Over the course of a career as a landlord, there will be times when it becomes necessary to evict a tenant. The reasons for evicting a tenant can vary, but typically tenants are evicted for failing to pay rent, failing to pay fees, failing to comply with a material term of the lease agreement or simply because a landlord wishes to terminate the lease. In order to properly begin the process, the landlord must strictly comply with the Washington Residential Landlord Tenant Act which is codified under RCW 59.18. The brief description of the process is relevant to typical single family houses or multi-family dwellings. This does not consider the procedures required for mobile homes which can be found under RCW 59.20.
To begin any eviction process, the landlord must first serve the tenant with the proper notice as described below. All notices must be either personally served upon the tenant, an occupant of suitable age, or by mail and post. In order to accomplish this, the landlord should knock on the door and serve the tenant named on the lease. Should multiple tenants be named, then service must be accomplished by providing copies of the notice to each tenant. Should the landlord knock and find there is no answer, then the notice(s) must be posted on a conspicuous place on the property. This is typically the front door. Then, the landlord must also follow up with mailing copies to the tenant(s) via first class mail. In a multiple tenant situation where only one tenant or occupant of suitable age is home, the notices for the additional tenants may be left with the one tenant/occupant, but the landlord should follow up with first class mail to the other tenant(s) to be safe. It is advisable to have an attorney draft and serve the particular notice to ensure compliance with the law. I will address the most common notices below, but by no means are these the only notices available to a landlord given a particular situation.
14 Day Notice to Pay or Vacate: Should a tenant fail to pay rent in a timely manner, the landlord is required to serve the tenant with a 14 Day Notice to Pay or Vacate. This notice lists the outstanding rent and other monthly recurring charges only. The landlord may not include late fees or other outstanding fees as part of the notice unless they are listed for informational purposes only.
Following service of the 14 Day Notice to Pay or Vacate, the tenant(s) have 14 days to pay the outstanding rent or vacate. Should they pay the rent or vacate within the 3 days, the tenant may not move forward with the eviction. Should the tenant fail to pay the outstanding rent listed and not vacate, the next step will be to file the Complaint for Unlawful Detainer.
10 Day Notice to Comply or Vacate: Should a tenant fail to comply with a material term of the lease agreement or fail to comply with the tenant duties listed in RCW 59.18.130, the landlord may serve the tenant(s) with a 10 Day Notice to Comply or Vacate. Typically, this is the procedure utilized when the tenant has allowed unauthorized occupants to reside in the rental unit, changed the locks, built structures on the premises, failed to pay late fees or utilities, or failed to comply with RCW 59.18.130.
Following service of the 10 Day Notice to Comply or Vacate, the tenant has 10 days to correct the noncompliance or vacate the unit. Should the tenant(s) comply with the 10 Day Notice and correct the noncompliance or vacate within the 10 days, the tenant may not move forward with the eviction. Should the tenant fail to comply and not vacate, the next step will be to file the Complaint for Unlawful Detainer.
20 or 60 Day Notice to Terminate Tenancy: This notice is utilized in month-to-month tenancies where the landlord wishes to terminate the tenancy. This notice describes the date in which the tenancy will terminate. This notice must be served at least 20 days prior to the end of the monthly term. If the rental unit is within the city limits of the City of Vancouver and the landlord owns 5 or more rental units, the notice must be served at least 60 days prior to the end of the monthly term. Should the tenant(s) fail to vacate following the end of the monthly term, the next step will be to file the Complaint for Unlawful Detainer.
Complaint for Unlawful Detainer
Should a tenant(s) fail to comply with the particular notice, the next step is filing of the Summons and Complaint for Unlawful Detainer. In addition, the landlord will also go to ex parte with a Motion and Order to Show Cause which will set the Friday show cause hearing and require the attendance of the tenant(s). Should the basis for the Complaint result from the tenant(s) failing to comply with a 3 Day Notice to Comply or Vacate, the landlord must also file a Payment or Sworn Statement Requirement pursuant to RCW 59.18.375.
Following filing of all necessary pleadings and execution of the Order to Show Cause by a Judge or Commissioner, all pleadings must be personally served on the tenant(s). The tenant then has 7 days to answer the complaint or face the prospect of a default being entered. As a side note, should the landlord be unable to serve the tenant(s) after multiple efforts, there is a procedure by which the Court will allow the landlord to serve the tenant by mailing the documents to the tenant(s) via first class mail and post another copy for each tenant at a conspicuous place on the property, typically the front door. Alternative service by mail and post must be granted by the Court. If this alternative service is required, the tenant then has 9 days to answer the Complaint and the show cause hearing may need to be moved.
Show Cause Hearing
Assuming the tenant properly answers the Complaint in a timely manner, the case then proceeds to the show cause hearing where the tenant(s) must demonstrate why they should not be evicted. Therefore, the burden is upon the tenant. If the tenant(s) fail to show cause why they should not be evicted, the Court will grant the landlord an Order for Writ of Restitution and Judgment. The landlord then take the Order for Writ of Restitution to the court clerk and presents the Order with 5 Writs of Restitution. The clerk will then execute the Writs in exchange for the appropriate fee. The landlord then takes these Writs, the Tenant Information Sheet (provided by the Clark County Sheriff) and a Request for Storage of Personal Property to the Clark county Sheriff's Office and will obtain the final lock out date in which a deputy will forcibly remove the tenant(s) should they fail to vacate.
The above is a brief, basic description of the local eviction process in Clark County. This in no way covers all possible scenarios. Further, utilizing a qualified process server is advisable for proper service. As always, whenever you find yourself thinking of evicting a tenant, it is imperative that a landlord seeks the assistance of an attorney knowledgeable in landlord/tenant law so that no mistakes are made, notices and pleadings are properly drafted, monetary damages are included correctly and the situation is properly addressed as a whole. Attempting to navigate the eviction process is time consuming and complicated. The cost of a qualified attorney is well worth the investment and is typically reimbursed as part of the final Judgment.
The above is not a substitute for independent legal advice and does not form an attorney-client relationship.