in Washington State.