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Tenant Services

Tenancy Termination Back to top

Tenancy termination is different than eviction. Termination occurs when the landlord ends the rental agreement and asks the tenant to vacate the rental unit. A tenant can have their tenancy terminated and move out without being evicted. Eviction is the actual court process and lawsuit that has a tenant removed from the property if they fail to leave.

Month-to-month tenants must be given written notice that their landlord is terminating their tenancy before the end of the rental period. 20-day notices are also sometimes called “No Cause” notices. In most cities in Washington State, the landlord does not have to give a reason why they are asking the tenant to leave, and currently no extensions exist in Washington State law. If a tenant who has received a 20-day notice to vacate does not vacate within the 20-day period, they become a “holdover” tenant, and the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit against them.

The exception to this general rule is the “Just Cause Ordinance” in the City of Seattle that requires landlords to state a just cause for the eviction or termination of tenancy for month-to-month tenants. For more information about Just Cause, see our Seattle Laws webpage. In order to promote housing stability, housing advocates would like to see that all Washington State tenants have just cause protection against eviction. If you have a story to tell about the impacts of No Cause eviction, and would like to get involved, call Solid Ground’s Tenant Advocacy Line at 206.694.6748 or via email at tenantwa@solid-ground.org.

Tenants on term leases for specific time periods are expected to vacate their unit at the end of their lease, unless the tenancy is explicitly extended in the lease or in written agreement with the landlord. If the lease does not go month-to-month automatically or is otherwise extended, the landlord does not need to give notice to move out at the end of the lease term, even under the Just Cause Ordinance.

Landlords cannot terminate tenancies for reasons that are discriminatory or retaliatory. Retaliation is illegal in Washington State (RCW 59.18.240, RCW 59.18.250), as is discrimination on the basis of any protected class status, such as race, gender or disability. However, it can still be extremely difficult to win a retaliation or discrimination claim, and it still may not be enough to stop an eviction lawsuit from proceeding. Be sure to get as much written documentation as possible. Discrimination laws are governed by fair housing laws in your area. For more information, talk to your local civil rights office. See our Renters’ Resources webpage for more details.

 

Eviction Process Overview Back to top

This guide is intended to give an overview of the eviction process and provide some context for renters as to how evictions can play out in Washington courts. The eviction process is known as an “Unlawful Detainer Action,” and the law gives the landlord the right to initiate a court process to remove tenants from rental units. It is crucial that all tenants facing eviction speak directly with an attorney about their situation for advice, assistance and, possibly, representation. For more information and resources, see our Legal Assistance Guide.

Here are some key things to know about eviction in Washington State:

  • Your landlord cannot evict you from your unit without going through a court process (RCW 59.18.290, RCW 59.18.300). It is illegal for your landlord to lock you out of your unit, remove your belongings or shut off your utilities, even if you are behind in rent. Eviction in Washington State is called Unlawful Detainer. The Unlawful Detainer process generally takes about two to three weeks from start to finish.

  • Read, respond to and save all notices from your landlord. Read all paperwork you receive from your landlord carefully. There are very specific deadlines and requirements in the eviction process. Missing deadlines or information can cause you to lose the eviction lawsuit automatically. Most evictions start with a 3- or 10-day notice. You must seek legal assistance and respond to these notices as soon as possible.

  • Documentation is crucial in the eviction process. It is very important to keep all notices you receive from your landlord and respond in writing to notices your landlord sends you. Seek the assistance of an attorney to respond to any eviction action or threat of termination being made against you. For more information on how to get legal assistance, see our Legal Assistance Guide. You can also find information at the Washington LawHelp document Eviction and Your Defense.

  • Eviction filings go on your permanent record. Once the landlord files the Unlawful Detainer lawsuit against you with the court, you will have the eviction on your record permanently, even if you are wrongly evicted or you win in court. Even having a defense against the eviction will not necessarily stop the eviction process from moving forward. In all evictions, renters facing termination have a few key choices to make. Eviction court is not a friendly place for tenants. The vast majority of tenants lose in eviction court, so do what you can to solve the problem before your landlord takes steps to serve you with an eviction notice.

    Having an eviction on your record can greatly impact your ability to find quality rental housing in the future. Sometimes, however, evictions are unavoidable. For more information on how to manage evictions on your record, see our Housing Search webpage. While eviction court judges will often not consider many of the extenuating circumstances that caused you to be late in your rent, there are some legitimate defenses that can impact the outcome of an eviction lawsuit. Speak to an attorney for information and advice on your situation.

  • Month-to-month Seattle tenants have Just Cause Eviction Protection. When you are a month-to-month tenant in Seattle, your landlord must have a Just Cause reason to evict you from a property, according to SMC 22.206.160. Just Cause eviction reasons include rent nonpayment, noncompliance with lease terms, chronically late rent payments, and the landlord intending to occupy the unit themselves. There are 18 total just causes. The notice required for each Just Cause reason varies, but Seattle landlords cannot terminate tenancy for reasons that are not on that list. For a list of all Just Cause reasons and notice timeframes, see our Seattle Laws webpage and the Department of Planning and Development's information on Seattle Just Cause Eviction Ordinance. Outside of city limits, landlords can ask tenants not protected by term leases to vacate with only 20 days’ written notice.

