Washington Rental Laws

Written on February 21, 2014 by , updated on July 24, 2017

Flag of WashingtonThis article summarizes some key Washington Landlord-Tenant laws applicable to residential rental units.

The Official State Statutes and other reputable municipal sources were used to research this information. All sources are cited appropriately.

With that said, landlord-tenant laws are always changing and you have a responsibility to perform your own research when applying the laws to your unique situation.

If you have a legal question or concern, I only recommend contacting a licensed attorney referral service that is operated by the state bar association.

Official Rules and Regulations

Security Deposit:

  • Security Deposit Maximum: No Statute
  • Deadline for Returning Security Deposit: 21 days (RCW §§ 59.18.280)
  • Security Deposit Interest: Unless otherwise agreed in writing, the landlord shall be entitled to receipt of interest paid on such trust account deposits. (RCW §§ 59.18.270)
  • Separate Security Deposit Bank Account: Required (RCW §§ 59.18.270)
  • Non-refundable Fees: Allowed, but they must not be part of the security deposit, and must be clearly designated as a “non-refundable fee” in a written lease agreement. (RCW §§ 59.18.285)
  • Pet Deposits and Additional Fees: Allowed (RCW §§ 59.18.285)
  • Require Written/Signed Move-In Checklist: No deposit may be collected by a landlord unless the rental agreement is in writing and a written checklist or statement specifically describing the condition and cleanliness of or existing damages to the premises and furnishings, including, but not limited to, walls, floors, countertops, carpets, drapes, furniture, and appliances, is provided by the landlord to the tenant at the commencement of the tenancy. The checklist or statement shall be signed and dated by the landlord and the tenant, and the tenant shall be provided with a copy of the signed checklist or statement. (RCW §§ 59.18.260)
  • Require Itemized List of Damages and Charges: Yes (RCW §§ 59.18.280)
  • Record Keeping of Deposit Withholdings: No Statute
  • Receipt of Deposit: Yes, the landlord shall provide the tenant with a written receipt for the deposit and shall provide written notice of the name and address and location of the depository and any subsequent change thereof. (RCW §§ 59.18.270)
  • Failure to Comply: If the landlord collects a deposit without providing a written checklist at the commencement of the tenancy, the landlord is liable to the tenant for the amount of the deposit, and the prevailing party may recover court costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees. (RCW §§ 59.18.260)

Lease, Rent & Fees:

  • When Rent Is Due: No Statute
  • Rent Increase Notice: 30-day written notice for month-to-month leases. (RCW §§ 59.18.140)
  • Rent Receipt: A landlord shall provide a receipt for any payment made by a tenant in the form of cash and upon the request of a tenant, a written receipt for any payments made in a form other than cash. (RCW §§ 59.18.063)
  • Rent Grace Period: No Statute
  • Late Fees: No Statute
  • Prepaid Rent: No Statute
  • Returned Check Fees: Allowed, but must not exceed forty dollars or the face amount of the check, whichever is less. I recommend using Cozy to prevent bounced checks. (RCW §§ 62A.3-515)
  • Tenant Allowed to Withhold Rent for Failure to Provide Essential Services (Water, Heat, etc.): Yes, but tenant must also notify government authorities and must deposit the withheld rent into an escrow account. (RCW §§ 59.18.115)
  • Tenant Allowed to Repair and Deduct Rent: Yes
    • If the repair requires a licensed professional, the tenant must provide the landlord with an estimate before the work is performed and the cost of the repair must not exceed two month’s rent. (RCW §§ 59.18.100)
    • If the repair does not require a licensed professional, the tenant may repair the defective condition in a workmanlike manner and the cost of the repair must not exceed one month’s rent. The total costs of repairs deducted in any twelve-month period under this subsection shall not exceed one month’s rent. (RCW §§ 59.18.100(3))
  • Landlord Allowed to Recover Court and Attorney Fees: Yes (RCW §§ 59.18.280, 59.18.290)
  • Landlord Must Make a Reasonable Attempt to Mitigate Damages to Lessee, including an Attempt to Rerent: Yes (RCW §§ 59.18.310)
  • Abandonment: Landlord can store and eventually sell the tenant’s personal property to compensate for damage. Landlord must follow specific instructions found in RCW §§ 59.18.310(b).

