Understanding Tenant’s Rights in Washington State

A Tenant’s Basic Rights

A tenant’s basic rights in the state of Washington are the right to a clean and sanitary domicile, a domicile that provides some form of heat and electricity, the right to hold the landlord liable for any damage created by the landlord being negligent, and the right to not be discriminated against by a landlord. In addition a tenant is protected from being locked out of their apartment or having their property seized by their landlord. A tenant also has the right to not have their utilities cut off if they can’t pay their rent, and to not be retaliated against by their landlord if they complain to governmental authorities about the domicile’s condition or the landlord.

Deposits vs Fees

Most places when a tenant moves in require a deposit. In Washington the landlord can only apply the term “deposit” to money which is refundable to the tenant upon the tenant moving out of the domicile. Also the landlord must provide the tenant with a receipt for each deposit. Additionally the tenant has the right to know which institution the deposits are being kept in, although unless otherwise in writing the landlord gets any interest accumulated on the account.

At the conclusion of the tenant’s lease or month to month agreement the landlord has 14 days to return the deposit or send a letter saying why it isn’t being returned. The landlord cannot keep the deposit to cover normal wear and tear to the domicile, nor to cover damages not created by the current tenant.

There are also non-refundable fees, and the tenant has the right to have it put in writing in the rental agreement what these fees are, and how much they are. Such fees might be screening, cleaning or holding fees. Holding fees must be applied either towards the security deposit or the first month’s rent.

Rental Agreements

Rental Agreements come in two forms, month to month or a lease. Month to month agreements the landlord can raise the rent or change rules with 30 days notice. With a lease a tenant has the right not to have the rent raised or the rules changed for the period of time the lease covers.

When the Tenant Moves Out

When moving out and the tenant has a month to month agreement, the tenant must give the landlord 20 days notice. This does not include the day of the notice and must be up until the day before the rent is due. However, there are exceptions, if a tenant is a victim of domestic violence or assault they may be able to conclude the agreement immediately. There are procedures to be followed in doing this though which can be found here: www.washingtonlawhelp.org

Another exception is if the tenant is a member of the armed forces and their assignment orders do not allow for a 20 day notice. In the case of a month to month agreement they can conclude the agreement immediately. If they have a lease they are required to give at least a 7 day notice.

In the case of a tenant having a lease, the tenant doesn’t have to give notice if they are moving out at the end of the lease. If they are moving out before the end of a lease they must pay the rent for the rest of the lease. However, the landlord is required by law to be diligently seeking a new renter. Once the domicile is re-rented the former tenant is only responsible for the rent between the time they lived in the domicile and when the new renter took over plus any difference in the two monthly rents and any costs incurred by the landlord in order to re-rent the domicile. If the landlord does not let the former tenant know the costs then the former tenant may only be responsible for the cost during the time it takes the landlord to re-rent the domicile and when the former tenant left.

When the Tenant is Evicted

In the state of Washington landlords are not required by law to give a reason for eviction in the case of a month to month agreement, however the eviction cannot be discriminatory or retaliatory. There are exceptions to this rule.

The other legal reasons for eviction are not paying rent, not following the rules on the rental agreement, destroying the domicile, having illegal activities going on in the domicile.

What a Landlord cannot Put in A Rental Agreement

Some landlords try to slip in arrangements into a tenant’s rental agreement which are not legal and will not be upheld in the courts in the state of Washington. Here are a few of these:

Ã?· An arrangement which allows the landlord to take any of the tenant’s property if the tenant is not able to pay their rent.
�· An arrangement where the tenant gives up the right to defend themselves in a court of law against any accusations made by their landlord.
�· Arrangement taking away the rights of a tenant under the Landlord/Tenant Act.
Ã?· An arrangement which decreases the landlord’s responsibilities which are theirs under the law, repairs on the domicile for example.
Ã?· An arrangement where the landlord uses means other than ones legal under the law to remove an unwanted tenant, such as having arranging for a moving truck and then having the tenant’s property put into storage for example.
Ã?· Any arrangement listed which allows the landlord to enter a tenant’s domicile without proper legal notice. *The landlord must give two days notice unless it is an emergency or the domicile has been abandoned by the tenant.
Ã?· Any arrangement which says the tenant must pay for all damages made to the domicile even those not made by the tenant nor the tenant’s guests.

Tenant’s Rights if the Property is Sold

If the domicile a tenant is living in is sold it does not mean that the rental agreement is automatically void. The law requires that the tenant be notified of the new owner’s name and address, and that the new owner inform the tenant of which institution their deposit is being held in.

If the domicile is being converted to a condo then the law requires the tenant be given 90 day notice.

There are exceptions to some of these laws, and the tenant’s rights as a renter. For example in the city of Seattle in the case of an eviction the landlord must give a reason for the eviction whether it is a month to month or a leasing agreement. It is advised that a tenant check not only their renter’s rights under state law but under the city in which they live for any laws which might be different. In most cases it appeared the city added rights that the state didn’t provide, so a tenant may actually be better off by checking what their rights are under city law. Knowing the rental rights under both the city and state laws is in the tenant’s best interests.

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