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Before using any of this online tenant information, please read our OVERVIEW:
- Understanding Landlord-Tenant Law
- Tools for Tenants
- Best Practices and Tips for Renters
Solid Ground Tenant Counselors are not attorneys, and this information should not be considered legal advice. To read specific laws in the Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act, click on the RCW (Revised Code of WA) links throughout this site.
QUESTIONS? Tenant Services Message Line
- RCW 59.18.200
- RCW 59.18.220
- Seattle Just Cause Eviction Ordinance: Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI)
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. In most cities in Washington State, the landlord must give the tenant at least 20 days’ notice before termination. New laws passed in Bellingham, Vancouver, and Tacoma require landlords to give tenants at least 60 days’ written notice for a termination of tenancy. All Washington landlords must give the tenants a 120 day termination notice if they plan on demolishing, rehabilitating, or changing the use of the building. If a tenant who receives a valid 20- or 60- or 120-day notice does not vacate within 20, 60, or 120 days, they become a “holdover” tenant, and the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit against them.
Washington State landlords do not need to give a reason why they are asking the tenant to leave, except for in the cities of Seattle and Burien where landlords must follow the Just Cause Eviction Ordinances. Seattle and Burien landlords must state a “just cause” for the eviction or termination of tenancy for month-to-month tenants. For more information about Just Cause in Seattle, see our Seattle Laws webpage. For more information about Burien’s Just Cause ordinance, read the municipal code (BMC 5.63.070).
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 firstname.lastname@example.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. Landlords cannot discriminate against tenants who use Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers or other forms of government assistance to pay their rent. 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.BACK TO TOP
Eviction Process Overview
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 State 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 webpage.
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.
You should read, respond to and save all notices from your landlord.
Documentation is crucial in the eviction process.
Eviction filings go on your permanent record.
Month-to-month tenants in Seattle and Burien have Just Cause Eviction Protection.
The law does not allow tenants to withhold rent because of unmade repairs, complaints against the landlord, or money the landlord owes them, with few exceptions.
Eviction Process Steps
1) Eviction Notices
2) Summons and Complaint
3) Payment or Sworn Statement Requirement
4) Show Cause Hearing
5) Writ of Restitution
Evictions in Washington State generally take around a month 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.
Rent is due.
Rent is still unpaid, and the landlord serves the tenant a 14-Day Notice to Pay or Vacate.
The tenant has two weeks to come up with the entire amount due on the 14-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 14 days. Often, 14-day notices contain additional late fees. The tenant should consult their lease to see if these fees are stated in the rental agreement. The tenant only needs to pay off their rental payments in order to prevent the eviction from moving forward. Washington landlords cannot evict tenants for unpaid late fees.
Rent is still unpaid. The landlord now has the option of serving the tenant a lawsuit for Unlawful Detainer (eviction Summons and Complaint). This initiates the legal eviction action.
- The tenant has seven days to answer the Summons and 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.
The 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.
The 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.
The 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.
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 31 or 32
The 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.
This is the deadline for the sheriff to complete the eviction.
Landlord Illegal Acts
Self-help evictions are illegal.
Lockouts are illegal.
Utility shutoffs are illegal.
Taking or keeping tenant property in lieu of rental payments is illegal.
Terminations of tenancy and rent increases that are retaliatory or discriminatory are illegal.
Low-Income Housing Eviction
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
2) Public Housing Eviction
3) HUD Housing Eviction
4) Tax Credit Eviction
Resources: Rental Assistance
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.
- 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.
- Legal Assistance Guide: Solid Ground’s Tenant Services website
- Eviction and Your Defense: Washington LawHelp
- Vacating a Judgment and Staying Enforcement of a Writ of Restitution: Washington LawHelp
- Seattle Just Cause Eviction Ordinance: Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI)
- Public and Subsidized Housing: What Happens If I Do Not Pay the Rent?: Washington LawHelp
- Low-Income Housing Rights: Solid Ground’s Tenant Services website
- Public Housing Grievance Procedure: Washington LawHelp
- How to Protect Your Section 8 Voucher: Washington LawHelp
- Public Housing Evictions: Washington LawHelp
- Good Cause Eviction Protection for Tax Credit Tenants: National Housing Law Project
- My Landlord Locked Me Out: What Can I Do?: Washington LawHelp
- How to Stop a Landlord from Denying your Housing Application Because of an Eviction: Washington LawHelp