Notices and Entry:

  • Notice to Terminate Tenancy – Fixed End Date in Lease: No notice is needed as the lease simply expires. (RCW §§ 59.04.030)
  • Notice to Terminate Tenancy – Month-to-Month Lease (or other periodic term): 20 days or more from lease expiration. Less than 20 days notice is allowed for any tenant who is a member of the armed forces and receives deployment orders. (RCW §§ 59.18.200(1a-b))
  • Termination of Unapproved Tenancy (Squatters): Unapproved tenant is liable for rent for the time he/she occupied the dwelling and must turnover the premise immediately at the demand of the owner. (RCW §§ 59.04.050)
  • Notice of Date/Time of Move-Out Inspection: No Statute
  • Notice of Termination of All Other Leases for Nonpayment: 3 days (RCW §§ 59.12.030(3)
  • Termination for Lease Violation: 10 days (RCW §§ 59.12.030(4)), 3 days for illegal or nuisance activity. (RCW §§ 59.12.030(5))
  • Required Notice before Entry: Two days (RCW §§ 59.18.150(6))
  • Entry Allowed with Notice for Maintenance and Repairs (non-emergency): Yes (RCW §§ 59.18.150(6))
  • Entry Allowed with Notice for Showings: Yes, only one day’s notice is required. (RCW §§ 59.18.150(6))
  • Emergency Entry Allowed without Notice: Yes (RCW §§ 59.18.150(5))
  • Entry Allowed During Tenant’s Extended Absence: No Statute
  • Notice to Tenants for Pesticide Use: No Statute
  • Lockouts Allowed: No (RCW §§ 59.18.290) (pdf)
  • Utility Shut-offs Allowed: No. Landlord may be obligated to pay actual damages plus $100 per day of disrupted service plus court/attorney costs. (RCW §§ 59.18.300)

Disclosures and Miscellaneous Notes:

  • Official Duties of Landlord: For a detailed summary, read RCW §§ 59.18.060.
  • Official Duties of Tenant: For a detailed summary, read RCW §§ 59.18.130.
  • Name and Addresses: The landlord must designate to the tenant the name and address of the person who is the landlord by a statement on the rental agreement or by a notice conspicuously posted on the premises. (RCW §§ 59.18.060)
  • Copy of the Lease: For written rental agreements, the landlord shall provide an executed copy to each tenant who signs the rental agreement. The tenant may request one free replacement copy during the tenancy. (RCW §§ 59.18.065)
  • Lead Disclosure: Landlords must disclose all known lead paint hazards. Landlords must also provide tenants, as an attachment to a written lease, with an information pamphlet on Lead-based paint hazards.
  • Adverse Action Notice: If rejecting an applicant during the screening process, the landlord must give notice using the template found in RCW §§ 59.18.257.
  • Domestic Violence Situations:
    • Proof of Status: Landlord is entitled to verify claim of Domestic Violence status. Tenant must complete the form found in RCW §§ 59.18.575(1b).
    • Termination of Lease: A tenant is allowed to terminate a lease with proof of Domestic Violence status, however the request to terminate must happen within 90 days from the incident date. (RCW §§ 59.18.575(1b))
    • Landlord Cannot Terminate Lease: A landlord may not terminate a tenancy, fail to renew a tenancy, or refuse to enter into a rental agreement based on the tenant’s or applicant’s or a household member’s status as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. (RCW §§ 59.18.580)
    • Landlord Cannot Fail to Renew: A landlord may not terminate a tenancy, fail to renew a tenancy, or refuse to enter into a rental agreement based on the tenant’s or applicant’s or a household member’s status as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, or based on the tenant or applicant having terminated a rental agreement under RCW 59.18.575. (RCW §§ 59.18.580)
    • Responsibility of Rent: Depending on the situation, the tenant may still be liable for the rent for the month in which he or she terminated the rental agreement. Read RCW §§ 59.18.575(2) and RCW §§ 59.18.575(3) for clarification.
    • Locks: Tenant is allowed to add locks to the dwelling at the tenant’s expense. (RCW §§ 59.18.575(4)59.18.585)
  • Retaliation: Landlord must not terminate or refuse to renew a lease to a tenant who has filed an official complaint to a Government Authority or has exercised his or her legal rights and remedies in the last 90 days. (RCW §§ 59.18.24059.18.250)
  • City of Seattle: Landlords with units in Seattle must include The Summary of Washington State and City of Seattle Landlord/Tenant Regulations as addendums to the lease.

Court Related:

Business Licenses:

  • Business License Required: No state-wide statute, but local cities and counties may have regulations and requirements.  Check with your local governing authority.
  • Seattle Rental Registration: Rental properties in Seattle must be registered with the Department of Planning and Development. (source) (SMC §§ 22.214)

Overview Video

This video reviews some of the most common landlord-tenant laws in Washington. The Northwest Justice Project has produced multiple videos on the topic.

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383 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Vine buys Homes

    I’ve been working with Jerred @ibuyhousesgroup and he recommended your site for a one-stop-shop when it comes to local landlord/tenant laws.

    Thanks for putting all this together and I have it bookmarked.

    Dan

    • Lucas Hall

      Hey Dan,

      It’s great to meet you. Jerred and I have spoken many times through the site. If there’s anything you’re looking for in particular, let me know.

