Sometimes landlords try to assert their own rules, which go against the rights of tenants laid out in the Washington State Legislature’s Residential Landlord Tenant Act (RCW 59.18). Here are a few things some landlords will do or threaten to do to their tenants, yet they are not legal:
Retaliation: It is considered retaliation if your landlord takes certain actions after you have contacted a governmental entity to make a complaint about a code violation in your unit, or for asserting your rights as a tenant under the Residential Landlord Tenant Act (code sections RCW 59.18.240 and RCW 59.18.250). These actions include but are not limited to: eviction, increasing the rent amount or your obligations as a tenant, reducing services, and refusing to carry out his/her duties as a landlord. It is presumed to be retaliation if these actions are taken within 90 days after a tenant has filed a complaint or attempted to enforce his rights under the RLTA.
Lockouts: Locking a tenant out without a court order to evict a tenant is illegal. A landlord cannot change the lock on a tenant, even if a tenant is behind in rent. The landlord has to go through the eviction process legally. If you are locked out, you can call the police and file a lawsuit. Again, being behind in rent or failing to fulfill your duties as a tenant does not mean your landlord has the right to lock you out.
Utility Shut-Offs: A landlord may not shut off utilities or intentionally leave bills unpaid. Some landlords may exercise this illegal procedure to try and ‘force’ the tenant to move out. It can be difficult for a tenant to get the utilities back on – especially if the bill is under the landlord’s name and the tenant receives a third-party bill, or if the landlord is responsible for utilities and they stop paying. If this happens, you can call your local code enforcement agency and have an inspector come out to inspect your unit. Having no running water, heat or electricity can be a code violation, and your local code enforcement agency may fine your landlord and/or make them fix the problem. You may also attempt to communicate with the utility company to explain the circumstances. Another option is to contact the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission which regulates many utility companies and assures the safety and pricing of services. Utility shut-offs are addressed in RCW 59.18.300, which also specifies how a landlord is held liable for each day a tenant’s utilities are shut off.
Taking/selling the tenant’s property: In most circumstances, if someone walks into your home and takes your property, it is considered stealing. The same rule applies to your landlord. Taking and selling a tenant’s property to make up for what they owe in rent is not legal. If a tenant has left property behind in a unit they no longer live in, the law specifies what the landlord is required to do with the property. A tenant can take their landlord to court for damages if their property was taken.
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.