As a landlord in Washington, you have a minefield of different tenant rights you must be careful not to step on. Many of these rights may seem obvious, while others are more technical. Violations of tenant rights can result in lawsuits, actual damages, and even the tenant's attorney fees.
Knowing what rights a tenant has during the eviction process is crucial to protecting your rights as a landlord, saving you a huge headache and a lot of money.
With the help of an experienced Washington eviction attorney, you can evict a tenant with confidence, and know that you will not violate any of your tenant's rights.
Eviction/Unlawful Detainer Actions
In Washington, evictions are formally referred to as unlawful detainer actions. Landlords must follow the strict and specific process to evict a tenant set forth under Washington law. Failure to follow the appropriate steps for an unlawful detainer action or violating a tenant's rights may result in the failure to evict the tenant, paying damages to the tenant, and/or paying the tenant's attorney fees. These costs can add up quickly, but understanding the tenant's rights will help you avoid the pitfalls of this issue.
Tenant Rights During an Eviction
Following the Eviction Timeline
An eviction action follows a very specific timeline and has very specific requirements. The actual requirements are discussed on my Process of Evicting a Tenant page. However, it is very important for a Camas landlord to stick to the timeline and especially not rush past the court's orders.
A typical eviction takes two to three weeks to complete, so rushing the timeline will only further complicate your life and the problems you face. Further, there is specific timing as to when you may file a complaint about unlawful detainer, when answers are due, and what evidence may be presented at the eviction trial.
However, with experienced legal help, you can set these worries aside and rely on your attorney's advice.
The Fourteen-Day Notice
A fourteen-day notice is a document informing tenants that the landlord intends to file an eviction action against them for failing to pay rent. This notice is often called a "14-day Notice to Pay or Vacate". Rent is now defined to include recurring charges in the rental agreement and utilities. The definition excludes non-recurring charges such as, but not limited to, damage fees, late fees, and attorneys' fees. Security deposit payment plans are specifically allowed under the definition of rent. According to RCW 59.12.040, the notice must be served by
- leaving the notice with the tenant in person, or
- leaving it with another person of "suitable age and discretion within the household" if the tenant is not home, or
- posting it on the door and mailing a copy of the notice to the tenant (*if you mail a copy of the notice to the tenant you must allow an extra day for mail, effectively making it a "fifteen-day notice.")
Following the notice requirements is important if you want a tenant to leave the premises. If the tenant comes up with the entire amount of the rent within the fourteen-day period, including any applicable late fees, the landlord is required to accept payment. Partial payments do not have to be accepted by the landlord.
A tenant does not have to move out within the fourteen-day period, even if they are unable to come up with the rent. The tenant cannot be removed from the property without going through the formal unlawful detainer process.
The Ten-Day Notice
If the landlord wishes to evict a tenant because of a violation of the lease or rental agreement (other than late payment of rent), the landlord must provide a ten-day notice before filing an unlawful detainer action with the court.
The tenant is then granted 10 days to either fix the violation or move out of the property.
If the tenant fixes whatever issues are complained of within the ten-day time period, the landlord is not allowed to proceed with the unlawful detainer action. If the landlord files the unlawful detainer action anyway, the tenant will be able to use that the violation was fixed as evidence and as a defense against eviction.
Comply with the Rental Agreement
During the unlawful detainer process, you should continue to follow the terms of the rental or lease agreement you have with your tenant, even when they are violating the agreement. Following the terms of the agreement shows you are true to your word and are not the wrongful party. Despite the tenant's violations, the tenant has the right to anything agreed to in the rental agreement.
This may include, if a part of the agreement, paying utilities, making repairs as listed in the agreement, using the property in accordance with the terms of the agreement, and continuing to occupy the property until the eviction is final.
A lease agreement carefully drafted by an experienced landlord/tenant attorney can help ensure you follow your own agreement while moving quickly and legally to eject a non-compliant tenant.
Freedom from "Self-Help" Evictions
Tenants are entitled to the entire, formal unlawful detainer process before they can be removed from the rental property. Any action by a landlord to work around this process to remove the tenant early is known as a "self-help" eviction.
Even when you have legal cause to evict a tenant, resorting to acts outside of the court system is not permitted. Self-help actions include changing the locks, removing tenant possessions, shutting off the utilities, and blocking access to the property.
Committing a self-help eviction is a serious violation of a tenant's rights. Avoid these practices during the eviction process.
No Harassment or Retaliation
Similar to self-help evictions is the concept of landlords harassing or retaliating against a tenant for not moving out on their own. Understandably, a landlord may be angry that a tenant is staying in the property without paying rent but this kind of conduct is not permitted.
A landlord may not take actions against a tenant that would constitute harassment or retaliation, including, but not limited to the following.
- Constant phone calls, text messages, or duplicate eviction notices
- Destruction of tenant's personal property
- Intimidation of tenant or tenant's guests
- Calling the police against the tenant for unlawful purposes (if the tenant is engaging in true criminal activity, you may call the police)
- Contacting the tenant's work, relatives, or friends to cause embarrassment or pressure to move out.
Any of these actions may be deemed self-help or considered as harassment or retaliation.
Low-Income Housing Eviction Rights
Landlords who own low-income housing, as defined by Section 8 and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, are subject to unique requirements during an eviction. Landlords who are subject to this section receive special tax credits and other compensation in return for complying with the specific additional requirements.
The requirements can be complex, but an experienced eviction attorney can help you navigate the unique nature of Section 8 housing evictions to ensure you are in compliance with the law.
Continuing Landlord Obligations
Ironically, even though the tenant has violated the terms of the lease agreement or has failed to pay rent, you as the landlord are still required to fulfill your obligations under Washington law. The landlord is required to provide and maintain the rental property during the tenant's occupancy.
You are required to be accessible to the tenant and you must still
- maintain the property, including walls, roof, and other structural components;
- keep the rental property up to code;
- maintain any common areas;
- provide necessary facilities which supply heat, electricity, and hot and cold water;
- maintain any appliances which came with the rental property;
- provide adequate locks and safety equipment; and
- comply with all duties imposed under local laws.
Many times, this is easier said than done. For many landlords, the reason they wish to evict a tenant is because they are trashing the place. It is hard to keep something in good condition when your own tenant is the cause of the destruction.
In such a case, document everything you do and everything you attempt to do. Document everything the tenant does as well. Speak with your attorney about how to comply with Washington law during the eviction process in these kinds of circumstances.
Consult a Washington Eviction Attorney
Knowing what rights your tenants have during the eviction process will protect you as the landlord. Respecting the rights of your tenants will protect you from costly court awards and the tenant's attorney fees. With experienced legal counsel, you can exercise your rights as a landlord with confidence.
Experienced eviction attorney Quinn Posner represents landlords in Camas, Washougal, Vancouver, and the rest of Clark County. Contact Quinn Posner today to schedule a consultation.