      Best
      Lucas

  • Raquel

    I have a question. We have a tenant that just moved out after 4 years. In an attempt to fix the holes from curtains and pictures, etc. They used a paint that they weren’t able to match and left almost every wall in the house 2 seperate colors. The main color and then rollered over the patches areas with seperate color. I feel like this is excessive. They were good tenants, but we did not anticipate having to repaint the entire interior due to that. Are we entitled to take that cost out of their deposit or not because paint is something often done between tenants anyway? By to mention, we had to drive another 2 hours again to buy more paint because we didn’t anticipate the excessive paint repair

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Raquel,

      If I were in your situation, I wouldn’t think twice about using their deposit to repaint the walls. Even though they had the best intentions, they still left the walls as 2 different colors. The walls weren’t two different colors when they moved in, so they shouldn’t be two different colors when they moved out. When they first noticed that the colors didn’t match, they should have stopped, and notified you.

      The sad part is that if they had just filled the holes, but not repainted, you wouldn’t be able to charge them (assuming they are just small nail holes). In their effort to do a high-quality job, they actually caused more damages.

  • Claire Jones

    I would like to get a cat and I live in an apartment. My leasing office says that I have to pay a $200 refundable deposit, a $300 non-refundable deposit, a $25/mo. pet rent, and I have to sign up for pet insurance through Resident Shield. Now, Resident Shield is the renter’s insurance company that they encouraged us to use when we first moved in. We compared prices and I chose to bundle my car and renter’s insurance with Geico instead of using Resident Shield. I got 3x the amount of coverage for less money through Geico. But in order to get the pet insurance through Resident Shield, I have to have renter’s insurance through them as well. And the leasing office will not accept any other pet insurance from another company. So, they are basically saying I need to switch my renter’s insurance to Resident Shield and pay more, or not get a cat. Is this legal?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Claire,

      I’m not really sure. It sounds like they are only choosing to accept one insurance company. I don’t know if there is a law against it. To be honest, I’ve never heard of that before. Most apartment buildings that I’ve lived in had a “recommended provider” but the would take proof of coverage from other companies.

      I suggest talking to the building manager (not just the leasing staff), and ask him/her directly if they will accept a different brand of insurance.

      Otherwise, you would need to get help from a lawyer, or just wait until you move out to get a cat.

  • melissa

    Hi,

    My husband and I moved into a rental house in clark county in April. Soon after we began feeling ill. I thought it wasnt a big deal.

    We soon noticed problems with plumbing. We notified the landlord in person about the issues. He didnt do anything until recently last monday infact. Turns out we had raw sewage in the crawl space. He had several overwhleming repairs to cover probably costing him around 3,000.00. I tried explaining to him the importance of having the crawl space cleaned, but he says he is just going to have lime placed in there, and that it will take care of the issue. From my understanding this is very dangerous to our health and well being and I feel I have already experienced health issues from this. He is not taking this seriously. I gave him notice via email on July 12th that it needs to be cleaned by a company who specializes in cleaning after sewage spills. So far nothing has been done. Please hlp, we do not have the money to move right now! What are my options, what do i do next?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Melissa,

      That’s horrible. I’m so sorry. You can call the health dept. They should send an inspector our, and will fine the landlord unless the problem is fixed. What about the leaky sewage pipe? Where is the source? Doesn’t that need to be fixed? Lime might neutralize the sewage, bit won’t fix a busted pipe.

      You could terminate your lease (but get help from a lawyer to draft the notice), and then sue the landlord for your moving expenses.

      When you talk to a lawyer, you should also ask if the landlord also needs to provide you with temporary housing while the repairs are being done…

      Hopefully this will get done quickly.

      • melissa

        I called the heath department and they said that our septic system was over due for an inspection, per city code they need to be inspected every 3 years by someone who operates with the city. We live next door to the owners and they have gone on vacation 3 times since April, so it angered me that they have been having fun while things should be getting done. The city said they would file a complaint and make sure that they sent out a copy to them, requesting that they have it done asap as well as have the crawl space looked at. So yay, but the plumber they contracted called and notified them of the city calling requesting documents. So what do you know my landlords wife shows up to my door very very upset, i actually thought she was in shock and nearly crying. I didn’t think the complaint would cause so much grief. Oops

        This is so crazy, I wrote the landlord a letter and stated that it is an official request for inspection and repair of the crawl space. He lives next door and so I took the letter to him and I had him sign my copy, stating that he received one. He did, and then he slipped and told us that they never reported this property as separate because it is on his property. He says he’s never reported rental income, or property taxes. So now I know the septic system has never been looked at at all. The record shows only his house number, my house number isn’t even on the map!! This guy has committed tax evasion for 30 years?!!! Whoa what a mess, does this void my lease? I’ve been paying 900 a month to a fraud?!!! He had us sign a 2 year lease, didn’t have it noterized. I feel he should give me my rent I have paid for past months plus move us into a new place! Did he break Any laws. Now what do I do?

