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Tenant Services

FREE “Rent Smart” Tenant Rights Workshop
Tuesday, September 23, 6 - 8pm at
Solid Ground (1501 N 45th St, Seattle, WA 98103)
 

Tenant Services at Solid Ground Back to top

Solid Ground’s housing counseling services for tenants help families and individuals maintain permanent and reliable rental housing. Our services provide tenants with the resources and tools they need to prevent eviction and ensure housing stability. While we do not have attorneys on staff and cannot provide legal advice, we can help you understand your rights and responsibilities as a renter.

Tenant Counselors Can Provide Information on:

  • The Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act and other laws impacting renters
  • How your rights can protect you as a renter
  • Tenant and landlord responsibilities
  • Laws regarding rule changes, rent increases, repairs and deposits
  • Housing searches  where to look, how to apply and credit screening issues
  • Resources available if you are a victim of discrimination, harassment or retaliation
  • The eviction process  timelines and procedures
  • Legal and community resources

Solid Ground is located in Seattle, but we work with tenants throughout King County and across Washington State. Tenant Services is part of our Stabilization Services, and our housing counseling services for tenants are certified through the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). We provide all of our services free of charge.

Solid Ground’s Tenant Services does not provide rental assistance. For more information on accessing rental assistance, see our Renters’ Resources webpage.

Some Solid Ground Online Resources for Tenants:

 

Understanding Landlord-Tenant Laws Back to top

Washington State laws governing residential tenancies are detailed in RCW 59.18, Residential Landlord-Tenant Act. Tenants within the City of Seattle have additional protections under Seattle Municipal Codes (Seattle Landlord-Tenant Law). Most cities also have local building code ordinances.

Just as important as knowing the law is knowing how to use it to protect yourself as a renter. With a few exceptions, landlord-tenant laws are considered “self help”  it is up to individual tenants to get their rights enforced. You cannot call the police if your landlord has refused to return your deposit or is unwilling to make a repair.

There is not an equal playing field between landlords and tenants. As property owners, landlords have access to financial and other resources that many tenants do not. Landlord-tenant laws are unfortunately currently not strong enough to adequately address all the needs of renters in the state. All housing problems can lead down the road to eviction, so be prepared to take action in order to protect yourself.

It’s up to you as a tenant to proactively take steps to ensure your rights are being respected by your landlord.

  

Tools for Tenants Back to top

1) Know Your Rights.

Landlord-tenant laws cannot help you until you know them and know how to use them. Use the Solid Ground Tenant Services Hotline and this website as resources to learn about your rights. Some landlords will take advantage of tenants who aren’t fully informed about their legal protections. You can find answers to many common questions on this website  or call our Tenant Services Hotline at 206.694.6767.

2) Document Everything.

Always get it in writing! It is a best practice to document all your communications with your landlord in writing, and get proof that they were sent and received. Without written documentation, every repair request or agreement between you and your landlord will come down to your word against theirs. In many places in the law, the tenant is actually not allowed a remedy until the request has been put in writing and sent to the landlord. A thorough paper trail will ensure that you’ll have the proof you need to protect yourself if you end up needing to fight a disputed bill or take your landlord to Small Claims Court. See our Best Practices & Tips for Renters section below for more information on documentation.

3) Negotiate with Your Landlord.

Whether or not the law is on your side, it’s useful to think of all of your interactions with the landlord as negotiation. It can be difficult to get what you want because in many situations the law is inadequate or vague. Landlord-tenant negotiations are by nature imbalanced because ultimately the landlord controls the property. Even when the laws are clear, it is still up to you as a tenant to get them enforced. Written negotiation is your way to communicate your rights and positions to the landlord.

4) Access Resources.

There are a wealth of free resources available to Washington State renters. For instance, you may be able to call local building Code Enforcement to follow up with your landlord to get necessary repairs made. You may also be able to take your landlord to Small Claims Court to collect money owed to you. See our Renters' Resources webpage for a  complete list.

  

Best Practices & Tips for Renters Back to top

1) Document All Communications with Your Landlord in Writing.

  • All repair requests must be in writing (RCW 59.18.070). Always keep a copy of your communications with your landlord and proof of mailing, and be sure to get copies of all documents that you sign.

  • You can prove that the letter was sent and received by sending it Certified Mail Return Receipt or asking your landlord to sign and date your copy of the letter. You can also ask a reliable person to witness your delivery of the notice to the landlord.

  • Document all agreements between you and your landlord and any commitments your landlord makes to you, especially payment arrangements. All agreements should be signed and dated by both you and your landlord.