  • The law does not allow tenants to withhold rent because of unmade repairs, complaints against the landlord, or money the landlord owes them (RCW 59.18.080), with few exceptions. Not paying your rent in full on the due date will leave you vulnerable to eviction; once the eviction goes onto your record, it will stay there permanently and can be used against you in the future, even if you end up winning in court.

    Unmade repairs may factor in to your defenses against an eviction lawsuit, but they may not be enough to stop the eviction entirely and do not justify withholding rent without the landlord's written consent. If your landlord does agree to reduce rent for any reason, be sure to get written documentation of the agreement that is signed and dated by both you and the landlord.

    The repair and deduct process does allow tenants to withhold rent because of unmade repairs, but a specific and detailed process must be followed. Legal help is recommended for anyone wishing to utilize repair and deduct. There also may be rare circumstances in which a judge authorizes a court order for a tenant to withhold their rent. See our Repairs webpage for more information.

Eviction Process Steps Back to top

 1) Eviction Notices 

    1a) 3-Day Notice to Pay or Vacate

    1b) 10-Day Notice to Comply or Vacate

    1c) 3-Day Notice for Waste, Nuisance or Illegal Activity

    1d) 20-Day Notice to Terminate Tenancy 

 2) Summons & Complaint

 3) Payment or Sworn Statement Requirement

 4) Show Cause Hearing

 5) Writ of Restitution


1) Eviction Notices

To Steps 

There are several different types of notices that landlords can serve tenants, depending on the reason for eviction. An eviction notice must first be served properly and the tenant must have failed to comply, pay or vacate within the specified timeframe. This must happen before the landlord can begin the eviction court process by serving you an Unlawful Detainer eviction lawsuit, called a "Summons & Complaint." This is not a complete list, but the most common notices to vacate are:

   1a) 3-Day Notice to Pay or Vacate
   1b) 10-Day Notice to Comply with the Terms of the Rental Agreement or Vacate
   1c) 3-Day Notice for Waste or Nuisance
   1d) 20-Day Notice to Terminate Tenancy (a No Cause notice)

These notices are indicators that the landlord is going to initiate an Unlawful Detainer Action against you if you do not respond within the time limit. According to RCW 59.12.040, the landlord must attempt personal service of the eviction notice (give it to the tenant personally), or the landlord may leave it with another person of suitable age and discretion who resides there. If no one of suitable age and discretion is there, the landlord may post it on the door, provided it is also sent in the mail. If the notice is posted on the door and sent in the mail, don’t count the day it was served in the timeframe. Weekends are included in the notice days. Your landlord may personally deliver the notice to you. It does not have to be delivered by the sheriff or notarized in order to be valid.

There may be a brief period at the very beginning of the eviction in which tenants can negotiate directly with their landlord to stop the eviction. It is very important that any agreement you come to with your landlord be in writing, signed and dated by both parties if possible.

   1a) 3-Day Notice to Pay or Vacate

To Steps 

In order to win in court against an eviction for rent nonpayment, the tenant must be able to establish that they do not owe the rent the landlord is trying to collect. A 3-Day Notice to Pay or Vacate does not mean that you have to vacate the premises within three days. Eviction is a court process, and your landlord cannot have you removed from the premises until a court order has been issued.

If you actually owe rent money, there are very few ways to stop an eviction for rent nonpayment besides paying your rent in full within the 3-day timeframe. Always avoid paying in cash, but if you do, RCW 59.18.063 requires that the landlord provide a receipt for all cash payments. Landlords must accept the rent payment if it is made in full and paid within the 3-day timeframe, and they will no longer be able to proceed with the eviction. If tenants make a partial payment or pay after the timeframe, the landlord may still be able to proceed with eviction. Some landlords won’t accept any money until after the court process is complete.

Always prioritize paying your rent above other expenses. There are no exceptions in the law for people with young children, people who have lost their jobs, or those who have been met with other unexpected loss of income or personal tragedies. The law does not allow tenants to withhold rent because of unmade repairs (except in limited cases; see above), complaints against the landlord, or money the landlord owes them.

Some tenants choose to leave within the 3-day timeline because vacating may allow them to avoid the eviction lawsuit. The landlord may still be able to file a lawsuit against them or send them to collections in an attempt to recover money they owe. A 3-Day Notice to Pay or Vacate can be served to a tenant who is even one day behind or one penny short in rent.

Most rental agreements indicate a due date for the rent (usually the first of the month), and some indicate a grace period before the rent is to be considered late (usually three to five days later). The Residential Landlord-Tenant Act in Washington State does not specifically entitle tenants to a grace period of any kind. If the grace period passes and you have not paid your rent in full, your landlord can serve you with a 3-Day Notice to Pay or Vacate and issue a late fee.

Your landlord does not have to accept partial rent payments during the 3-day timeline, though they may choose to. If your landlord accepts money after issuing the notice, document the payment in writing, because in some situations (but not all) it may invalidate their eviction notice. If you negotiate a payment plan, be sure to put the agreed amounts to be paid in writing, and document that all eviction proceedings will cease. Payment in full within the three days is the best assurance to stop the eviction from moving forward, (though it is still possible that your landlord will proceed with the lawsuit on an unlawful basis).