        • Lucas Hall

          Hi Melissa,

          I’m not sure if it voids your lease, since there is a property with that address. However, I think you have some leverage if you wanted to get his permission to break the lease.

          FYI, most leases don’t get notarized.

          It’s best if you stay removed from his tax issues. Just because he’s committing tax fraud with the money you give him doesn’t mean you have a right to get up in his business, nor does it give you any rights to get the money back. If your hair dresser was failing to report her income, would you ask for your money back for 2 years of hair cuts? No way.

          My suggestion to you is work closely with the landlord and let this unfold naturally. You’ve sounded the alarm with the city, and it will probably effect their lives and income for the next few years. If you want to get out of your lease, you should talk to your lawyer to determine the best way to approach that.

  • melissa

    Thanks for the advice, I don’t think he should have ever mentioned personal information to us about his taxes, I’m not a whistleblower, so I am not planning on reporting any information to the feds, as that doesn’t pertain to us, nor will it benefit us in any way, shape, or form.

    I will wait until the city says that he is breaking city code, or until the health department says that the house is not in habitable condition, then I will take further action in small claims, to collect relocation fees if need be. It is not cheap to move as it will cost us upwards of 2,000 to relocate to a new home.

    Thank you for your advice and for replying to my questions, it’s always refreshing to get another opinion. I was upset, but the steam has cleared and I am thinking more clearly. :)

  • Lynn

    The lease for one of my duplex tenants is due to expire the end of August. I would like to raise his rent, but looked at the RCW’s and found that I have to give 3 months notice of a rent increase. Is it permissible to state in the new lease that his rent will increase by $50 per month effective three months later? Or do I just have to wait a year before raising the rent?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Lynn,

      3 months? Where did you see that? The only thing I could find was 30 days notice to raise the rent in month-to-month situations: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=59.18.140

      Further, if the lease is a fixed-term lease, there is no assumption that a renewal will occur (unless you have automatic renewal in the lease). When a lease naturally expires, the landlord has the option of offering a new lease, at whatever price he/she wants. It would be nice of the landlord to give the tenant as much notice as possible, but for truly for fixed term leases, there is no assumption of continuation.

      I’m not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. If I were in your shoes, I would tell my tenant: “when the lease expires, I will only be offering a new XX month lease, at XXX dollars. The new lease will be more expensive but I hope you will stay, but understand if you can’t. Please let me know by July 31 whether you would like to sign a new lease, or move out”.

      I hope that helps. Please let me know if you find that 3-month statute. If you do, I’ll add it to the list.

      Good Luck, and please talk to a lawyer if you have doubts.

  • Laurie

    I am moving out of a month to month rental after over 6 years. When I moved in, I was required to pay the 1st and last months rent as well as a deposit and a pet deposit. A year after I moved in, I lost my job and the landlord agreed to lower our rent by $300 rather than us move out and them have to re-rent it. Nothing was ever provided in writing, but I continued to make the lower monthly rent payments which he accepted each month. The rent was raised by $100 a year or so ago – again, nothing provided in writing. I put my notice in on 7/12 that I was moving out on 8/15; however, I had already paid the rent for July. I was told they would give me half months rent back but now they have decided not to and they have decided they are not going to give me my deposit back because they lowered our rent and are out “thousands” of dollars. They won’t even return my calls at this point and refuse to talk about it because they feel this is fair. So my questions: 1) can they refuse to give me the overpaid rent back, 2) can they legally apply the deposits towards the amount they are out because they lowered my rent without ever having communicated that to me until now?

    Any suggestions?
    Thanks!

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Laurie,

      If you go solely by what is written in the contract, you still owe them thousands. However, they would be obligated to follow their verbal agreements and refund any deposit that is not going towards damages.

      I honestly don’t know how a judge would rule on this because I can see both sides. If they refuse to talk to you, then you could hire a lawyer to send some demand letters or file a claim in small claims court and let a judge decide. But I’m not sure if you would win. To get more clarification, talk to a local lawyer. I’m not a lawyer at all and this is not legal advice.

      • Laurie

        Hi Lucas –

        Thanks for your input. Unfortunately hiring a lawyer costs money so my landlord definitely has the upper hand since according to them they have multiple lawyers. We also had a sewage spill in our crawl space that they never cleaned up and just told us it was nothing to worry about since they put tarps down over the sewage and liquid. Through all of this process with the rent and deposit issues, I’ve actually discovered that just covering up the sewage with tarps is not actually the right way to deal with it and could actually caused some health issues I’ve been dealing with now for awhile. But even that I am getting nowhere with since I can’t find anyone who will come out and inspect it without being hired by the landlord to let me know if there is still sewage and/or mold down there. The rental world certainly seems to favor the landlord best I can tell. But I have definitely learned my lesson the hard way, no matter how nice someone may seem to be I should always insist on getting things in writing. The new rental agreement I just signed elsewhere was nearly 50 pages long – at least it’s all spelled out and clear!