2) Always Get Receipts for Money You Pay to the Landlord.

  • State law requires landlords to provide tenants with receipts for rent (or any payment) if they are requested (RCW 59.18.063). You can also document payments by sending them certified mail or making a photocopy of the check or money order before you send it to the landlord, and sending it with a letter stating the amount paid.

  • Whenever possible, pay using money orders or cashier’s checks instead of cash, and make copies of the money order after it’s filled out but before it’s separated from the stub.

  • You can mark checks and money orders For April [or appropriate month] Rent in Full Only and keep a copy. This documents that your payment can only be used for rent in the proper month and not for other fees.

3) Do Not Withhold Rent if the Landlord is Not Making Repairs.

  • Tenants must be current in rent in order to access the repair remedies written into the law. Even if the repairs are extremely severe, withholding rent will leave renters vulnerable to eviction. For more information on your rights to get repairs made, go to our Repairs webpage.

4) Document the Condition of Your Unit When You Move In & Move Out.

  • You can defend yourself against wrongful damage charges after you move out by thoroughly documenting the unit’s condition when you first move in and when you vacate. The landlord is required to provide a move-in checklist. Fill it out thoroughly as this will be the primary document that protects you from being charged for pre-existing damages.

  • Take detailed photographs of the unit’s condition. Including a copy of the day’s newspaper visible in each frame will prove the date the photo was taken. Small Claims Court judges may not accept camera date stamps as documentation because they can be tampered with.

  • Landlords are not required to do move-out inspections. However, you may ask the landlord to walk through the unit with you upon move-out and provide you with a copy of the signed inspection report at the end.

  • Be sure to give your landlord a forwarding address for yourself or a dependable friend when you vacate.

5) Eviction Always Requires a Court Process.

  • Verbal eviction notices are not valid. All notices must be in writing and follow a specific legal process (RCW 59.12).  

  • Lockouts are illegal (RCW 59.18.290). You can call the police if your landlord has locked you out of your unit or removed your belongings without going through a court process.

6) Protect Yourself by Verifying When You Move Out of a Unit.

  • To vacate a unit in a month-to-month rental agreement, the landlord must receive written notice from the tenant 20 days prior to the end of the rental period (RCW 59.18.200). For example, the landlord must receive written notice by the 10th of the month if you want to vacate on the 30th of the month (if the month has 30 days in it).

  • You must vacate your unit by the end of the month that you gave notice. If you stay even one day past the vacate date, the landlord can legally charge you for the entire following month’s rent. The landlord is not obligated to prorate your rent upon move-out, but you may be able to negotiate with them to get the rent prorated. Remember, get it in writing!

  • If you are on a lease, you normally cannot vacate until the lease expires.

7) Landlords Can Only Enforce Rules Written in the Lease.

  • Landlords cannot legally enforce any terms other than the ones written in your lease.

  • The landlord cannot legally change the rules of tenancy while you’re on a lease for a specified term. Terms and conditions of the lease can only be changed by mutual agreement of landlord and tenant. Once your tenancy becomes month-to-month, your landlord can change the rules (including a rent increase) by giving you 30 days' written notice (RCW 59.18.140).

  • Read the lease carefully before you sign. The landlord can enforce any and all reasonable terms written in the contract as long as they don’t contradict any state or local laws.

  • No lease provision can waive your rights defined under the landlord-tenant laws (RCW 59.18.230). The landlord will try to create lease terms favorable to their own interests. Understand the terms of the lease before you sign the contract.

8) There is No Rent Control in Washington State.

  • Once your lease term has ended, there are virtually no restrictions on how much your landlord can raise your rent. All rent increases require 30 days' written notice. However, Seattle tenants are entitled to 60 days' written notice of an increase in rent or housing costs if it is above 10% in a 12-month period (SMC 7.24).

9) All Seattle Tenants Have Just Cause Eviction Protection.

  • Seattle landlords must have a Just Cause reason to evict you from a property (SMC 22.206). Just Cause evictions include nonpayment of rent, noncompliance with lease terms, chronically late rent payments, and the landlord wishing to occupy the unit themselves. There are 18 total just causes. The notice required for each Just Cause reason varies from 20-90 days. For a list of all Just Cause reasons and notice timeframes, visit our Seattle Laws webpage, Just Cause Eviction Ordinance section.

  • Outside of Seattle city limits, landlords can ask tenants not protected by term leases to vacate with only 20 days' written notice.

10) Domestic Violence Survivors Have Additional Protections Under the Law.