The 3-day notice is to be served to you in person, or to a person of suitable age and discretion in your household, in person, or posted on your door and sent to you in the mail. Incorrect service in and of itself does not invalidate an eviction action against you, though it may become a defense in your eviction. It is likely if payment is not received in full within the 3-day timeline, and the tenant does not vacate the unit within three days, that the landlord will proceed to eviction court. The worst thing a tenant can do is ignore the notice – or not communicate with the landlord about the notice or their inability to pay the rent. Keep in mind it is not in the landlord’s financial interest to evict you, as it typically causes considerable financial loss for them. Negotiation with your landlord can sometimes be helpful. But if the landlord hears nothing from the tenant, they may assume that their only recourse is to file an eviction lawsuit.

If you are not able to pay the rent you owe, you do have the option of vacating the unit within the 3-day timeline. This will prevent the landlord from taking you to eviction court, and you will avoid having an eviction lawsuit on your record. Turn in your keys and document to your landlord that you’re vacating the unit, so your landlord can inform their attorneys not to file the eviction lawsuit. For information on how evictions can impact your ability to find rental housing, see our Housing Search webpage. However, even if you vacate within three days, you still owe your landlord the rent money, and your landlord can still sue you for the amount of rent and legal fees – or even send you to collections in order to recover that money.

Keeping documentation of all your rent payments is crucial to protect yourself against wrongful eviction. Paying rent into a drop box, or paying in cash without receiving a receipt from the landlord, can leave a tenant vulnerable to claims that the money was lost or never received. Pay your rent by personal check whenever possible.

If you can’t pay by personal check, you can use a money order, but take precautions to prove the amount by photocopying the money order after you fill it out but before you separate it from the stub. Sometimes it can take months for the money order company to recover documentation of the amount if you request it, and the eviction process may be over before you receive it. Write what the check or money order is for on the front, and be specific (for example, “March rent in full only”). This is important because if you have a back debt to your landlord, they could apply that money to what you owe and then claim you failed to be current on your rent.

Your landlord should provide you with a receipt upon your request, or prepare a receipt to have the landlord sign and date. If you pay in cash, the landlord must automatically issue you a receipt under RCW 59.18.063. You can also ask a third party witness to come with you who can attest that the rent was delivered and received.

   1b) 10-Day Notice to Comply or Vacate

To Steps 

The landlord may serve a 10-Day Notice to Comply or Vacate to a tenant who is violating or accused of violating a section of the rental agreement. The notice should list which section of the rental agreement is being violated and give the tenant 10 days to come into compliance with that section. If the tenant is not complying after the 10-day timeframe, the landlord may proceed with the eviction process.

It is important for tenants to respond to the 10-day notice in writing, stating that they are or will be in compliance with the rental agreement. It is a good idea to include all written documentation possible to support the claim. For example, if your landlord sends you a 10-Day Notice to remove unauthorized pets from the unit, you can send the landlord a letter explaining the situation and documentation to show how you are in compliance.

Or, you may also decide to vacate the unit within the 10-day timeframe instead of complying with the term of the lease. If you vacate, your landlord cannot bring an Unlawful Detainer Action against you, and you will not have an eviction on your record – but you will be held responsible for the consequences associated with breaking your lease or vacating without giving proper notice.

If you disagree with your landlord’s claim that you were out of compliance, you can write a letter back to the landlord requesting they rescind the notice. It’s a good idea to back the letter up with evidence or documentation. For example, if you got a notice for a noise complaint during a time when you were out of town, you can provide proof that you were staying elsewhere at that time.

   1c) 3-Day Notice for Waste, Nuisance or Illegal Activity

To Steps 

A 3-Day Notice for Waste, Nuisance or Illegal Activity is less common but requires quick action by any tenant who receives one. Waste and nuisance, in this instance, are terms that indicate a gross offense on the part of the tenant (for example, major destruction of the rental unit or an arrest on the property). It may also include criminal offenses, including drug- or gang-related crimes.

This notice does not give the tenant the option of complying, but instead requires that the tenant vacate the property immediately in order to avoid an eviction lawsuit. Sometimes the landlord may give a 3-Day Notice for Waste, Nuisance or Illegal Activity when it is not appropriate. Seek legal advice and assistance if you receive a 3-day notice to vacate for waste or nuisance.

A common misuse of this notice is for noise violations. Being loud is not a nuisance for the purposes of this law. A tenant should be issued a 10-Day Notice to Comply or Vacate for noise issues; waste or nuisance are generally considered to be far more serious than noise complaints.

   1d) 20-Day Notice to Terminate Tenancy

To Steps 

A 20-Day Notice to Terminate Tenancy (also sometimes called a No Cause notice) is the notice landlords give to terminate tenancies of month-to-month renters. In most cities in Washington State, landlords can ask month-to-month tenants to leave with only 20 days’ written notice. The notice must be written and must be delivered at least 20 days before the end of the month or rental period. The landlord does not have to give a reason why they are asking you to leave, and currently no exceptions or extensions exist in Washington State law. If a tenant who has received a 20-day notice to vacate does not vacate within the 20-day period, the landlord can file an Unlawful Detainer Action against them. Landlords cannot legally terminate tenancies for reasons that are discriminatory or retaliatory.

In some situations where the tenant has a disability that impairs their ability to move out, they may request a reasonable accommodation for more time under Fair Housing laws. If the landlord refuses to provide an accommodation, the tenant can file a complaint with their local office of Civil Rights. See our Renters’ Resources webpage for more information.