        Thanks again!
        Laurie

  • Anna

    Our tenants have about 80 days left until our contract expires, I do not wish to renew the lease with them due to them trashing my property. I have made several attempts to sort out the situation so that they can fix the damages but they all fell thru. My question is am I legally allowed to not renew the lease with them and what is the minimal notice that i must give to them?I could have severed the lease as they did brake the contract but I felt bad for them and did not want to go thru the hassle.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Anna,

      Thanks for your question. I’m sorry your tenants are trashing the place.

      If they are violating the lease somehow, you can terminate their tenancy for lease violation with only 10 days notice (RCW §§ 59.12.030(4)), 3 days for illegal or nuisance activity. (RCW §§ 59.12.030(5)). I suggest giving them a chance to remedy the issue if you go this route.

      If you want to wait until their lease expires naturally, you don’t have to give notice because no renewal is assumed (unless you say otherwise in the lease) (RCW §§ 59.04.030). However, I find it best to give them as much notice as possible. That way, they have a lot of time to find another place to live.

      So, if you desire to let them stay through the end of the lease, I would immediately send them formal written notice – saying “we’ve appreciated having you as tenants, but we’ve decided not to renew your lease when it expires on MM/DD/YYY. Good luck in future endeavors.”

      Keep in mind, I’m not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. I’m simply a landlord trying to help.

  • Dawn

    I need advise my rental company called today and told me that I need to find a family member or close friend to rent the unit next door. Oh and they are putting a door between our units to consider it one home because they are out of code for the city of . If we move they will take our deposit but if we stay we have to find a second renter for the unit. Im confused !

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Dawn

      It sounds like your management company is converting a multifamily dwelling back to a single family dwelling because it was done illegally in the first place.

      The situation is sketchy, and if you wanted to terminate your lease, I think you would have every right to, and get your deposit back – since they are changing the living situation of your unit. Of course, please talk to a lawyer first. Without help from an attorney, you might find yourself in court.

  • Linda

    Hi Lucas,
    What is the time frame on getting back my last month’s rent?
    Thank you,
    Linda

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Linda,

      Can you clarify? Why would you get back your last month’s rent? Shouldn’t it be used for… well.. the last month’s rent?

      If there was a double payment of some kind, usually any surplus is given back at the same time as the deposit, which is 14 days (RCW §§ 59.18.280). However, I don’t recall seeing any statute that actually puts a time limit on the refund of money other than the deposit.

      I hope that helps. Keep in mind, I’m NOT a lawyer :)

  • Mark

    My roommates and I had a 3 month lease with an apartment in downtown Seattle, and they’re trying to charge us for painting the entire apartment. We had not caused any damage to the walls, didn’t paint anything, never used duct tape on the walls, and they supposedly have picture of our walls, but there is no visible damage. Is this legal?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Mark,

      A landlord can only charge for actual damages beyond normal wear and tear. If you didn’t cause any damage to the walls, then no, they can’t charge you to repaint them.

      Keep in mind, this is just my opinion based on research. Though I think it’s accurate, I am not a lawyer.

      • ROSIE

        HI, LUCAS MY NAME IS ROSIE , IJUST WANNA I ASK YOU REGARDING MY RENTAL PLACE FOR THE FAST FEW MONTHS I’M BEEN GETTING SICK ME AND MY KIDS , ME MY KIDS END UP HAVING SEVERE ALLERGIES LONG STORY SHORT I ASK MY LANDLORD IF HE COULD REPLACE THE CARPET COZ I THINK THAT’S WHATS CAUSING US SICK IN THAT PLACE FEW YEARS AGO ALMOST EVERY YEAR I HIRE PEOPLE TO CARPET CLEAN MY CARPET WITH THE PERMISSION OF MY LANDLORD HE WAS OK WITH IT., I JSUT WANNA ASK IF I HAVE THE RIGHT TO ASK THE LANDLORD TO ASK FOR A DISCOUNT ON MY RENT NEXT TIME ?TO COVER THE EXPENSES THAT AM GONNA SPEND ON THE REPLACEMENT OF THE CARPET/

        • Lucas Hall

          Hi Rosie,

          I’m sorry you guys are getting sick.

          If you have a reasonable landlord, he will gladly take actions to help make the place cleaner and safer for everyone. If the carpet is causing mold issues, then it would be the landlord’s responsibility to replace it.

          However, if you clean it once a year, then the carpet probably isn’t the issue. Further, if I were the landlord, I would want to know what the cause of the issue is, with 100% confidence. If I spent the money to replace the carpet, I would want a guarantee that my tenant wasn’t going to call me up the next week and say “the walls are now making me sick, can you replace the drywall?”.