  • Domestic violence survivors cannot be discriminated against because of their status as survivors, or because of damage perpetrators cause to the units survivors live in. Survivors also have the right to legally break their lease to escape an abuser, but must follow the proper legal process. In addition, landlords cannot refuse to rent to you because of your status as a domestic violence survivor. For more information, see Landlord/Tenant Issues For Survivors of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and/or Stalking from Washington Law Help.

11) Prioritize Paying Rent above Other Expenses.

  • Housing loss makes it virtually impossible to maintain stability in other areas of life. Don’t take any chances with your housing! Document every payment and communication with your landlord to protect yourself against housing loss.

12) Let Lawmakers Know How the Laws Need to Improve in Order to Protect Renters.

  • Your elected officials need to know how renters are being impacted by rental laws in Washington State. Call the Washington State Legislative Hotline at 1.800.562.6000 and tell them your story! You can leave a message for your state Senator, two Representatives and the Governor. Also, you can find email addresses and information about upcoming bills that impact renters at the Washington State Legislature website. If you would like assistance from a Tenant Counselor to share your story, please contact Tenant Services Advocacy at 206.694.6748.

 

FAQs: Landlord-Tenant Laws Back to top 


Q: How can I file a complaint against my landlord?

To FAQs  

There is no one agency or governmental body whose job it is to take complaints on landlords or hold them accountable under landlord-tenant laws. Landlord-tenant laws in Washington State are self-enforced. See our Tools for Tenants section above for ideas on how to assert your rights under landlord-tenant law. You can report on any bad experiences with your landlord at the Better Business Bureau website or any of the various landlord or apartment reviews sites found on the internet. These resources are informational only and will not do anything to enforce your rights as a tenant.

Q: My landlord is violating landlord-tenant law. What can I do? 
      How can I get my rights enforced
?

To FAQs 

Landlord-tenant laws in Washington State are self-enforced. Knowing your rights, documenting all your communications and agreement with your landlord, negotiating and accessing resources are the strongest tools renters can use. See our Tools for Tenants section above for more information on options and resources to make sure that your rights as a tenant are respected by your landlord.

Q: Does Solid Ground Tenant Services offer rental assistance?

To FAQs 

Solid Ground Tenant Services does not offer rental assistance. To find out if there are any rental assistance resources in your area, call Washington State 2-1-1 (also 206.461.3200, 1.800.621.4636 or 206.461.3610 for TTY/hearing impaired calls). For more information on rental assistance see our Renters’ Resources webpage.

Q: How can I document communication with my landlord?

To FAQs 

You can prove that the letter was sent and received by sending it Certified Mail Return Receipt or asking your landlord to sign and date your copy of the letter. You can also ask a reliable person to witness your delivery of the notice to the landlord. Always keep a copy of your correspondence with the landlord and proof of mailing, and be sure to get copies of all documents that you sign.

Q: I don't have a mailing address for my landlord. How do I contact them?

To FAQs 

Your landlord is legally required to disclose a name and address, as well as contact information for an agent in the same county, if they live out of state. If they did not give you this information, you can research your landlord through the tax assessor’s office in your county. You may be able to find an address for your landlord there. Try the King County Parcel Viewer or the tax assessor’s office in your county.

  

Tenant Education Workshops & Advocacy Back to top

Tenant Education Workshops
Solid Ground’s Tenant Counselors are also available to offer educational workshops throughout King County on landlord-tenant laws and other topics related to ensuring successful tenancies. Contact us at 206.694.6748 or tenantwa@solid-ground.org if your group, organization or community would benefit from this training.

Tenant Advocacy
Want to make Landlord-Tenant laws work better for tenants? Your story can help! Solid Ground’s Tenant Services Advocates work with lawmakers to protect and expand the rights of renters. Help us change costly screening and application fees, wrongful evictions, discrimination and other housing barriers. Real-life stories make a significant impact on lawmakers. We can help you share your story in order to change the laws. To learn more about how you can share your story, contact Tenant Services at 206.694.6748 or email tenantwa@solid-ground.org.

  

Solid Ground Tenant Services Disclaimer Back to top

The information contained in or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website.

Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney, and its staff members are not attorneys. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel.

 

Contact Us Back to top

Tenant Services Hotline: 206.694.6767                TTY: 7.1.1

Solid Ground's Tenant Services Hotline is open Mondays and Wednesdays, 10:30am–2:30pm. (Note: Our hotline hours are temporarily reduced during a period of staff transition.)

 

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Solid Ground Hours: M-F, 8:30 am - 5 pm | Address: 1501 N 45th St , Seattle , WA 98103-6708
Phone: 206.694.6700 | TTY: 7.1.1