Washington Landlord Tenant Laws
Welcome to Washington
You’ve found the perfect apartment or house to rent in a new town – congratulations! Getting moved in and unpacked will keep you occupied for a while. Before you get too settled, though, understand how the laws of Washington State affect tenants. What are your rights and responsibilities as a renter? Regardless of whether your new digs are in Seattle, Spokane, or Wenatchee, the same rules apply. Review the information and links below to better understand your obligations – and welcome to Washington!
Please note, much of the information below applies specifically to apartment and home renters. If you are renting a mobile home, or are in a subsidized home program, consult WashingtonLawHelp.org.
Security Deposit Rules
Before moving into your new rental home, it’s likely that you will need to place a security deposit with your landlord. Terms of the security deposit should be outlined in your lease, however, there are some things you should know before turning those funds over. Security deposits typically cover:
- Damage to the property
- Cleaning fees
- Last month’s rent
- Pet deposit
How Much is Security Deposit?
There is no maximum amount of deposit. However, if you are having trouble coming up with the funds you need, you may qualify for assistance.
Protect Your Security Deposit
One can hope that a landlord will be honest and deal fairly with you, but even under the best of circumstances, there can be differences of opinion. Before you fork your deposit over, follow these guidelines.
- Make sure you receive, examine, and agree with a checklist description of the condition of your new rental home. Is everything in working order? Is anything broken before you move in? Make sure there is a record of these types of things before you hand over your security deposit.
- Obtain a receipt for your deposit. Without a receipt, you may find it difficult to get your deposit returned after you move out.
- Provide your landlord a written notice at least 30 days before moving out.
- Clean. Leave the place in the best possible condition. You are not legally responsible for normal wear and tear on your rental, but if there has been damage done, you likely will not get all of your security deposit back.
- Request your deposit, and leave a forwarding address for your landlord to send the funds. The law requires your deposit be returned within 14 days.
For more information about receiving your security deposit, read RCW 59.18.260.
Types of Leases
For any type of lease or agreement you enter, try to get a copy in writing from the landlord. The lease will spell out the details of the rental contract, as well as any rules and expectations between the renter and landlord. Generally, this will provide you information about the kind of agreement you are signing up for.
- Month-to-month agreements are not uncommon. These rental arrangements have no end date, and are not required to be in writing. Your potential landlord may be willing to provide you with a written lease, if you ask, however. Generally, you are able to continue renting as long as you fulfill your obligations as a renter.
- Yearly leases must be in writing. Some renters find these contracts preferable to month-to-month renting because there are some protections. The law restricts changes to the rent without your agreement. In other words, your landlord cannot easily change the terms of your tenure.
Rent Rules – Landlord Obligations
The Residential Landlord-Tenant Act of 1973 outlines rent and fee rules between renters and landlords. For example, here are some of the obligations the landlord must fulfill while you rent from her/him:
- Maintain a safe dwelling that does not endanger your health.
- Repair items that break.
- Keep the locks in good repair, and provide you with keys.
- Make reasonable efforts to keep your apartment or rental house pest free.
- Keep you protected from the weather by making structural repairs (roof, leaks, windows, etc.).
- Provide you with a receipt – especially if you pay with cash.
Landlords can evict you, but only with just cause. They must give you 20 days written notice, and cannot simply lock you out of the place.
Rent Rules – Tenant Obligations
As a tenant, you have obligations as well. Some of the more significant of these responsibilities are to:
- Pay your rent on time.
- Keep the property reasonably clean and in order. Do not let garbage or trash accumulate so that it causes a nuisance to others.
- Do not engage in any illegal or hazardous activities on the premises. No drugs or gang-related activity.
- Refrain from intentionally damaging or improperly using gas, electrical, and plumbing fixtures.
Being a responsible tenant will go a long way toward ensuring you get your deposit back, and establish a good rental record for the future.
It’s possible that there will be costs associated with your rental apartment or home beyond rent and your security deposit. A cleaning fee, for example, may be a refundable fee that you will have to pay before moving elsewhere – regardless of how well you try to clean the place.
Some renters are obligated to pay an “application fee” – that pays for keeping the apartment or house available to you while you are going through the process of signing papers, and putting up your rent and security deposit.
Notice and Entry Rules
Whether it’s to make repairs, or show the place off to a new potential renter, your landlord has some rights to enter your apartment (or rental house). But they must first give you notice. In the state of Washington, unless there is some emergency, landlords must provide two days’ notice before entering the rented premise to take care of repairs or to inspect. If your place is being shown to a potentially new renter, your landlord is obligated to give you only one day’s notice.
Required Disclosures and Notes
The Revised Code of Washington (RCW 59.18.060) outlines the duties of landlords, including information they are required to disclose to you. When you rent an apartment or house from someone, you have the right to know:
- Are there any health hazards such as indoor mold?
- Are working smoke detectors installed?
- What are emergency procedures for multi-family residents?
Small Claims Court
In the best of all worlds, there wouldn’t be problems between landlords and tenants. If you have differences with your landlord, first try to settle them yourself or through a mediator. But if you can’t come to an agreement about a money issue such as your security deposit refund, the amount of rent you owe, you may have to file a complaint in claims court.
Limits of Claims Court
Small Claims Court is designed to settle financial disputes $5000 or less – which fits most landlord-tenant disputes. There are no lawyers or juries in Small Claims Court, and it cannot help you retrieve belongings from your landlord, or make him/her take any action such as repair the water heater. If you have a claim, go to the district court where your landlord lives to file.
Links for More Information
If you need more information on renting in Washington State, or are currently searching for a place, these links may be useful.
Finding a Rental
- Washington Realtors
- Seattle King County Realtors
- Eastern Washington Real Estate Information
- Homes for Rent in Washington