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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.
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Resolving Conflicts with Neighbors
The Landlord-Tenant Act in Washington State does not specifically spell out steps for tenants to take to address concerns that arise between neighbors. Some of the most common issues between neighbors are noise complaints, smoking, safety concerns and false reports to management. It is up to individual tenants to choose the steps they will take to resolve problems that arise with neighbors. You may decide to talk with the tenants themselves to resolve the problem, or you may decide to negotiate with the landlord and ask them to intervene with the neighbors.
Often there are clauses in rental agreements designating quiet hours, parking spaces and smoking policies. It is up to the landlord to enforce the terms of the rental agreement with other tenants in the building or complex. You can document incidences of noise violation or safety concerns in writing to the landlord and ask them to take action to enforce the terms of the rental agreement with those tenants.
You can talk directly to your neighbor or ask them to participate in mediation. You may choose to file a complaint against a neighbor for noise issues or other tenancy violations. You can refer to state statutes, local codes and common law. (Common law is defined as rules of law that come from the decisions judges make in certain court cases.)
It is important to proceed with caution in cases like this so as to not to create further problems. If you are too aggressive, another tenant may feel that you are harassing them and take legal action to protect themselves. Contacting the police is another option tenants have if you are immediately concerned for your safety or the safety of someone else. It is up to each individual tenant to decide how best to address the problem. See our Negotiation Tools Example: Noise Problems section below for examples of options you can use to try to resolve problems with your neighbors.
If you are concerned about safety in the apartment complex, other tenants may have the same concerns. You might consider joining with other tenants to write a letter or send a petition to the landlord asking for safety patrols or better lighting in common areas. There are laws designed to protect tenants against retaliation; however, tenants all over the state may be targeted by landlords for organizing in their buildings, so proceed with caution.
See our Seattle Laws webpage for more information on Seattle tenants’ right to organize. Tenants outside the city of Seattle who are not on leases may face retaliation for organizing in their buildings. Retaliation can take many forms, including termination of tenancy. See our Eviction webpage for more information on how to protect yourself against retaliatory eviction.
Your landlord is responsible to provide you with adequate locks in your unit, as stated in RCW 59.18.060. If you believe that your locks are inadequate to address your safety concerns, you can ask your landlord to improve them. Follow the repairs process described on our Repairs webpage. If you add or change your locks to improve security, provide copies of the keys to the landlord so they can enter the unit in case of an emergency.
In some cases, your neighbor may be filing complaints or making noise reports against you to the landlord. For example, your neighbor may complain to the landlord that there was loud noise coming from your unit on a night that you were out of town. If you believe that the allegations your neighbors are making are false, address it with your landlord in writing, documenting what you can.
You may not be able to stop your neighbor from filing complaints, or your landlord from acting on them, but you can make sure that your side of the story is well documented in writing to the landlord. It is best practice to respond to all complaints or notices from the landlord in writing. Try to respond early, before the situation escalates. See the Tools for Tenants section of this website for more information on documenting your communication with the landlord.
In the case of serious threatening violence from one tenant towards another, there are additional protections in the Landlord-Tenant Act. RCW 59.18.352 states that if a tenant is threatened by a neighbor with a firearm or other deadly weapon and an arrest is made – and the landlord fails to evict that tenant within seven days of the incident of violence – the threatened tenant can break their lease and move.BACK TO TOP
Negotiation Tools Example: Noise Problems
It’s useful to think of your attempt to resolve issues with your neighbor as a trial-and-error process that will involve some negotiation and, likely, some compromise. It is a good idea to take the easiest, least complicated steps first and then escalate your strategy as the situation calls for it.
It is up to each individual to assess the risk of the situation for themselves. Some tenants are able to address the concerns they have with their neighbor directly and resolve the situation while others may be reluctant to approach their neighbor because of safety concerns.
Here are some ideas that you can try in an attempt to get the problem resolved. Not every option may be available to you for various reasons, but some ideas may be helpful in reaching resolution with your neighbor. We’ll use a noise problem as an example, but these same strategies may be useful in resolving a variety of different problems with your neighbors.
