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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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Types of Rental Agreements
The landlord must provide a copy of the rental agreement to each tenant that signs it. The tenant may request one free replacement copy during the tenancy. There are three different types of rental agreements.
2) One-Way Lease
3) Fixed-Term Leases
Rule Changes and Rent Increases
A landlord cannot change any aspect of a lease during the fixed-term period except by mutual agreement. Therefore, rent is fixed during the lease term. In month-to-month tenancies, however, landlords can change the rules of tenancy more easily. In fact, the landlord is only required to give tenants 30 days’ written notice to change a term of the tenancy, including a rent increase (RCW 59.18.140). An exception to this general rule concerns a rent increase in the City of Seattle where a tenant is entitled to 60 days’ prior written notice for an increase of 10% or more in a 12-month period (SMC 7.24.030).
Because rent control is illegal in Washington State (RCW 35.21.830), landlords can raise the rent as much as they see fit, as long as they comply with the appropriate notice period and have not issued the notice to discriminate or retaliate against the tenant.
Rent increases go into effect in the first full month following the notice of the increase. For instance, if your rent is due on the first of the month, and your landlord gives 30 days’ written notice of a rent increase on the 15th of September, the new rent amount will not go into effect until November 1st.
If your landlord gave you notice of a rent increase in the middle of the month, the rent increase will go into effect the first of the month following the 30- or 60-day notice period. A tenant paying a rent increase without 30 days’ notice generally indicates their agreement to accept the increase without the proper written notice.
If you have been given less than the required amount of notice, you can contest an improper rent increase. See our Sample Letter: Improper Rule Change / Fee or Rent Increase. However, a rent increase without proper notice may not be adequate defense against an eviction. Tenants who are not given proper notice may still decide to pay the rent increase (if they are able to) in order to avoid the possibility that the landlord will file an eviction against them.
If your landlord does not acknowledge their legal obligations to provide proper notice and instead serves you a 3-Day Notice to Pay or Vacate, a tenant can pay the rent increase by writing “payment under protest” on their check. The tenant can then pursue the difference owed from the improper rent increase in Small Claims Court.
Some tenants will choose not to pay the increase at all and just pay their regular amount. The risk is that the tenant could end up in eviction court for rent nonpayment after service of the 3-Day Notice to Pay or Vacate, and may not necessarily win in court. This can be a risky choice, because whenever a landlord files an eviction lawsuit against a tenant, it creates a permanent record of eviction regardless of whether or not the tenant wins.BACK TO TOP
Breaking a Lease
The Landlord-Tenant Act allows only four reasons for breaking a lease during the term. They are:
- RCW 59.18.200: A call to military service.
- RCW 59.18.090: As a response to a repair concern that the landlord isn’t taking action to fix within a specific timeframe. See our Repairs webpage for more information.
- RCW 59.18.575: Protections for survivors of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault, or unlawful harassment by a landlord or landlord’s agent (see Landlord/Tenant Issues for Survivors of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and/or Stalking).
- RCW 59.18.352 and RCW 59.18.354: A tenant is threatened by a neighbor with a deadly weapon resulting in an arrest, and the landlord fails to file an eviction action; or the tenant is threatened by the landlord with a deadly weapon resulting in arrest. For more information, see our Roommates and Neighbors webpage.
There may be any number of other valid reasons renters choose to break their leases, including: health reasons, irreconcilable problems with neighbors or management, noise problems, and concerns about safety or security. As serious as these problems may be, the Landlord-Tenant Act does not explicitly allow tenants to break their lease for these reasons. Tenants may still negotiate with their landlords to be released from their leases early.
The best protection for tenants breaking their leases is to get something in writing and signed by their landlord agreeing upon a mutual termination of the lease that releases the tenant from any further financial obligation and guarantees a return of the deposit according to the terms set out in the lease. It is up to each individual tenant to try to negotiate with their landlord.
It’s a good idea to consult an attorney to review the terms of the agreement and provide legal advice on how to proceed. This may be difficult, because landlords often don’t have a financial incentive to release tenants from leases and are not required to do so.
If a tenant breaks a lease, the landlord can mitigate their damages by continuing to charge the tenant rent until they’re able to re-rent the unit. If a landlord has to re-rent the unit at a lower amount than what is stated in the lease, the tenant can be charged the difference for the remainder of the lease period.
The landlord can also charge for actual advertising costs, though there is no specific standard for how much they can charge, beyond the cost of mitigating the damages (RCW 59.18.310). Instead of, or in addition to, continuing to charge rent, they may attempt to withhold the tenant’s deposit or charge them a termination fee.
Read your lease carefully to see if it includes a termination fee or specific forfeiture of your deposit for breaking your lease. Remember, RCW 59.18.310 provides language requiring the landlord to only mitigate the damages caused when the tenant broke their lease.
Damages include any lost rent and the cost of advertising the unit for re-rental. If your landlord tries to charge you more than their actual damages, or continues to charge you rent in addition to taking your deposit or charging you a termination fee, you could argue that the landlord is attempting to penalize you.
