Landlord-tenant relations have changed drastically under a new Washington state law, improving renters’ rights and giving them more ways to avoid eviction.
The new law (ESSB 5600), which was signed in May but went into effect on July 28, gives tenants more time to pay rent, more ways to avoid eviction, and expands the information that landlords have to provide to tenants.
No evictions for fees other than rent
With these changes, landlords can’t evict tenants for any non-recurring fees – meaning anything other than rent or utilities in the case of most leases. While some leases might have other recurring fees, such as parking, the new law protects most tenants from being evicted over damages or late fees. Landlords can still go to court to get those fees paid, but those court proceedings are separate from the usual eviction process.
The special non-recurring fees also now take a backseat to rent when a tenant pays their landlord. Under the new law, landlords have to apply any payment towards paying off rent and other recurring fees before they can use it to cover other costs. The change protects tenants from falling short on rent payments because of other fees they’ve built up.
The new law also requires landlords to give 60 days’ notice about rent increases, up from 30 days under the old law. As with many of the changes, it’s worth checking local tenancy laws, given that some cities still go further than the new statewide law – including Kenmore, which will require a 90 days’ notice for any 10% rent increase starting September 1.
More time to pay rent
One of the biggest changes in the law gives tenants more time to pay rent before facing eviction. The old 3-day notice – which notified renters that they had fallen behind on rent and could face eviction – is now a 14-day notice, giving tenants two weeks to pay off their rent.
The old 10-day notice – which is similar to the 14-day notice but notifies renters that they faced evictions for other reasons – is gone for monetary fees now that tenants can’t be evicted over non-recurring fees. The 10-day notices can still be issued for behavioral reasons.
The new 14-day notice also has to be written in plain language and includes information about online and over-the-phone resources for tenants. Along with giving tenants more time to pay, the new law also gives tenants more ways to stop the eviction process once it begins.
Under the old law, tenants only had three days to pay rent, and the landlord could refuse to take payment after those three days, making it a hard deadline. The new 14-day notice gives tenants two weeks to pay rent and requires landlords to still accept payment during the rest of the eviction process, making it a soft deadline.
Under the new rules, as long as the tenant can pay off all of their costs at some point during the eviction process, the process is stopped, and the tenant gets to keep their lease. However, the tenant’s costs do go up over the course of the process (see graphic).
The new rules also protect month-to-month renters who no longer have a long-term lease to stop the eviction process. Under the old rules, tenants had to have an unexpired lease to avoid eviction after the 3-day notice was up.
New court & legal options
The last big change gives judges more discretion to help tenants when it comes to eviction cases. While under the old rules judges had very little discretion to do anything other than approve an eviction, the new law lets the court postpone an eviction for up to 90 days under certain conditions. Judges can now create payment plans that allow tenants to pay off their costs over those 90 days, or to find someone else to pay for them – including charities or the new Washington Department of Commerce’s Landlord Mitigation Fund.
Landlords also now have more flexibility in delivering complaints to renters, leaving them on the door or by mail if they can’t find the tenant after a couple of tries. The change means that rent disputes are kept out of the legal system for longer than they used to be, when landlords had to go to court to get permission to deliver complaints any way other than in person.
This change is particularly important under the new court fees system that the law creates. Because the new system leaves tenants on the hook for more fees once a case goes to court, the option to postpone a court date can allow tenants to pay off their balance without the added costs.
Overall, the new law creates better protections for Washington state tenants, which Solid Ground Bilingual Tenant Counselor Arturo Velasquez describes as “a huge improvement for tenants all across the state.” The new rules make it easier to avoid eviction and stop the eviction process once it begins, and also give courts more ways to take into account tenants’ situations and stop the process themselves.
The tenant information contained in this article 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. 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 here should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services Message Hotline at 206.694.6767 (currently open for messages Mondays and Thursdays between 10:30am and 1:30pm – hours subject to change) or visit our For Tenants webpages at any time.