As a landlord, it is important that you know when it is legal to evict a tenant from your property. Removing a tenant for the wrong reasons can leave you in legal peril and possibly stuck with a tenant who is causing you nothing but trouble. There are, however, perfectly legal reasons and methods to remove a tenant.
Knowing when it is legal to evict and how to evict a tenant is crucial to protecting your rights as a landlord. An experienced Washington landlord/tenant attorney has the experience needed to ensure you follow state law while accomplishing the desired eviction.
When You Can Evict
Deciding whether you want to evict is the first and most important question a landlord must ask themselves. When an eviction is the right choice, there are a number of different legal reasons that will allow a landlord to evict a tenant.
Different reasons often mean different legal requirements, so it is important to consult with a knowledgeable attorney when preparing to evict.
Failure to Pay Rent
Likely the most common reason landlords wish to evict tenants is because they fail to pay the agreed-upon rent. A tenant who fails to pay rent may be evicted in accordance with the eviction process designed by Washington law. Important considerations you must think of before eviction include the following.
- Does the lease agreement set a specific date for payment of the rent?
- Does the agreement include a "grace period" that allows for late payments?
- Does the agreement set forth the specific way in which the rent payments must be made?
If the tenant fails to pay rent as agreed, you have the right to evict the tenant from the premises through the eviction process.
Tenants are not allowed to engage in criminal activity in a rental property, and if a tenant chooses to do so they may be evicted as a result. For example, if your tenant is arrested and convicted of dealing drugs out of the rental property, you can legally initiate eviction proceedings.
Major Property Damage
Tenants have a duty not to destroy the property you have provided for them. When tenants cause significant destruction to the property, you can file eviction proceedings against them. Normal wear and tear type damage do not constitute major property damage. If you are unsure whether you can evict based on property damage, ask your landlord/tenant attorney for advice.
Breach of the Lease Agreement
If you have a written agreement with your tenants (which you should), the terms and requirements of the tenancy should be listed in that agreement. When tenants violate the terms of that agreement, they can be evicted under certain circumstances.
Certain violations are considered more or less severe than others. For example, major property damage such as intentionally taking a bat to the walls and causing major destruction may warrant a three-day eviction notice. Less severe violations require that a landlord provide a ten-day notice of eviction. When a ten-day notice is required, tenants must be given an opportunity to correct the violation before eviction proceedings may be started.
Less serious violations of the lease agreement include, but are not limited to the following.
- Keeping a pet in the premises when one is not allowed.
- More than the approved number of tenants living in the property.
- Nuisance complaints which are not continuing.
- Minor property damage or unauthorized changes to the property.
- Failure to pay rent in an approved manner (i.e., attempting to pay with gift cards rather than a check).
If a tenant receives notice of the violation and does not fix the issue, eviction proceedings can continue against them.
Termination of the Lease Agreement
Another way to legally remove a tenant is to choose not to continue the lease agreement. This is not an eviction, but rather another legal avenue to remove a tenant.
In month-to-month rental agreements for most of the State of Washington, a landlord can give a tenant a 20 day "no cause" written notice to vacate. This warns the tenant that, pursuant to the terms of the month-to-month tenancy, you do not intend to allow them to continue living in the property.
You do not have to have a reason to terminate a rental agreement, so long as it complies with the 20-day requirement or the notification requirements contained in your rental agreement. However, you may not terminate a rental agreement for reasons that are illegal under Washington law.
In certain cities, especially large cities, the rules are often different. For example, in Vancouver, any landlord who owns 5 or more rental units is required to give a 60 day "no cause" notice instead of 20 days. Knowing whether your specific city has different laws can be tricky without the help of an experienced attorney ensuring you comply with Washington's complex landlord/tenant laws.
Illegal Reasons for Eviction
There are certain reasons you may not use to evict a tenant. Evicting a tenant for any of certain impermissible reasons can result in failure to evict the tenant, as well as other legal punishments you may face.
Landlords may not discriminate based upon the following.
- Handicapped Status: If a tenant is handicapped, it is illegal to evict or to continue to permit rental simply because a person is handicapped. This includes the requirement that you make reasonable modifications to the property if they are necessary to allow the handicapped tenant to continue living in the property.
- Race, Color, or Ethnicity: A landlord is not allowed to evict or terminate a lease because of a person's race or ethnicity. Doing so may result in serious sanctions and possible lawsuits against you as well.
- National Origin: A landlord may not discriminate against a person because of his or her nation of origin. This is especially true of those renting who are legal immigrants as these tenants often face discrimination.
- Gender: The gender, or sex, of a tenant is not a factor that may be considered in an eviction or termination of a lease agreement.
- Familial Status: You may not discriminate against a tenant because of familial status. This includes making eviction decisions based upon whether a tenant is married, divorced, living with a significant other, etc.
Consult a Washington Eviction Attorney
Knowing when it is legal and illegal to evict a tenant or terminate the tenancy is crucial to protecting your rights as a landlord. There are important legal reasons when it is appropriate to evict a tenant and 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 free consultation.