Washington rental laws
Before you move in
The most important aspect of a rental agreement is the lease both parties agree upon. Be sure to read through the entire document and ask about anything you do not understand. Nothing is set in stone until you sign the lease, so be sure to resolve any disagreements before signing the contract.
Always obtain an agreement in writing. A common point of misunderstanding stems from verbal agreements, which are not legally binding.
Additional Resources about landlord/tenant laws
- If I do not sign a lease, but I state via email that I would, am I bound to the lease terms?
- Landlord forgot to have us sign a lease Can we can be month to month rather than a one yr lease? Can we refuse to sign it?
- Do I have to pay even if occupancy or possession never occurred?
A landlord might be able to charge you for all of the shared rent if your roommates fail to do so. Understand what your lease states and how liable you are in case of a falling out.
Additional Resources about roommates
It is important to find out which party will be paying the utility bills. Be sure to understand how you’re charged for utilities and what you can expect (call your electric company to see how much the bill was for the past rental period) so you understand the associated costs and laws.
Additional Resources about utilities
- Is it legal for a landlord in King County to charge tenants a flat fee for utilities?
- My lease states "you will pay as additional rent all public utilities" I was recently told that does not mean all utilities.
There are several types of fees a landlord could collect from you, including a screening fee, a security deposit, a damage deposit, a cleaning fee, last month’s rent, and/or an application fee. Refer to your lease to find out what costs you are liable for. Keep in mind that your security deposit should be used to pay for damages you or your guests caused. The deposit does not cover normal wear and tear on the rental unit.
Additional Resources about deposits and fees
Washington State Law requires all parties to sign a checklist documenting the condition of the premises at the beginning of the rental. Interestingly, a physical walk through does not need to occur to make the checklist valid.
Additional resources about walkthroughs and damages
Washington State deems rent control illegal and as a result, landlords can raise the rent as much as they see fit. Fortunately, landlords must give 30 days notice to change lease items such as your rent.
Additional resources about rent prices
Similar to rent prices, rental renewals require at least 30 days’ notice in writing if a landlord is to make changes to a lease (RCW 59.18.140). Be sure to understand the type of your lease so you know when to expect a renewal/move-out notice.
Additional resources about renewals
There is usually a cancellation fee associated to leases to deter tenants from breaking the items stipulated in the agreement. Be sure to check the status of your lease (RCW 59.18.200) to see whether you will be required to pay cancellation fees.
Additional resources about cancellations
- I am planning to sign an apartment lease, which has a cancellation fee clause in it. I need clarification regarding this.
Although it’s a good idea to purchase renter’s insurance (for either personal property or third party liabilities), the tenant has no obligation to insure the rental unit.
Additional resources about insurance
During Your Lease
A landlord is required to provide a receipt for any payments made in cash. Furthermore, a landlord shall provide a receipt upon request for non-cash payments. (RCW 59.18.063).
Additional resources about rent receipts
The landlord is required to keep the premises "fit for human habitation". The full definition of this phrase is covered in RCW 59.18.060. In maintaining a habitable unit, the landlord is responsible for the associated costs of repairs.
Additional resources about unit upkeep and repairs
Common Area Upkeep
The landlord is required to keep common areas clean and safe from defects and hazards (RCW 59.18.060).
Additional resources about common area upkeep
The landlord is required to provide smoke and carbon dioxide detectors (RCW 59.18.060). If they haven’t provided detectors within ten days of written notice, be sure to contact your city’s landlord-tenant coordinator.
Additional resources about smoke detectors
Landlords are required to provide reasonably adequate locks and provide keys to tenants (RCW 59.18.060). Furthermore, it is illegal for a landlord to restrict tenants from a unit by changing locks. This law holds even if the tenant is under an unlawful detainer lawsuit (RCW 59.18.290).
Additional resources about locks
It is the landlord’s responsibility to provide adequate garbage receptacles. These receptacles should be accessible through common areas and should allow for easy disposal (RCW 59.18.060).
Additional resources about garbage
Tenant responsibilities are covered in RCW 59.18.130. In terms of unit upkeep, the tenant is responsible for keeping the unit sanitary, disposing of garbage in a reasonable manner, and properly using all appliances/fixtures.
Additional resources about unit upkeep and repairs
Tenants are prohibited by law to engage in activities that are hazardous to the physical safety of other persons and to physically assault other people in the proximity of the unit (RCW 59.18.130). Otherwise, noise complaints fall under RCW 70.107.
Additional resources about neighbor interactions
As always, refer to your contract to determine your legal responsibilities when living with others.
Additional resources about roommates
The landlord is allowed to prohibit pets or set rules/restrictions/costs associated to pets in a rental unit.
Additional resources about pets
Tenants are (obviously) refrained from engaging in illegal actions including drug-related activities covered under RCW 69.41, RCW 69.50, or RCW 69.52.
Additional resources about illegal activities
Changes to Lease
Your lease is legally-binding, and can only be changed through mutual agreement. In month-to-month leases, however, landlords are required to give a 30 day written notice to change terms such as rent increases (RCW 59.18.140).
Additional resources about changes to leases
Property is Sold
If the unit you’re renting was recently sold, it’s important to understand if your lease is on a month-to-month basis. If you are on a yearly lease, you can only be evicted if there is legal basis.
Additional resources about sold properties
The option to sublet should be covered in your lease. Be sure that the sublet agreement is in writing in order for the contract to be legally binding. You can create this document yourself, using Avvo's sublease agreement form.
Additional resources about sublets
Rules of Entry
The landlord has the right to enter the unit to make agreed repairs, improvements, or changes. There are special cases in which certain parties may enter the unit without the tenant’s permission, which are covered in RCW 59.18.150.
Additional resources about rules of entry
A landlord cannot discontinue any of the tenant’s utility services. On the flipside, it’s also illegal for the tenant to intentionally stop utility servies provided by the landlord (RCW 59.18.300).
Additional resources about utilities
Landlords may enter and take possession of any rentee property in the case of abandonment. In doing so, the landlord may store the property and provide written notice of a sale/disposal. After forty five days from the date of notice, the landlord may either dispose of or sell the property (RCW 59.18.310).
Additional resources about rentee properties
The tenant is required to give at least 20 days written notice before moving out on a month-to-month agreement. Otherwise, there might be a breaking fee associated with early vacancies.
Additional resources about leases
The landlord is required to give a refund (minus itemized costs covered in the original contract) within 14 days of termination. Incurred costs cannot include normal wear and tear on the unit (RCW 59.18.280)
Additional resources about deposits
The tenant is required to return the rental unit in the same condition as they received it. Be sure to refer to your contract in regards to the original condition of the unit.
Additional resources about cleaning up
In short, an unlawful detainer is defined as a tenant continuing to occupy or possess a unit after the expiration of the term of lease. The landlord has certain rights to evict a tenant found guilty of unlawful detainer and related laws are covered in RCW 59.12.030.
Additional resources about evictions and unlawful detainers
Abandonment happens if you, as a tenant, defaults in paying rent. In such situations, the tenant is liable for several for the remaining rent (depending on the lease type) and other rent accrued during the rerental process of the unit (RCW 59.18.310)
Additional resources about abandoments
Breaking a Lease
According to the Landlord-Tenant Act, a lease may be broken due to a call to military service (RCW 59.18.200), a landlord neglecting repairs (RCW 59.18.090), domestic violence, assault issues (RCW 59.18.575), or disorderly neighbors (RCW 59.18.352).
Additional resources about breaking a lease