In Seattle city limits, tenants have protections from the Seattle Just Cause Eviction Ordinance, which requires that their landlord have a Just Cause reason to ask them to leave. For more information about Just Cause, see our Seattle Laws webpage. Washington State renters need Just Cause protection as well. Without Just Cause protection, Washington State renters are extremely vulnerable to retaliation. Because landlords do not need to give reasons for terminating tenancies, it is very difficult to prove when it happens in response to renters asserting their rights or other legitimate grievances.

2) Summons & Complaint

To Steps 

After the initial notice has expired and a tenant is still in the unit, the landlord must have a neutral third party, such as a process server or the sheriff, serve the eviction lawsuit. The landlord cannot serve the lawsuit directly themselves. The lawsuit is made up of two documents served together called “Summons & Complaint.” Both documents will have numbers running down the left side of the page, and the upper left corner will state the tenant’s name (defendant) vs. the landlord (plaintiff). If the landlord hired an attorney to draft the lawsuit, the attorney’s name and contact information will be in the bottom right corner of the page. (This is important, because tenants may need to serve a response to the attorney.)

Summons & Complaint documents are often served without being filed in the court, so it does not necessarily mean that a tenant has an eviction on their record when they receive them. This is an excellent point in the process to try to settle the eviction with your landlord before they file the lawsuit with the court. A permanent record is created once the lawsuit is filed at the courthouse. An eviction record – regardless of whether a tenant wins or loses – can cause the tenant to be denied housing later on by a tenant screening company. The easiest way to tell if the lawsuit has been filed is to look at the front page to see if there is a stamped filing number. It looks something like “9-2-123456” and will be located in the top right corner of the page.

If a tenant does not respond to Summons & Complaint documents, they will automatically lose the eviction. The deadline for response will generally be one week from the date the Summons & Complaint was received. Answering gives tenants an opportunity to explain the circumstances surrounding the eviction and to present any defenses against the eviction lawsuit. See our Legal Assistance Guide to find a legal aid agency to assist you with your response.

On the front page of the Summons & Complaint, there is a date for response. If the tenant does not respond by that date, they will get a default judgment against them and will automatically lose the lawsuit. Tenants can use forms to assist with responses, but they don’t have to be in any particular format. However, your answer to the Summons & Complaint must be submitted to the court in writing prior to the due date in order to not automatically waive the right to a court hearing.

If tenants want the opportunity to appear in court, at minimum, they must file a Notice of Appearance to inform their landlord’s attorney that they intend to appear. It is very important that tenants document that the landlord or their attorney received this response before the deadline. Tenants can fax responses to landlords’ attorneys’ offices and print out fax confirmation sheets – or hand deliver responses to their office. Ask them to date, sign for it, and note the specific time it was received.

If the lawsuit has already been filed, tenants should file their responses with the court in addition to landlords’ attorneys. Consult with an attorney to make sure you don’t waive any defenses in your written response. See our Legal Assistance Guide for information about how get help responding to an eviction. The comprehensive packet Eviction and Your Defense has many of the forms you can use to respond.

3) Payment or Sworn Statement Requirement

To Steps 

Some tenants may also receive a notice titled “RCW 59.18.375 Payment or Sworn Statement Requirement” at the same time or soon after their Summons & Complaint is delivered. Look closely for this notice, as it requires extra attention and response. Tenants who receive such a notice must file a sworn statement with the court or pay the amount owed the landlord into the court registry within seven days of the date the case is filed with the court (by the deadline stated on the notice) in addition to filing their answer or notice of appearance. Such notices can only be used in eviction lawsuits based on 3-day notices to pay rent or vacate, not with any other type of notice. Paying the money into the court registry as the notice requires does not stop the eviction. Essentially, this just “buys” tenants the opportunity to have a hearing. Seek legal assistance immediately for more information on how to respond to a payment or sworn statement requirement.

4) Show Cause Hearing

To Steps 

Along with or soon after receiving Summons & Complaint, tenants may also receive an order to “show cause.” This is a notice of the appearance date called the Show Cause Hearing. If the tenant responded to the lawsuit, both parties go to court. A Show Cause Hearing is the tenant's chance to raise any and all defenses they have against the eviction lawsuit. Tenants may be able to secure legal representation at Show Cause Hearings. The judge will hear both sides of the case and then make a ruling. The judge may decide to send the case to trial.

The vast majority of evictions go in the landlord's favor. Non-native English speakers have the right to an interpreter provided by the court. Notify the court as soon as possible of the need for interpretation. Seek assistance and representation from legal services agencies listed in our Legal Assistance Guide. For more information on the Show Cause Hearing, see Washington LawHelp's Eviction and Your Defense.

If a tenant loses an eviction lawsuit, a judgment will be issued against them in the amount of rent owed, plus other fees owed their landlord, as well as court costs and attorney's fees. If a tenant wins an eviction lawsuit, the case is dismissed. However, an eviction filing will still appear on the tenant's record. The landlord's attorney may offer the tenant a stipulation or settlement agreement instead of going to court. Be sure to have an attorney look at any stipulation before signing, as they often have hidden or difficult consequences. Do not sign any stipulation if you cannot comply with it.

If a tenant being evicted for rent nonpayment loses in eviction court but has an unexpired lease term, the tenant can reinstate the tenancy by paying off the full amount of the judgment into the court registry. See RCW 59.18.410 to read the specific text of the law regarding reinstatements, and speak to an attorney to get guidance and information for your situation.

