If the tenant vacated the premises an unlawful detainer action is not necessary. See my guide regarding caring for a tenant's personal property.
Was there proper service of a pre-eviction notice?
If a tenant has been properly served a pre-eviction notice and has failed to vacate the premises they are unlawfully detaining the premises from the landlord. The next step in the eviction is the filing of an unlawful detainer action. To ensure that the tenant was properly served a pre-eviction notice, see my guides on three-day notices (terminate a landlord tenant relationship for failure to pay rent), 10-day notices (terminate a landlord tenant relationship for failure to comply with lease agreement), and 20-day notices (terminate a landlord tenant relationship when tenant is current with rent).
How does a landlord start an unlawful detainer action?
An unlawful detainer action is a special legal procedure to quickly decide who has the right to possess a subject premises. Filing a summons and a complaint starts an unlawful detainer action. The content of the summons is dictated by RCW 59.18.365. The content of the complaint is dictated by RCW 59.12.070. A landlord should consult with an attorney for assistance in commencing an unlawful detainer action. A landlord will usually have more success navigating the legal system with advice from an attorney than when they attempt an action on their own.
What happens after the complaint and summons are prepared?
The complaint and summons must both be SERVED on the tenant and FILED with the court. Pursuant to court rule and Washington statute, serving the tenant personally, or serving someone of suitable age and discretion living at the tenant's home, is sufficient service to commence the action. A landlord should consult with an attorney to ensure that proper service is completed. The complaint and summons must also be filed with the court having jurisdiction in the matter. A landlord should consult with the court facilitator or an attorney to ensure that the paperwork is properly filed as well.
What if the tenant does not respond?
If the tenant fails to respond to a properly served and filed summons and complaint the landlord may take a default judgment against the tenant. With a default judgment the judge will order that the landlord is now entitled to retake possession of the premises. A landlord should consult with an attorney to learn more about how to obtain a default judgment against a tenant who has failed to appear and defend an unlawful detainer action.
What if the tenant does respond?
A tenant may respond to the summons and complaint. The tenant's response, or answer as it is called in the legal system, will describe any defenses that they think are applicable. Defenses include: failure to serve the proper pre-eviction notice; possession not at issue (meaning tenant has already vacated the premises); unlawful retaliation against the tenant; discrimination; eviction based on domestic violence; sexual harassment, or stalking; or claims that the premises was uninhabitable. These are all issues that must be resolved by the court. A landlord should consult with an attorney on how to address the tenant's answer.
When is the show-cause hearing?
The landlord has the right anytime after filing the complaint with the court to apply to the court for an order directing the tenant to appear in court and state why they shouldn't be removed from the premises. Consult with the court facilitator or an attorney on how to properly schedule a show cause hearing.
What happens at the show-cause hearing?
At the show cause hearing the landlord will present their case as to why they believe the tenant should have vacated the premises. The tenant will also present their case. There are three outcomes that could result from the show-cause hearing. 1) The landlord prevails and the court will authorize a writ of restitution. The court may also enter a judgment for rent or late fees if necessary. 2) The tenant prevails. The court will dismiss the case and may award the tenant the attorney fees they incurred in defending the action. 3) The case is set for trial. If neither side clearly prevails in the show-cause hearing then the judge will set the case for trial. The landlord should consult with an attorney for assistance at the show-cause hearing.
The landlord prevailed and the court granted a writ of restitution. What happens next?
The plaintiff must prepare the writ of restitution and bring it to the court clerk with the judge's order that authorized the writ. The landlord may also be required to pay a fee. The clerk will then issue the writ and the landlord should take the writ to the County Sheriff's office. The Sheriff will then post the writ on the door of the premises notifying the tenant they have 72 hours to vacate the premises.
What if the tenant doesn't vacate after the writ of restitution is posted?
If the occupant fails or refuses to vacate the premises after the writ of restitution is posted, the landlord and Sheriff can schedule a physical eviction. The Sheriff will keep the peace while the landlord and/or the landlord's agents removes the tenant's belongings and disposes of them in accordance with RCW 59.18.312.