This guide is an informal description of the process of issuing a notice to pay rent or vacate to residential tenants in Washington state. This guide is applicable ONLY in Washington state, and the information contained herein does not apply to any other state. This guide does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Use this guide at your own risk. All users of this guide should contact an attorney to determine if any local or state laws modify this guide. Specifically,
Check your lease!
First, CAREFULLY read your lease to make sure that the lease itself does not provide for a longer notice provision. The state law only requires to to give three days notice to pay rent or vacate, but if your lease provides a longer term, you must give the longer notice period. In essence, you must comply with both your lease AND the state law (RCW 59.12.030(3)). If your lease provides a longer period than three days, then you must give that amount of time to either pay rent or vacate in your notice. Therefore, it is imperative that you read your lease carefully. In addition to the amount of notice required in the lease, look to see if the lease provides a specific manner to serve the tenant. The state law provides two manners to serve the notice upon the tenant, but your lease may provide additional manners. Remember, you must comply with BOTH your lease and state law in order to win an eviction lawsuit.
Write the notice.
The next step is to draft the three day notice to pay rent or vacate. You may be able to find these notices online or in stationary stores, but they may not be correct. Washington state law requires that the three day notice contain 1) the name of the tenants, 2) the address of the leasehold premises, 3) the amount of rent owed at the time the notice is issued, 4) the option to either pay rent or vacate the premises within three days from the date of service, 5) the address where rent may be paid, 6) the date the notice is issued, and 7) a signature by the landlord or the landlord's authorized agent. The notice cannot include anything other than rent. Do not include late fees, unpaid utilities, etc. on the notice. You must also provide the option of either paying rent or vacating the property in order to comply with state law. Do not include rent that will become due and owing during the three days; only include rent already past due. Finally, make sure to date and sign the notice.
Serve the notice on the tenant.
Washington state law (RCW 59.12.040) provides that a notice may be served on a tenant in only two ways: 1) personal delivery to the tenant or someone of suitable age and discretion residing at the premises, OR 2) if personal delivery is attempted and cannot be made, the notice must be posted in a conspicuous location on the premises AND mailed to the tenant by first class mail, postage prepaid.
Your lease may also provide that the notice must be mailed by certified mail or by first class mail. If your lease does have such a provision, then you must comply with both the lease and the state law. For example, if your lease states that the notice must be mailed by certified mail, you must send it by certified mail AND either personally serve the notice or post and mail it by first class mail.
Service of the notice is VERY important. If you do not serve the notice correctly, you will lose your eviction lawsuit and may have to pay the tenant's attorney fees if they hire counsel.
Calculate the expiration date of the notice.
The number of days you must wait before you can file your eviction lawsuit depends on how you served the notice. In all cases, the day that you served the notice does not count towards the three day period (or longer if your lease requires) that the tenant has to pay the rent or vacate the premises. In addition, if you had to post the notice and mail it, then you have to include one more day before the notice period begins running.
The following examples assume that your lease does not provide for a notice period longer than the three day period mandated by Washington state law:
1) If you hand deliver the notice to the tenant on Monday, then the first day of the three day period starts on Tuesday, and the tenant must pay the rent or vacate by Thursday.
2) If you posted and mailed the notice on a Monday, then the first day of the three day period starts on Wednesday, and the tenant has until Friday to pay the rent or vacate.
Wait for the notice to expire.
Once you have calculated the number of days that the tenant has to pay rent or vacate, you must wait until that amount of time has elapsed. If the tenant has not paid the rent or vacated the premises during that time, then you can file your eviction lawsuit the next business day after the notice expires.
Also, be wary of accepting partial rent payments during the notice period. You are not required to accept partial payments, but you ARE required to accept payment in full of the rent. Remember, late fees cannot be included in the notice to pay rent or vacate, so you cannot refuse full payment of rent because it does not include late fees. If the tenant offers a partial payment, and you accept it, you will have to issue a new notice to pay rent or vacate for the balance due.
If you accept a partial payment after you issue a notice, then you waive your right to bring an eviction lawsuit under that notice and must start the process over with a new notice for the remaining balance.