5) Writ of Restitution

To Steps 

When a tenant loses in court, they will be issued a judgment in the amount of money owed in rent, court costs, attorney's fees, and other fees. The sheriff will also serve a “Writ of Restitution,” which is the notice of when the sheriff is coming to oversee tenants’ removal from the property if they have not already vacated. The deadline will be 3-4 days from the court date, and the sheriff's name and phone number will be posted on the top of the writ. The date will list 12am as the time of the eviction, but the sheriff will not show up to remove tenants at midnight. The sheriff may come to remove tenants and their belongings from the property any time after midnight of the date listed.

When tenants receive writs of restitution, they must vacate the property. Tenants can call the sheriff and leave a message stating when they will be out of the unit. Once the writ has been issued, it is only in very rare circumstances that an eviction can be stopped. For more information on how to stop a writ of restitution that has been issued in error, see our Landlord Illegal Acts section below and talk to an attorney. See our Legal Assistance Guide for more information.

A landlord can call off an eviction at any time in the process, though they will typically say that their hands are tied and they must continue. If you can negotiate a payment plan with your landlord, and they sign an agreement for you to remain on the property, notify the sheriff as soon as possible. It would also be wise to file a “Motion for Reinstatement” with the court, which legal aid agencies may be able to help you with.

Landlords have an obligation to store any tenant property that remains in the unit after the Writ of Restitution has been enforced if they receive a written request from the tenant within three days after the writ has been issued. The tenant can be held responsible to pay for the costs of storage and hauling of their property.

 

Eviction Timeline Back to top

Evictions in Washington State generally take around three weeks from start to finish, but the timeline can vary. There are many variables that impact how long the eviction process will take. Below is a sample timeline for eviction due to rent nonpayment. This timeline assumes that the landlord is moving through the eviction process as fast as the law allows. This timeline is just a sample; do not assume that your process will move at the same speed. Talk to an attorney for more information on the specifics of your case.

Day 1 – Rent is due.

 

Day 2Rent is still unpaid, and the landlord serves the tenant a 3-Day Notice to Pay or Vacate.

 

Days 3, 4, 5The tenant has three days to come up with the entire amount due on the 3-day notice.

  • The landlord does not have to accept any partial payments but does have to accept the rent if it is presented in entirety within these three days. Often, 3-day notices contain additional late fees. The tenant should consult their lease to see if these fees are stated in the rental agreement.

Day 6Rent is still unpaid. The landlord now has the option of serving the tenant a lawsuit for Unlawful Detainer (eviction Summons & Complaint). This initiates the legal eviction action.

  • The tenant has seven days to answer the Summons & Complaint, after which they lose the lawsuit by default. The date the answer is due will appear on the summons.

  • The summons may already be filed with the court. If it has been filed, it will have a case number stamped in the upper right corner.

  • The summons may also be served with an order to Show Cause, the notice of the court date.

  • The summons may also contain a payment or sworn statement requirement that obligates the tenant to pay the amount stated on the notice directly into the court registry, or to file a sworn certification asserting they have a legal defense in the case. This must happen within seven days of the date the summons was filed with the court, or the tenant will lose by default.

  • The summons may also give the tenant the option to request that the suit be filed with the court. As soon as the lawsuit is filed, eviction will be on the tenant's record, no matter how the judge rules. This can seriously affect the tenant's ability to rent in the future.

Day 12The tenant's response is due. The tenant may opt to instead file a Notice of Appearance.

  • The response must contain any and all defenses the tenant has against the eviction, as well as list any money of the tenant's that the landlord is holding.

  • The response must be delivered to the landlord's attorney and to the court if the suit has already been filed. The attorney's contact information will be listed on the summons. The answer can be filed in person, by mail or by fax, but it must be received by the deadline.

  • If the tenant does not respond, a default judgment will be issued against them.

  • After the tenant files a response, the Show Cause Hearing date will be scheduled (if it has not been set already). Show Cause Hearings generally occur around day 20, but they can occur as soon as the day after the answer is due. 

Day 13The Show Cause Hearing occurs, and judgment is issued. The default judgment is issued if no response has been filed.

  • If the tenant responded to the lawsuit, both parties go to court. The judge will hear both sides of the case and then make a ruling. The vast majority of evictions go in the landlord's favor.

  • If the landlord wins, the court will issue a Writ of Restitution and a judgment in the amount of rent money and fees the tenant owes, plus court costs and attorney's fees.

  • If the tenant wins, the case is dismissed – however, an eviction filing will still appear on the tenant's record.

  • If the tenant is on a lease, and they are able to pay the entire amount due the landlord into the court registry, their tenancy must be reinstated.

  • The judge may send the case to trial.

  • The tenant may be able to secure legal representation for the Show Cause Hearing. For more information, see our Legal Assistance Guide webpage.

  • The landlord's attorney may offer the tenant a stipulation or settlement agreement instead of going to court. Tenants should have an attorney look at any stipulation before signing, as they can often have hidden or difficult consequences. Tenants should not sign agreements they cannot comply with.

Day 14The sheriff serves the tenant the Writ of Restitution, usually by posting it on their door.

  • The sheriff's name and phone number will be stamped on the top of the writ. The tenant can contact the sheriff and let them know when they plan to be out of the unit.