          I think the best option is to spend the money upfront to research the issue, and determine with confidence, that any action you take will be the appropriate one.

  • Bree

    Hi Lucas–
    I am getting a lot lf information reading all the posts and appreciate you answering all of them! hopefully you’ll answer mine too lol.

    We recently moved out of a rental home we were in for 2.5 years. We have three children under 5, no pest. After not hearing from te landlord regarding our deposite or prorated rent they agreed to give back (we gave notice the 14th of one month, and had our official last day the 14th of he next) we contacted them. (I have already found out after searching online that they probably won’t have to give us the pro rated rent back even though they agreed). They are staring we destroyed their home beyond rrpair and that they are seeking their lawyer to see if they can apply the half rent towards damages becUse it will exceed our deposite. I replied back saying I was interested to see the list as I didnt remember much damage other than wear and tear. We figured there would be some repair because we do have small children but didn’t think it was substantial. She stated she would send a list but off the top of her head, it was things like there were fingerprints on the glass doors, there was things in the vent ducts the children had put down them, even though we provided a receipt from the professional steam cleaners the carpet still had a funny smell, and there was paint chipping on the walls (I had used some of those 3m command strips that were suppose to be no damage so I could hang some things without putting holes in the wall. Damage yes, but they usually repaint anyway right?) there were damages that the children had done but that was to be expected and we knew that. We have notice mid aug, with move out date sept 14th. She agreed via email to give us back half the rent . Now she’s saying there is so much damage she is trying to keep our half rent to cover the damage cost. On top of the 1200$ deposite she will be keeping. Is this legal? Shouldn’t any excess damage cost be their responsibility? ( even though I am firmly believing it does not exceed $1200?) please help, as I don’t wNt to go to a lawyer, am not finding much info online, and even though it’s only $600, it IS $600 lol

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Bree

      It’s nice to meet you. You’re in luck! Washington has some very strict laws on the deposit. Did you check out the first section of this page? http://www.landlordology.com/washington-landlord-tenant-laws/#deposit

      In that section, check out the bullets:
      Require Written/Signed Move-In Checklist: No deposit may be collected…
      Require Itemized List of Damages and Charges: Yes
      Failure to Comply: If the landlord collects a deposit without providing a written checklist…

      If you were never given an initial itemized checklist of the condition of the property when you moved-in, the landlord may not withhold any deposit. Further, even if he/she is allowed to withhold money, they cannot charge you for normal wear and tear. To withhold funds, they must provide an itemized list of damages that calculate the amount withheld. Fingerprints on the windows is ridiculous. Don’t let them get away with that.

      I can’t give legal advice, and I’m not a lawyer, but as you can see from the linked statutes, if you take them to court and win, they might have to pay your legal bills. Don’t be scared of contacting a lawyer for help.

      Please let me know how it goes!

      • Bree

        I am looking at the move in list, as we were given it. I will compare it to the list she is suppose to send us. I wasn’t so worried about the deposite, I just didn’t think she could use our rent for that! Are you in agreement that because of the laws I’ve read about , she does not have to return our half months rent ?

        • Lucas Hall

          Hi Bree,

          It really depends on the type of lease that you had. Were you month-to-month or fixed-term?

          If month-to-month only 20 days notice is required from lease expiration. (RCW §§ 59.18.200(1a-b))

          Since you gave less than 20 days notice, you get bumped to the 1st of the next month, assuming your rent is due on the 1st.

  • Bree

    Oh I musthave write that wrong. Originally one year lease and than month to month. Gave notice aug 14, and was out sept 14. We gave full 30 day notice, with the last month already paid for (hence the reason she stated she’d give back half the month.) before she went through everything. Sorry to be boggling down your article here! Lol

  • Doris

    I have a rental property in WA state. My renters have asked if their uncle, whom is moving here from another state could live with them for a while. The property is a single family residence. My ? is, is it ok to increase monthly rent or collect some type of additional deposit due to an additional person moving in?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Doris,

      My suggestion is to make everything very formal. If they would like to add the uncle to the lease, then you can modify the lease in other ways at the same time (including raise the rent). Once you come to an agreement, have all parties, including the new tenant, sign an addendum.

      Here’s a helpful article: http://www.landlordology.com/rogue-tenants-long-term-guests/

      Personally, I wouldn’t raise the deposit unless you’ve always felt that you didn’t have enough security.

      Just my two cents. Keep in mind, I’m not a lawyer.

