The landlord is responsible for the property and has explicit requirements under Washington State law regarding care and maintenance. For a complete listing of the landlord’s duties, see RCW 59.18.060.
It is also essential that you document your communications with your landlord in writing as a tool to protect yourself. Read this website's Tools for Tenants section for more details on the importance of maintaining a paper trail to document your communication with your landlord. It is best practice to do all of your communications with your landlord in writing. Certified mail is a good way to prove that the document has been sent and received. Send your communications certified mail, return receipt and regular first class mail, and keep a copy for your own records. You may also hand deliver the correspondence and ask that the landlord or manager initial and date your copy of the letter to prove the date it was received.
Email correspondence is always good to save for documentation purposes, but the Landlord-Tenant Act was largely written prior to the internet age. The Act is not clear as to whether email constitutes proper notice to the landlord, especially if the landlord never responds to an email, making it difficult to prove whether they received the notices or not. The surest way is to write a physical letter as described above.
Sometimes landlords will have specific forms that they want you to use, such as a repair request form or work order. It is fine to use those forms, just make sure that you get copies of the forms before they are turned in. You can ask management to initial or sign and date your copy of the form to prove that it was received.
RCW 59.18.030 states that the definition of landlord includes anyone designated as a representative of the owner, lessor or sublessor, including but not limited to an agent, resident manager or property manager. The owner of your property is considered to be the person, people or corporation named on the property title. Many owners hire property management companies to handle the daily business of running the rentals. Anyone designated by the landlord to be acting as their agent can also be considered a landlord and is also responsible for following all the obligations set out in the law. Thus, more than one person may be considered your landlord.
Generally rental agreements will lay out specifically who to go to with concerns and repair requests and how to reach them. It is still very important for tenants to have the means to communicate directly with the owner of a property regarding their concerns and questions. Management companies work for the property owner, who may be largely uninvolved but still has ultimate decision-making authority over the property. It’s a good idea to send copies of your communications to both the property manager and the owner directly.
It also may be useful to contact the owner of a property directly if property management is not responsive to your requests, or if you have problems with management itself. There is no guarantee that the owner will be any more responsive or responsible than the management, but documentation of your communication is the first step in the negotiation process – especially if you decide to pursue legal action against your landlord.
The landlord is required to provide a mailing address for themselves posted on the property – and must provide the name and address of an agent within the county acting on their behalf if they live out of state – as required in RCW 59.18.060 (14). Sometimes landlords only provide contact information for the property management company, or even provide no contact information at all. If so, you can research the property owner through the county’s Tax Assessor’s office.
Landlords who live out of state still have all the same obligations under the Landlord-Tenant Act. If they violate a provision of RCW 59.18.060, they are deemed to have submitted themselves to the jurisdiction of Washington State courts. Tenants may serve notice of Small Claims Court upon them in the same manner of any landlord living within Washington State, as long as it is served in accordance with the Landlord-Tenant Act. Out-of-state landlords who are served notices of Small Claims Court in Washington State are entitled to not less than 60 days to appear and answer.
Counties maintain information about property value and ownership, as well as tax payments. This information is open to the public and can often be found online in searchable databases. You also may be able to call the Tax Assessor’s office and give them the property address in order to find out the mailing address of the landlord. Contact information for a few counties in Washington is listed below. If your county is not listed, you can do an internet query for “parcel search” in your county or call the county Tax Assessor’s office directly.
Read the directions for each parcel viewer carefully in order to get accurate information. Most search engines require that you list only the street number and name without directionals (NE, S, etc.) or identifiers (Street, Way, Avenue, etc.). Sometimes properties with legitimate addresses do not show up on the online databases. If you run into difficulties finding your property online, you can call the Tax Assessor’s office directly. You can also find a history of the property sales, zoning and property tax information on these websites.
Some landlords may be listed as corporations, denoted with Corp., Inc. or LLC, or another set of initials at the end of the name. If you see a name listed that seems like a corporation rather than a person, it’s a good idea to do some research to find out more. You can research corporate owners at the Washington Secretary of State website's Corporations Search. There must be a mailing address for the registered agent of each corporation in Washington State. You can send correspondence regarding rental property there.
Sometimes landlords do not have accurate mailing addresses filed with the county or the Secretary of State, or they may list the property address as their mailing address as well even if they don't live at the property. If so, you may have to do a more extensive search to locate an address for your landlord. You can do a more detailed online search through the records office for your county. If you live in King County, you can visit the King County Recorder's Office or in person at the King County Administration Building, Room 311, 500 4th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98104. You may also find useful information regarding the owner of your property by putting your landlord or the corporation’s name into an internet search engine. You can also look in the phone book or on the White Pages online for their address.
If you end up with more than one possible correct address for the landlord, you can send copies of your communications to all the addresses you have. If you are serving a small claims or other lawsuit against the landlord, then you must have the correct address for the owner or the registered agent of the corporation. If you’re unsure which address is correct, do all the research you can to find the correct address before you serve the papers on the landlord. For more details, see Small Claims Court in Washington State.
There are a few specific guidelines written out in the Landlord-Tenant Act that regulate the changeover of one property owner to another in a rental unit. If your unit is sold in a foreclosure or otherwise, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out who the new landlord is. Even though RCW 59.18.060(14) requires that the tenant shall be immediately notified in writing of any changes to the landlord – either by personal service or conspicuously posted and sent first class mail – landlords don’t always do this, and information from the Tax Assessor is not always updated quickly.
It’s a good idea to ask for some form of documentation from the new landlord to ensure that you are paying rent to the right person. You can ask the new landlord to provide a copy of the Trustee’s Deed as proof of ownership. You can then contact the County Auditor to ensure that the Trustee’s Deed is legitimate. You can look up the contact information for the County Auditors at Washington Land Records and Deeds Directory. A local title insurance company may also be useful in helping you obtain this information.
The lease, as well as your security deposit and all other money held by the landlord, should be passed to the new landlord. RCW 59.18.270 dictates the terms of the deposit changeover. No terms of the lease can be changed except by mutual agreement, and the lease must be honored through the entire term unless the property is foreclosed on during the lease term, and the new purchaser wishes to occupy the home as their primary residence. If the property goes into foreclosure and is sold at an auction, RCW 59.18.270 states that the old owner must refund the deposit back to the tenant or transfer the deposit to the new owner of the property. If the old owner fails to do either, they can be liable to the tenant for twice the amount of the deposit, court or arbitration costs, and attorney’s fees. See our Foreclosure webpage for more information about your rights in a property foreclosure.