The law does not allow landlords to penalize tenants above and beyond the mitigation of damages for loss of rent due to a tenant’s breaking the lease. However, it is unclear how the courts will interpret this law. Speak to an attorney for more information and advice on your specific situation.
Some tenants will try to work with the landlord to advertise the unit themselves and find a replacement renter before vacating the unit. Tenants can then request that the landlord screen the replacement, and if the landlord is willing to rent to them, they can sign a new lease.
The new tenant can pay the prorated amount of rent for the month the old tenant wants to move out, and then the new tenant can begin making rent payments for the following month to the landlord. This is not subletting, because the lease is strictly between the new renter and the landlord.
A sublet is a lease between the original tenant on the lease and a new tenant living in the unit. Most rental agreements prohibit subleases. It is still a good idea to have a written agreement with the landlord that the old tenant will be released from the lease under no penalty, though the landlord is not required to sign such a document.BACK TO TOP
Restricted Language in a Rental Agreement
If a lease contains a section or language that attempts to waive your rights defined in the Landlord-Tenant Act (RCW 59.18), that particular section is considered unenforceable. The rest of the lease will still be valid. No rental agreement may forego your rights or remedies, require you to pay attorneys’ fees that aren’t authorized by law, indemnify the landlord from costs for which they are responsible, or create a lien against the tenant’s property. Read the language of the law for a full list.
If a landlord deliberately includes this kind of language in the lease with the knowledge that it is prohibited, the tenant can seek up to a $500 penalty, damages, court costs and attorneys’ fees.
The Landlord-Tenant Act states that tenants must comply with all reasonable restrictions and rules spelled out in a rental agreement. If the rule is unreasonable, then the tenant may not have to comply with it – however the statute does not spell out what is a reasonable rule. It is intentionally left broad as there can be many different types of rules in a rental agreement.
It is a good idea to consult with an attorney to seek advice on whether a lease provision is reasonable or not. If a tenant is going to make an argument for unreasonableness, they should evaluate how extreme the rule appears. For example, a rule that states the tenant can have absolutely no guests over would likely be unreasonable as it is a strict rule that serves no discernible purpose. However, if the guest policy states that a guest can stay for no more than 14 days at a time, it may be considered a reasonable restriction.BACK TO TOP
Resources: Rental Agreements
- RCW 59.18.210: Leases over one year (12 months)
- RCW 59.18.220: Tenancy ends with lease
- RCW 59.18.140: 30-days’ notice for rule changes
- RCW 59.18.230: Prohibited language in a lease
- SMC 7.24.030: Seattle 60-days’ notice rent increase
- RCW 59.18.310: Breaking your lease
- RCW 35.21.830: Rent control is illegal in Washington state
- RCW 59.18.200: Breaking lease for military service
- RCW 59.18.090: Breaking lease for repair violations
- RCW 59.18.575: Breaking lease for domestic violence
- Sample Letter: Improper Rule Change / Fee or Rent Increase: Created by Solid Ground Tenant Services
- Your Rights as a Tenant in Washington State: Washington LawHelp
- Small Claims Court in Washington State: Washington LawHelp
- Resolution Washington: An Association of Dispute Resolution Centers
- Legal Assistance Guide: Solid Ground Tenant Services webpage
FAQs: Rental Agreements
Q: Does my landlord have to provide me with a copy of the rental agreement I sign?
Q: Am I still covered under the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act even though I don’t have a written rental agreement?
Q: Who isn’t covered as a tenant under the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act?
Q: Are there any restrictions on how much my landlord can raise the rent?
Q: I signed a lease before I saw the apartment, and now I don’t want to move in. What can I do?
Q: They showed me a “model unit” and then I saw the actual unit I’m renting, and it’s a total disaster zone! What can I do? Can I sue them for false advertising?
Q: I just signed a lease and then changed my mind about living there. Is there a grace period in Washington State that allows me to back out of a contract within 24 hours of signing it?
Q: Is the landlord allowed to make any rules they want?
Q: Does rent have to be due on the first of the month?
Q: Is the landlord required to prorate my move-in or move-out dates?
Q: Can the landlord enforce rules of tenancy that violate my rights under the law?
Q: I have a two-year lease. Is this valid?
Q: I broke my lease and moved out. Can my landlord charge me for the remainder of the rent due under the lease?
Q: What if the landlord isn’t making a reasonable effort to re-rent my unit after I’ve broken my lease and moved out?
Q: If I moved out without giving proper notice, can the landlord both keep my entire deposit and charge me for the following month’s rent?
Q: Can my landlord charge me a “termination fee” for breaking my lease?
Q: What happens to my lease if the ownership of the property changes?
Q: Do I have to sign a lease addendum if my landlord requires it?
Q: Do I have to move out at the end of my lease?
Q: If my lease is ending, do I still have to give 20-days' notice?
Q: What can I do if my landlord doesn’t give me 30- or 60-days' written notice of a rent increase?
Q: What is a sublease?