  • JulieM

    I am in a lease until April 2015. I lost my job in September and November will be the first month that I will not be able to pay my rent. I am interviewing with tons of companies but no offers yet. I fear that I may not have a job for several more weeks. I know that my landlord has zero tolerance for late or partial payments. I expect to get an eviction notice on the 6th for 10 days and then a 3-day pay or vacate. I don’t know what happens after that. I want to be able to stay and catch things up once I get a new job, but I fear that locks will be changed and a sheriff will show up at my door. If I work to get this resolved and pay up “in-full” all-at-once, how long will it be before the authorities can legally remove me or change locks on me? I assume that this will get very expensive very fast. Please let me know. Otherwise, I may have to move my daughters and I across country top my mom’s house on the East coast. What time frame am I working with?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Julie,

      I’m sorry that you’re going through this. Don’t lose heart.

      You are correct in assuming that you will get served with an eviction notice if you don’t pay rent. However, a landlord cannot change the locks or shut off utilities until AFTER he/she has gone to court, received a judgement, and the sheriff shows up to remove you by force.

      If the landlord changes the locks prior to that, it’s called a self-help eviction and it’s completely illegal.

      If the landlord accepts payment from you after filing eviction proceedings, then it cancels the eviction (or at least forces him to start over).

      I can’t give you a time frame because every state and county is different. It’s usually between 2-8 weeks.

      Further, please know that I’m not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. Please double check with an attorney. My advice here is based on general practices nationwide, and my own personal experience. If you can’t afford a lawyer, you could contact some of the free legal aid associations mentioned in the article above.

      I hope it works out for you.

  • Jang

    Our lease agreement expired. My tenant texted me a notification that he is moving out and asked me to send 1 month lease agreement. I sent the 1 month lease form the day before our lease agreement expired. He still hasnt signed the new 1 month form yet. However he did deposit additional month of rent on 1st day of last month of rent when i already collected the last month rent when we signed the agreement. We havent verbally agreed on anything yet for month to month. But he is staying because he paid additional month of rent and i need to find a new tenant. Is this legal or not? Also does the agreement(no pet, no illegal activity, etc) from our 1 year lesase still apply for this last month?
    Also he fixes things around the rental house when there needs to be fixing. He told me he fixed washing machine and fridge when it broke down. I just found out 3 days before our lease expired that He installed shelves and work bench in garage w/o giving proper written notification. He pays rent on time and seeme to take good care of the house. I just told him to remove the shelve and work bench before he moves out. Should i remove it professionally or shiuld i let him take care of it?
    He also emailed me a list of damages to the house about week after he moved in. He said he did not want to go thru it with me together as these sort of things take couple of weeks to really find out. They are accurate. He did not add anything additional, but i did not sign. Is this still valid since our 1 year lease expired and have no written contract?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Jang,

      Generally speaking, if a landlord continues to collect rent after a lease has expired, then a new month-to-month tenancy is created with the same terms and rules found in the previous lease.

      The landlord doesn’t necessarily have to sign another renewal – but I always recommend putting everything in writing.

      As for the shelves, I would let him take them down – especially since you already told him to do so. If he doesn’t repair the wall to the original condition, you can definitely hire a contractor to repair the holes that the shelves left – and withhold the cost from his deposit.

      The move-in inspection sheet (or list of damages) that he gave you at the beginning would still be valid and it is what you should use to compare the move-out condition to. Otherwise, you don’t have any way to prove the move-in condition (either way).

      I hope that helps. Please keep in mind that I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice. I’m just a landlord, trying to help :)

  • Allie

    Hello, I have a question. This is mostly hypothetical. I rent in Washington state. Today is November 5. I paid this month’s rent, $1000, in full a week ago. I gave my 20-day notice to vacate today and stated via email and on paper that I will vacate the premises no later than the end of November 30. Normal stuff so far.

    I found out that my friends want to move into my apartment and they’ll move in soon after I move out. I’m planning to move out November 8. My friends will move in November 11 if everything goes well. If they move in on the 11th, my landlord will charge them for only 20 days in November or $667.

    Is my landlord legally obligated to refund me $667? Via word-of-mouth or online, people say landlords cannot “double-dip” or in other words, they cannot collect rent twice from two parties for one place. However, I cannot find it anywhere in RCW that landlords cannot do that. Or is this something a judge is likely to be sympathetic towards me in Small Claims Court and I’ll likely win the case and then the $667 along with court fees?

    Thanks,

    Allie

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Allie,

      You raise a great question.

      In cases where a tenant abandon’s the lease, and doesn’t pay, a landlord is required to mitigate damages to a tenant. (RCW §§ 59.18.310)

      Your situation is slightly different in that you’ve already paid – although you didn’t mention what type of lease you have. However, in my NON-LEGAL opinion, I think the same rules would apply.

      Personally, I think it’s morally wrong to double dip in cases like this. I’m not a lawyer, so be sure to read this statute and talk to an attorney.

      http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=59.18.310

      • Allie

        Thanks for your answer Lucas. I did forget to mention that I am not on a lease but month-to-month and I am not breaking any contractual agreements. I simply want to depart strategically in a way that will reduce the amount of rent I will have to pay even though I have vacated the rental. (My landlord refuses to prorate my last days here.)

