This is the next post in my series on the eviction process and landlord-tenant disputes in Olympia, Tacoma, and other Washington areas. My last article provided an overview of topics which this series will be addressing. It also stressed the need to for tenants to contact an attorney if they are in a dispute with their landlord. Contacting counsel sooner, rather than later, can help a tenant from making a mistake as to how they are handling the matter and can set up strong defenses and preserve rights which can be lost if they are not acted on quickly. Very often, a tenant fails to contact an attorney until the landlord has started eviction proceedings. By then, it is often too late to assert certain rights or defenses. However, even at that point, tenants have options and continuing rights. In this article I will discuss the rights which tenants have in an eviction case. If you or a loved one are in need of assistance then contact our office today to speak with a lawyer.
Washington landlords may not “self-evict” a tenant
It is unfortunate that many owners of single-family, or smaller multi-family, rental homes are not competent landlords who know landlord tenant law. While Washington landlords may not “self-evict” a tenant, some attempt to do so. Such landlords may attempt to simply tell a renter that they have to leave the property, without going through the formal eviction process. Some landlords may take more extreme actions, such as shutting off the utilities, changing the locks, making it impractical for the tenant to remain, or removing the tenant’s personal property from the rental property. Fortunately, the law provides recourse under such circumstances. If a landlord takes such actions, then a tenant can recover up to $100 for each day that they were without utilities, can obtain a court order giving them a right to access property from which they were locked out, and may recover the attorney’s fees incurred pursuing those rights. If you are a tenant who has been victimized by such actions then it is important that you contact an attorney as soon as possible.
Washington tenants must be served with notice of their eviction
As stated above, landlords must go through the eviction process if they wish to remove someone from their property. The first step in this process is for the landlord to provide a notice to vacate the property. The length of the notice will depend on the reason for the eviction. Commonly required notices include:
- A three day notice to vacate for the non-payment of rent. This notice does not mean the tenant has to leave within three days. Rather, the tenant has to pay within three days or the landlord can get a court order evicting them. If the tenant provides the landlord with the full amount owed (including late fees and other amounts due in addition to rent), within the three day period, then the landlord must accept payment and stop the eviction proceedings. However, if the rent is paid after the three day period, the landlord can refuse it and continue the eviction.
- A three day notice may be given for evictions based on illegal activity (such as drug use), waste (damage to the property), or activity by the tenant which constitutes a nuisance (interference with other tenants or neighbors use of their property to rental unit). The most common nuisance violation is excessive noise, although any tenant activity that interferes with other tenants or that damages the property could qualify.
- A ten day notice must be given for “lease violations.” These may include having unauthorized pets, having unauthorized persons living in the unit, etc. The lease must specifically require that the tenant do or not do the thing that is alleged in the notice. The eviction proceeding must be dismissed if the tenant corrects the problem within the ten day period.
- To end a month-to-month lease, landlords must provide at least a twenty day notice to the tenant. The lease terminates at the end of the lease period following the expiration of the twenty day period. (So, if the notice is given at the start of the month, the lease ends at the end of the month, but if the notice is given at the end of the month, the lease ends at the end of the next month.) However, there are very few defenses to an eviction following the termination of a month-to-month lease on twenty day notice.
If a tenant does not vacate within the times described above, then the landlord must formally serve the tenant with a summons and a complaint seeking a court order to remove the tenant from the premises. If the landlord fails to properly file and serve these documents, the tenant may ask for the proceeding to be dismissed (but the landlord could just re-file and re-serve the documents). If the summons and complaint are served on the tenant, the tenant must file an answer, in writing, with the court. It is not effective for a tenant to just show up at the hearing without having filed any documents in response to the complaint. The assistance of a lawyer is often essential to effectively resist an eviction. Attorney help, however, is never a guarantee, even if there are strong grounds to resist an eviction. How the Court will rule in any given matter is always going to depend on the specific facts and on other less predictable factors peculiar to the judge, the parties, and the case. It is best that you discuss your situation with an attorney as soon as possible.
If you are a renter who is in disagreement with their landlord then contact my office to speak with an Olympia landlord-tenant lawyer. I understand the serious nature of such matters and I will give your case the attention it deserves. We are ready to assist you. Our firm also serves the Thurston County cities of Lacey, Tumwater, and Yelm, the Pierce County cities of Tacoma, Puyallup, and Lakewood, the Lewis County cities of Centralia, Chehalis, the King County cities of Seattle, Auburn, Bellevue, Burien, and Federal Way, as well as other areas in Washington, including Grays Harbor, Mason, Cowlitz, and Pacific Counties.