Day 18 – This is the first day the sheriff can enforce the writ, 72 hours after it has been served.

  • Day 21 is also the deadline for the tenant to serve a request to have their property stored by the landlord.

Day 19 or 20The writ is usually enforced a day or two after the first day it can be enforced.

  • The sheriff comes to the property and physically removes the tenant and their belongings if they are not already out.

Day 23 This is the deadline for the sheriff to complete the eviction.

 

Landlord Illegal Acts Back to top

  • Self-help evictions are illegal (RCW 59.18.290). The removal of a tenant from a rental property cannot be done by the landlord without a court order. Evictions must be ordered by the court and must be served by a county sheriff, who will also oversee the removal of the tenant from the property if they have not already vacated. RCW 59.18.312 details this information and the court ordered Writ of Restitution permitting the sheriff to remove a tenant from the premises. Tenants can call the police if they are being illegally removed from a property.

  • Lockouts are illegal (RCW 59.18.290). Landlords cannot restrict tenants from access to the unit by changing the locks, even if the tenant is in the midst of an Unlawful Detainer lawsuit or has a Writ of Restitution issued against them. If illegally locked out, the tenant has a right to regain access to the unit, but must pay for the cost of any damages they do to the unit in order to regain access. Tenants who are being illegally removed from a property can call the police. See Washington LawHelp's  My Landlord Locked Me Out: What Can I Do? for more information.

  • Utility shutoffs are illegal (RCW 59.18.300). The intentional shutoff of a tenant's utility services, except for short periods of time in order to fix problems, is illegal in Washington State. The tenant may recover up to $100 a day (or portion of a day) they are without utilities and can claim actual damages in Small Claims Court.

  • Taking or keeping tenant property in lieu of rental payments is illegal (RCW 59.18.230). It is not legal for a landlord to take a tenant's property to cover the cost of rent or other money owed. The tenant can write a letter to the landlord demanding the return of the property. If it is not returned, they can sue for the value of the property retained and actual damages. If the landlord intentionally refuses to return the property, tenants can sue for up to $500 a day for every day they are without their property, up to a total of $5,000.

  • Terminations of tenancy and rent increases that are retaliatory or discriminatory are illegal (RCW 59.18.240, RCW 59.18.250). Retaliation against tenants who assert their rights under landlord-tenant law is prohibited under the Landlord-Tenant Act. A court may find that the landlord illegally retaliated against the tenant if the landlord took a negative action against the tenant within 90 days after the tenant asserts their rights under landlord-tenant law.

    For example, it may be considered retaliation for a landlord to serve a notice for rent nonpayment when the tenant is fully paid up in rent in response to a tenant who asks for a repair to be made. However, it can still be extremely difficult to prove and may not be enough to stop an eviction lawsuit from proceeding. Tenants should get as much written documentation as possible. Retaliation can be raised as a defense in tenants’ written answers and can be raised verbally in court as well.

    Likewise, terminations motivated by discrimination are illegal and can be raised as a defense to an eviction lawsuit. Discrimination can be very difficult to prove and may not stop an eviction action from moving forward. Discrimination laws are governed by Fair Housing laws in your area. For more information, talk to your local Civil Rights organization. See our Renters’ Resources webpage for more details. 

 

Low-Income Housing Eviction Back to top

The following is general information about low-income housing programs and eviction policy. There are many different programs available that help tenants living on low incomes or those with special housing needs. Different regulations apply to different programs, and sometimes tenants don’t know exactly which program they are participating in or can be part of more than one program at a time. It can often be hard to know exactly what program a tenant is a part of and which regulations apply. In addition, being evicted from housing that is subsidized by the government may put your ability to stay in low-income housing programs at risk. It is best to consult an attorney to help navigate low-income housing evictions.

Most low-income housing programs have additional rules and policies that govern the eviction process. In some cases, tenants living in low-income housing have increased protections above and beyond what is offered in state law. For a complete look at low-income housing policy, see our Low-Income Housing Rights webpage.

1) Section 8 (Housing Choice) Voucher Eviction

Section 8 voucher holders do not have any additional protections against evictions, and they receive the same eviction notices and go through the same eviction process as any tenant in Washington State. It is essential that voucher tenants remain in good communication with the public housing authority (PHA) that administers their voucher throughout the eviction process. Inform your PHA immediately if you are unable to pay your rent. Send copies of any correspondence between you and your landlord to the PHA so that they are made aware of any problems that arise between you and your landlord.

PHAs have the right to terminate your voucher if you are evicted from your residence, and most often they will assert that right without question. You can request a grievance hearing if your voucher is being terminated because of an eviction, unless you are being evicted for certain criminal offenses. If you believe you are being evicted illegally, you can raise any defenses against the voucher termination in the grievance hearing. You can bring in legal counsel to a grievance hearing as well. For a detailed discussion on grievance hearings, see our Low-Income Housing Rights webpage and Section 8 Certificate & Vouchers: Denial or Termination of Benefits or How to Protect Your Section 8 Voucher. Your Section 8 voucher will likely be in jeopardy if you are evicted from your unit. Speak to an attorney for assistance if you are a Section 8 voucher holder facing eviction.

