LEGAL GUIDE
Written by attorney Frank S Hong | Apr 29, 2008

Tenants’ Rights & Responsibilities under the Washington Residential Landlord Tenant Act

The Washington Residential Landlord Tenant Act (RTLA) applies to residential leases. The RTLA does not apply to mobile home parks and residences regarding the lease of a farm or agricultural land. If you are a tenant who is covered under the RTLA, you have the following basic rights:

  1. The right to a livable dwelling. 2. Protection from unlawful discrimination. 3. The right to hold the landlord liable for personal injury or property damage caused by the landlord's negligence. 4. Protection against lockouts and seizure of personal property by the landlord.

Tenants' rights

Under the RLTA, landlords are required to provide the following:

  • Premises that are fit for human habitation in accordance with local housing codes.
  • Maintenance of the premises in such a way to comply with all local laws, building codes, and ordinances that would affect your health and safety as a tenant.
  • Maintenance of all structural components (i.e. floors, roof, doors, etc.).
  • Shared and/or common areas that are reasonably clean, safe, and free of defects that could cause injury or increase the hazards of fire.
  • The control of insects, rodents, and other pests, except for situations caused by your own actions as a tenant.
  • Secure locks and keys.
  • Maintenance of all electrical, plumbing, heating, and other facilities and appliances that are provided by the landlord.
  • Maintenance of the dwelling in a reasonably weather-tight condition.
  • Garbage cans and receptacles, and regular removal of waste except in the case of a single-family residence.
  • Adequate facilities to supply heat, electricity, and hot and cold water as reasonably required by you as a tenant.
  • The name and address of the landlord, and the immediate notification of any change in landlord.

A landlord has no right to "self help"

The RLTA prohibits a landlord from entering the premises without proper notice except in emergencies. Additionally, a landlord cannot attempt to physically remove you from the premises, lock you out by changing the locks, intentionally shut off your utilities, or confiscate your personal property.

Tenants' responsibilities

The RLTA requires that you as a tenant:

  • Pay the agreed-upon rental amount and utilities bill(s).
  • Comply with all reasonable rules or obligations imposed by the landlord, along with complying with the requirements of the city, county, or state regulations.
  • Keep the rental unit clean and sanitary.
  • Properly dispose of garbage.
  • Other than normal wear and tear, leave premises in as good a condition as it was when you first occupied the premises. If you were responsible for any infestations, you will be required to pay for the fumigation bill.
  • Do not intentionally or carelessly destroy or damage the premises or remove any part of the equipment, furnishing, or appliances.
  • Do not engage in illegal conduct or activities that would cause harm to others.
  • Maintain smoke detection devices, including battery replacement.
  • Do not unreasonably withhold consent from the landlord entering the premises.

Deposits

A landlord typically requires a deposit to ensure that you will take care of the rental unit as well as comply with the terms of the rental agreement. Under the RLTA, the term "deposit" can only be applied to money that can be refunded to you. If a landlord collects a refundable damage or security deposit, the rental agreement must be in writing. The writing must be specific as to what the deposit is for and what you have to do in order to get the money back. You must be given a written receipt when a deposit is collected. A checklist or description of the condition of the rental unit must be filled out. This document must be signed by both the landlord and you, and a signed copy must be given to you. A deposit cannot be withheld for normal wear and tear. All deposit(s) much be placed in a trust account with a bank or escrow company. The landlord must provide notice, in writing, to the tenant where the deposit(s) are being kept. Any interest earned by the deposit belongs to the landlord unless another agreement is reached. This agreement must be made in writing.

The landlord has 14 days after you move out to return the deposit. If a deposit is not returned, or only a partial amount of the deposit is returned, a written explanation as to why a deposit was not returned (or partially returned) must be provided within the 14-day period.

Nonrefundable Fees

If you are being charged a nonrefundable fee, then the rental agreement must be in writing and must state that the fee will not be returned. Nonrefundable fee(s) cannot be considered a deposit.

Additional resources:

Chapter 59.18 Revised Code Washington: Residential landlord-tenant act (http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=59.18)

Washington State Attorney General's Office (http://www.atg.wa.gov/)

Apartment Association of Seattle & King County (http://www.waapt.org/AASK)

Related Legal Guides:

Landlord-Tenant Disputes (https://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/landlord-tenant-disputes)

Unlawful Detainer in Washington State - a Landlord's Rights (https://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/unlawful-detainer-washington-state)

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