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Our landlord had us sign a 14 month lease without notarization. Is the lease an unwritten month-to-month at month 14?

Bellingham, WA |

Our landlord claims to have been a licensed real estate agent "for the last 25 years" and owns multiple rental properties that he manages through a business in his name. He had us sign a 14 month lease and later claimed he had no idea that it needed to be notarized in order to be valid, even though he sites RCW 59.18 repeatedly in his lease and to his advantage. On closer inspection of the lease, our landlord has several provisions designed to trap tenants into agreeing to pay extra up front costs for repairs normally covered by the damage deposit or considered "normal wear and tear". Moving out at the end of month 14, will the courts treat the lease as an informal month-to-month without a written contract and allow us to escape these unfair written move out provisions?

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In my experience the Court will treat this as a lease for 12 months, and month 13 and 14 become a month-to-month tenancy on the same terms as the lease. That means you can be held to the lease for 12 months, but at the conclusion of 12 months, you can give proper timely notice and move out.

The RLTA is actually a little protective of tenants. Read RCW 59 18 230 carefully, because basically what it says is that terms in a lease that are inconsistent with the RLTA are "void as against public policy and unenforceable". So even if you signed something draconian, that does not mean it can be used against you, contrary to the RLTA.

And yes, I have seen the RHA's three page list of things tenants are supposed to have to do to recover their deposits. You are not a serf, you are a tenant. The critical thing to remember at move out is that if there is any damage to the place occasioned by your tenancy, fix it. The distintinction between normal wear-and-tear and damage is *not* supposed to result in the tenant paying to polish up the apartment so the landlord can re-rent it, it is supposed to require the tenant to not cause damage, and restore the place to the condition it was in, normal wear and tear excepted.

I have seen rental agreements from Bellingham that start out by asserting "this tenancy is not covered by the RLTA" which is a complete fabrication.

Two pieces of unsolicited advice 1) give notices of any type in writing (and keep a copy) and
2) when you move out, take a LOT of pictures.

Elizabeth Powell

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Your question seems to be whether the written agreement is void during month 14, when the rental period would expire under the written agreement. The answer would be "no".

Even if the written agreement specified a rental period of 12 months and therefore not requiring procedures specified by the statute, the written agreement would have continued after month 12. The only difference between month 12 and month 13 would be that the rental period specified in the written agreement has expired.

The written agreement cannot requires the tenant to do what is prohibited by the WA Residential Landlord-Tenant Act.

What a tenant thinks is "unfair" may not be what would be prohibited by the RLTA.

What you need to do is have your attorney review the written agreement to see whether it complies with the RLTA.