Written by attorney Frank S Hong

Unlawful Detainer in Washington State–a Landlord’s Right

When a landlord seeks to remove a tenant from a rental unit, it is known as an eviction. In the state of Washington, an eviction is referred to as an "unlawful detainer." A landlord must be justified in pursuing an unlawful detainer action. If you are a tenant, an unlawful detainer action can't be used to retaliate against you.

When an unlawful detainer can be pursued

In Washington, a landlord may pursue an unlawful detainer for the following reasons:

  1. You fail to pay rent.

On the first day you are behind in rent, a landlord may issue a 3-day notice informing you that you must either pay the overdue rent or move out. If you pay the rent within that 3-day period, the landlord must accept it and cannot begin an unlawful detainer action. The rent is due in full; a landlord does not have to accept partial payment.

  1. You fail to comply with the terms of the rental agreement.

If you do not comply with the terms of the rental agreement (for example, keeping a pet when the rental agreement does not allow pets), a landlord can give you a 10-day notice to comply or move out. An unlawful detainer can only be pursued if you fail to comply with the 10-day notice.

  1. You create waste or nuisance.

If you cause damage that reduces the value of the property, destroy the property, or use the premises for unlawful activity, a landlord may issue a 3-day notice demanding that you move out. This notice means that you must move out, even if you fix the problem(s).

  1. No cause.

If you have a month-to-month rental agreement, your landlord may remove you without any reason, provided that the removal is not discriminatory or retaliatory, by giving you a 20-day notice to vacate, except in the City of Seattle. This notice must be given 20 days before your next rent payment is due. Unless provided for in the rental agreement, a landlord cannot use the 20-day notice to remove you if a lease has been signed.

The removal process

Notice. A landlord must serve you with the required eviction notice. This notice may be delivered in person. Unlawful detainer lawsuit. If you fail to correct the problem or continue to stay in the rental property, the landlord must file an unlawful detainer lawsuit. Hearing. You have the right to appear for the court hearing to dispute the reasons for the unlawful detainer. Decision for the landlord. If the landlord wins his/her case in court, the sheriff will be instructed to move you out of the rental property if you do not move out voluntarily. Attorney's fees. In an unlawful detainer action, the winning party is entitled to costs and attorney fees.

Additional resources:

Washington State Legislature: Revised Code Washington 59.12.040 (Service of notice - Proof of service). (

Washington State Attorney General's Office (

Related Legal Guides:

Landlord-Tenant Disputes (

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