In some situations, if your landlord fails to bring your unit up to housing quality standards, the PHA may reduce their portion of rent that they pay to the landlord in an “abatement” process. As long as you are current for the portion of rent you are responsible for, the landlord may not evict you for rent nonpayment.

2) Public Housing Eviction

Low-Income Public Housing (LIPH) tenants may have a slightly different experience with the eviction process. In some cases, there may be different notice periods for tenants, and good cause is required to evict a tenant from public housing. However, LIPH tenants still go through the same court system and process as all tenants. The Public Housing Authority (PHA) that owns and manages your housing is responsible for following federal regulation that sets the standards for how public housing evictions are to be handled. If you are evicted from public housing, you will lose your opportunity to receive federally assisted low-income housing.

Grounds for termination of the lease in LIPH include rent nonpayment or other serious or repeated violations of the lease; crime that threatens health, safety or quiet enjoyment of other tenants in the building; drug-related activity on or nearby the complex; or other good cause. Evictions in public housing for rent nonpayment require 14 days’ notice, which may be given before the service of a 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Vacate. In some cases, the 14-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Vacate may come instead of a 3-day notice.

Public housing tenants may also receive 10-Day Notices to Comply or Vacate, during which timeframe a grievance hearing may be requested. Health or safety threats require three days’ notice, and termination at the end of a lease and all other causes require 30 days’ notice for termination. It is possible that policies will differ in different PHAs. Speak to an attorney for more information and advice on your specific situation. Washington LawHelp has detailed information at Public and Subsidized Housing: What Happens If I Do Not Pay the Rent?, Public Housing Evictions and Public Housing Grievance Procedure.

Grievance hearings are also required for tenants facing eviction from public housing, except in the case of drug-related activity or activity that threatens health and safety. The PHA is still required to take a tenant facing eviction through a court process. For more detailed information on the grievance process, see our Low-Income Housing Rights webpage.

3) HUD Housing Eviction

Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing is also known as project-based Section 8. HUD housing is multifamily complexes that are privately owned and subsidized by the federal government. Tenants can be evicted from HUD housing for noncompliance with the rental agreement or tenant duties under landlord-tenant law, and failure to supply information necessary to certify income or other good cause. Landlords must follow the state law eviction process, except a tenant is entitled to 30 days’ notice when being asked to leave for other good cause.

Termination notices for tenants in HUD-subsidized housing must give tenants an opportunity to request a meeting with the owner of the building. The request must be made in writing within 10 days, and an owner’s failure to notify a tenant of their rights to such a meeting could be a defense in the eviction lawsuit. For more information on HUD housing, see our Low-Income Housing Rights webpage.

4) Tax Credit Eviction

The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program provides housing for low- to moderate-income renters in exchange for tax credits for the developers. Tenants living in tax credit buildings have "Good Cause" eviction protection statewide. LIHTC owners are prohibited from evicting residents or refusing to renew leases or rental agreements unless they have Good Cause. The termination notice must state Good Cause, and may include either a serious or repeated violation of the lease, crime or drug-related activity, or failure to vacate following a condition that leaves the unit uninhabitable.

Good Cause is not clearly defined in tax credit policy, and is determined on a case-by-case basis. The notice of termination or nonrenewal of lease must include a list of the specific Good Cause reasons for the action. The eviction process follows the procedures laid out in landlord-tenant law, but the tenant has the right to raise Good Cause eviction protection in court as a defense against an eviction if they believe they were evicted for non-Good Cause reasons. See our Eviction Process section above, and speak to an attorney for more information.

 

Resources: Rental Assistance Back to top

If You Cannot Pay Your Rent

Contact your landlord as soon as you realize you may not be able to pay your rent. Clear communication is essential. Let your landlord know that while you may not be able to pay on time, you are looking for help. Ask if he or she will accept partial payments until the rent is paid in full, and write out a payment plan that you can afford.

Where to Turn

Start by calling Washington State 2-1-1 (also 206.461.3200, 1.800.621.4636 or 206.461.3610 for TTY/hearing impaired calls). You’ll be asked to explain your situation and give your address and zip code for referrals to agencies serving the area where you live. 2-1-1 staff will tell you about agencies that can help with rental and move-in costs. They can also refer you to other resources such as financial education classes.

Next Steps

  • Do not wait to call once 2-1-1 gives you referrals. You may need to call a number more than once – or call back at a specific date and time – to get an answer.

  • Be clear about what help you need when calling agencies for assistance. Explain what happened that put you at risk of losing your housing. For example: “I lost my job last month, but I’m starting a new job in a week. I need help with this month’s rent.” Most rental assistance programs will expect you to have income to pay rent. If you do not, Washington State 2-1-1 will help you find resources to assist you. If you have children, ask for the number of the closest DSHS office.

  • Be prepared if you are given an appointment with an agency to apply for rental assistance. Bring paperwork documenting what you owe, income verification, your lease and your landlord’s contact information. Some programs will have you create a budget or set goals to help you stabilize your housing.

  • Try to stay calm and patient. The process can be frustrating. Be organized and politely persistent to find the help you need.

 

Resources: Eviction Back to top

  

FAQs: Eviction Back to top


Q: Do I have to move out within three days if my landlord serves 
      me a 3-Day Pay or Vacate Notice?