Here are some ideas you can try when working to solve a noise problem with your neighbor:
Talk with your neighbors.
Document your complaints in writing.
Document the impacts of the noise.
Contact the police.
Take legal action.
Resolving Conflicts with Roommates
Navigating issues that arise between roommates sharing housing can be extremely complicated, and unfortunately there is nothing in the Landlord-Tenant Act that addresses the issue. Sometimes roommates enter into a rental agreement without knowing each other well, and new tenants may come and go without being properly placed on or removed from the contract, which can be problematic in some rental situations.
Roommates or housemates on the same rental agreement are jointly responsible for following all conditions of the rental agreement, including payment of rent. Any action the landlord takes to terminate or enforce the rules of tenancy will apply to all tenants on the rental agreement, not just individual tenants. If one tenant is violating the rules of the rental agreement, the other tenants may decide to communicate with the landlord regarding a roommate’s rule violations or any disputes. It is up to the landlord to enforce the rules of tenancy with all renters in the unit, including payment of rent.
For example, three tenants may share a house and all be listed on the rental agreement. Each pays one-third of the rent. If one tenant does not pay their rent, the landlord would serve a 3-Day Pay or Vacate notice on all three tenants on the rental agreement, rather than just the delinquent tenant. Likewise, if the entire amount of rent was not paid within the three-day timeframe, all three tenants would face eviction.
However, tenants who have individual leases to rent individual rooms in a house or apartment would be individually responsible for not paying their portion of the rent. For this reason, it may be helpful to have separate rental agreements instead of joint ones. Individual rental agreements mean that each tenant is responsible for their own behavior and decisions separately.
In a household where all roommates are listed on the same lease, one tenant being late or delinquent on their rent can result in the eviction of everyone on the rental agreement. In a situation where one roommate does not pay their rent, the other tenants in the unit may choose to cover the cost of the delinquent tenant’s rent in order to avoid facing eviction. They may send a letter to the landlord documenting that one tenant did not pay their portion, and then they may try to recover rent from the roommate who did not pay, or in Small Claims Court if necessary.
Here are some guidelines for protecting yourself when renting with roommates:
Document everything in writing.
Ask for a separate rental agreement.
Read the details of your rental agreement carefully.
Protect your deposit.
Screen roommates well before you move in.
Living with Your Landlord
Tenants may find themselves either sharing a living space with their landlord or living in the same building or unit as the property owner, manager or other agent of the landlord. Use caution when entering into a living situation where you will share living space with your landlord. These situations can quickly become very complicated.
In order to make such a living arrangement work, you may want to review privacy laws and have clear rules spelled out in the rental agreement regarding the landlord’s expectations in terms of sharing common areas and other rules. Landlords living in buildings or units with their tenants have all the same duties under RCW 59.18.060 in the Landlord-Tenant Act.
In shared living space, landlords do not have the right to restrict tenants’ access to the living space or common areas. Neither can they create arbitrary rule changes based on tenants’ behavior. When a tenant shares living space with their landlord, the rules of tenancy must be stated at the beginning of tenancy, either in the written rental agreement or a verbal rental agreement, just like any other landlord-tenant relationship.
Landlords can change the rules if you are a month-to-month tenant, but the rule changes must be in writing with 30 days’ notice, and the rule must be reasonable. For more information on rule changes, see our Rental Agreements webpage.
Even if you share common space with your landlord, you still have the right to privacy in your bedroom and other areas designated as your private space. For more information on privacy laws, see our Privacy Rights webpage.BACK TO TOP
Resources: Neighbors and Roommates
- Resolution Washington: An Association of Dispute Resolution Centers
- Legal Assistance Guide: Created by Solid Ground’s Tenant Services
- Avoiding Noise: Seattle Police Department
- Seattle’s Noise Ordinance: Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections
- Smoke Free Washington: Washington State Department of Health