Judge pounding gavelThis is the next post in my series on landlord-tenant disputes, and the eviction process, for those in Olympia or Tacoma, Washington. My last article discussed when tenants may lawfully be permitted to withhold rent. It is important to understand that rent may only be legally withheld under certain circumstances. Many tenants, unfortunately, make the mistake of thinking that they can withhold rent any time a minor repair is needed or they are otherwise unhappy with their situation. Such conduct can result in the landlord gaining the right to file for an eviction. To fully understand your rights, and the landlord’s obligations, it is best to discuss your situation with an attorney as soon as possible. In this article I will discuss when tenants may have the right to take legal action against their landlord. If you or a loved one are in need of assistance then contact our office today to speak with a lawyer.

Washington law places a number of obligations upon a landlord. These obligations include keeping the rental premises in substantial compliance with applicable codes and local ordinances, reasonably maintaining the roof and other structural components (meaning roof leaks or similar defects must be fixed), keeping common areas (such as the hallways in an apartment building) reasonably safe, supplying heat, water, and other utilities, reasonably providing a pest control program (unless the pest problem is caused by the tenant), making repairs to keep the premises in the condition it should have been when the tenant moved in, providing adequate locking mechanisms, maintaining any appliances that were provided with the rental unit, making sure the dwelling is reasonably weathertight, providing written information regarding the fire safety measures taken in the dwelling, and complying with any other local laws. I stress the word “reasonably” because it means that the landlord doesn’t have to repair conditions which were caused by the tenant or keep the dwelling in “perfect” condition. For example, the faucets don’t have to be perfect and never drip, they just must be in good working order, and a roof and windows don’t have to be good as new, but they should not leak. Also, if the tenant breaks an appliance, puts a hole in the wall to the outdoors, or causes the condition, then the landlord probably will object to paying for the repair and a court will support them. It is important for a tenant to talk to an attorney to determine whether the tenant or the landlord is responsible for the repair.

If a landlord fails to meet the obligations discussed above, a tenant may give written notice of the defective condition to the landlord. The landlord then has specific timeframes for conducting the repairs – 24 hours when the condition deprives the tenant of water (hot or cold), heat, electricity or is an immediate hazard to life, 72 hours when the condition deprives the tenant of the use of kitchen appliances or a major plumbing fixture (such as a toilet, faucet, etc.), and 10 days for all other defective conditions. These timeframes may be extended if the completion of the repair is delayed due to something beyond the landlord’s control, but the repairs must be completed as soon as possible.

Once notice has been given and the time period for the landlord to correct the defective condition has passed, provided the tenant is still paying rent, the tenant may:

  • Terminate the rental agreement and move from the property
  • Initiate litigation against the landlord
  • Make limited repairs to the property, and deduct the cost of the repairs from the rent (although this is dangerous to do without talking to an attorney first – see my earlier post on this topic)

Before a tenant attempts to take any such action, especially before making any repairs themselves or withholding any rent, it is strongly recommended that they discuss their situation with an attorney. Counsel will help a tenant to understand their rights, their options, and to decide on the best path going forward.

If you are having issues in your rental unit then contact my office today to speak with an Olympia landlord-tenant lawyer. I take great pride in the level of service which my office provides and we strive to provide the highest levels of service. We understand that you are facing a serious situation and we will give your case the attention it deserves. Contact us today. 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.