To FAQs 

No, though some tenants may choose to vacate during the 3-day timeframe. Your landlord cannot evict you from your unit without going through a court process. It is illegal for your landlord to lock you out of your unit, remove your belongings or shut off your utilities, even if you are behind in rent. Eviction in Washington State is called “Unlawful Detainer.” The Unlawful Detainer process generally takes about two to three weeks from start to finish. Some tenants choose to leave within the 3-day timeline because vacating may allow them to avoid the eviction lawsuit. The landlord may still be able to file a lawsuit against them or send them to collections in an attempt to recover money they owe.

The 3-day notice does give tenants the option to vacate within the 3-day timeframe. Other than paying the amount stated in the notice, vacating within the 3-day timeframe is the best way to guarantee that the landlord will not file the eviction lawsuit against you. Once the lawsuit is filed, the eviction will be permanently listed on your record and could be used against you in the future by prospective landlords. The eviction lawsuit will remain on your record even if your landlord has evicted you illegally, and even if you win in eviction court. If you do decide to vacate the unit within three days, it is a good idea to document in writing to your landlord that you have vacated.

Sometimes tenants who know they will not be able to stop an eviction for rent nonpayment will decide to move out within the three days in order to avoid having the eviction on their record. In this case, the landlord can still collect the rent and late fees, but they cannot proceed with the eviction process. Speak to an attorney regarding your situation and possible options for responding to the threat of eviction. For legal resources, see our Legal Assistance Guide.

Q: What is an “Unlawful Detainer”?

To FAQs 

Unlawful Detainer is defined in Washington State law in RCW 59.12.030. Eviction is an Unlawful Detainer action to remove a tenant who stays in a unit past their legal right to do so.

Q: How long does it take to evict a tenant in Washington State?

To FAQs 

Generally around three weeks (from the time rent is due until the time the sheriff comes out to enforce the writ), though the timeframe can vary greatly depending upon the circumstances. See our Eviction Timeline section above for a sample eviction process.

Q: How must my landlord serve me a 3- or 10-day notice?

To FAQs 

According to RCW 59.12.040, the eviction notice must be given to the tenant in person. The landlord may also leave it with another person of suitable age and discretion within the household or post it on the door, provided it is also sent in the mail. Your landlord may personally deliver the notice to you. It does not have to be delivered by the sheriff or notarized in order to be valid.

Q: Does the law entitle me to a certain number of days’ grace period 
      after the day my rent is due?

To FAQs 

No. However, most rental agreements indicate a due date for the rent (usually the first of the month), and some indicate a grace period before the rent is to be considered late (usually three to five days later). The Landlord-Tenant Act in Washington State does not specifically entitle tenants to a grace period of any kind.

Q: If the last day from a termination notice (10-day, 3-day, etc.) falls on 
      a holiday or weekend, is it counted in the notice period?

To FAQs 

If the last day lands on a holiday, then you do not count it and instead it falls on the next day. However, weekends are counted like any other day. Make sure it is a holiday recognized by the court (e.g., not Boxing Day).

Q: Are there any resources to help me move? 

To FAQs 

It can be very difficult to find assistance moving into and out of rental units. Few agencies offer this type of assistance. Call Washington State 2-1-1 (also 206.461.3200, 1.800.621.4636 or 206.461.3610 for TTY/hearing impaired calls) to see if there is any help in your area.

Q: Can I negotiate with my landlord to stop an eviction? 

To FAQs 

Tenants can negotiate directly with their landlord to stop an eviction at any point, though it is generally more productive for tenants to act as early in the process as possible. It is very important that any agreement you come to with your landlord be put in writing, signed and dated by both parties.

Q: Can I withhold rent because the landlord owes me money or
      hasn't made necessary repairs?

To FAQs 

The law does not allow tenants to withhold rent money in order to gain compensation from the landlord for unmade repairs or other complaints. Not paying your rent in full on the due date will leave you vulnerable to eviction, and if the eviction goes onto your record, it will stay there permanently and can be used against you in the future, even if you end up winning in court. Unmade repairs may factor in to your defenses against an eviction lawsuit, but may not be enough to stop the eviction entirely and do not justify withholding rent without your landlord's consent (except in limited circumstances). If your landlord does agree to reduce rent for any reason, be sure to get written documentation of the agreement that is signed and dated by both you and the landlord.

Q: Can late fees be charged on a 3-day notice?

To FAQs 

If late fees are authorized in the lease agreement, then typically they will be included in a 3-day notice.

Q: What if my landlord refuses to accept my rent within the three days?

To FAQs 

Get as thorough documentation as possible to establish that you attempted to pay rent in full within the 3-day timeframe. Keeping documentation of all your rent payments is crucial to protect yourself against wrongful eviction. Pay your rent by personal check whenever possible. If you can’t pay by personal check, you can use a money order. You can try to prove the amount paid by photocopying the money order after you fill it out but before you separate it from the stub. Your landlord should provide you with a receipt. You can also ask a third party witness to come with you to attest that the rent was delivered and received.  

Q: What can I do if my landlord locks me out of the unit?

To FAQs 

RCW 59.18.290 states that lockouts are illegal. Landlords cannot restrict tenants from access to their units by changing the locks, even if the tenant is in the midst of an Unlawful Detainer lawsuit or has a Writ of Restitution issued against them. If illegally locked out, tenants have a right to regain access to their units, but must pay for the cost of any damages they do to the unit in order to regain access. Tenants who are being illegally removed from a property can call the police.

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