        I found an answer that may help future tenants in a situations as myself. It is here: http://www.avvo.com/legal-answers/landlord-trying-to-collect-double-rent-242713.html

        Basically, a landlord/tenant lawyer based in Tacoma, WA answered in this way, “It isn’t codified, this is black letter law that the landlord is not entitled to collect the same rent twice…If he [the landlord] really believes this [that it is legal to ‘double-dip’], let a judge clarify this for him.”

        I believe what the lawyer is saying is that if I can provide evidence to a judge (say, in a small claims court) that my landlord is not refunding me my rent despite finding another renter, then my landlord will lose. He will have to refund me appropriately and pay my court fees. Hope that helps someone!

        Thanks again Lucas for keeping up on this thread. I know it takes a lot of time and effort but it helps many people with landlord/tenant issues!

        • Lucas Hall

          Hi Allie,

          I’m glad you found that link. I think its worth mentioning that the definition of “black letter law” according to wikipedia is “well-established technical legal rules that are no longer subject to reasonable dispute.”

          That definitely sounds like the law is in your favor!

          Small claims would be the best place to start your court case.

  • Marilyn

    Hi Lucas,

    -move in date july 2012
    -move out date june 2014
    -began as year lease then moved to month to month

    We rented from a private residential party for 2 years have 4 children and a small dog and large parrot. We had no issues with the landlord outside of the wife popping in every so often in the first few months to ask tell us random things but she eventually stopped. Upon moving out with one month notice we had an initial inspection with landlord and their contractor. After the inspection they didn’t state any issues and no move out checklist was completed (although we did have a move in checklist). After moving out we conducted a final move out inspection with just the landlord and the only concern was the carpet (pet did have accidents but we did have the carpets professionally cleaned and deodorized). After a week or so we received a call from the landlord stating how horrible the carpet smelled and how bad the stains were. She was going to have it cleaned again. At exactly the 14th day we received the itemized letter with the reason for retaining our $2200 deposit and a list of damages worth approximately $20,000. We were floored. We began negotiating and in the mean time our landlord it replacing her carpets and we are now on hold waiting for possible more damage claims with floor boards being moldy and saturated with pet stains. What can we do at this point? Is our landlord allowed to keep us waiting and adding to the bill? We are taking responsibility for our pets damage but it just seems our landlord is trying to get every cent she can from us, especially with the extreme charges we have already had to knock down (ie: $106 to replace 6 rubber door stoppers when they are only $1 – 2 each). What also makes this a little harder to deal with is that we are now residing in Okinawa, Japan for military purposes. Any advice you have will be greatly appreciated.

    Marilyn

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Marilyn,

      Whenever, I see numbers like “$20,000” I am always suspicious.

      Further, even if you damaged the carpet and hardwoods with pet stains beyond repair, she wouldn’t be able to charge you for the full replacement cost. The reason is because the landlord has already used up some of the general life expectancy of the material.

      If the hardwoods were 30 years old, and they have a general life expectancy of 50 years, then you would be responsible for 2/5ths of the replacement cost – because you “stole” 20 years of life from the floors.

      The same goes for the carpet. If it has a life expectancy of 5 years, and it was 7 years old when you moved in, then you wouldn’t be responsible for anything since it’s already lived it full expected life.

      It sounds like you’re between a rock and a hard place. I suggest you talk to an attorney ASAP in city of the rental property. Give him/her power of attorney to act on your behalf and get this settled. Alternative, you could threaten the landlord to “play nice” or you will be hiring a lawyer, taking her to court, and make her pay for the legal costs.

      Keep in mind, that’s just what I would do. I’m not a lawyer nor is this legal advice. I’m just a landlord trying to help.

      • Marilyn

        Thank you for your feedback. We have been trying to find an attorney but its hard to get someone that will respond. Our landlord has already sought an attorney to handle her side but says she wants to handle this out of court. We are just sitting in limbo waiting for her attorney to respond with details about more damage issues. I think it is quite ridiculous and unfair. I appreciate our response and we think about what you have said.

        Marilyn

  • Jang

    Hi Lucas,
    My tenant is moving out and how many days do i have until to give his deposit back? Also when i do inspection around the house after he moves out to see if there are any damages, does Tenant have to be there as well? What are the most common things i need to be looking for and can / can not be deducted? Thanks for your help

  • Noelani

    Hi. My mother just moved out of her 12 years of tenancy at a house. My questions are. Can the landlord charge for repainting if repainting was done when they moved out and they’ve been there for over 10 years and more cleaning that needs to be done? Is there a responsibilty list of how many years, depending on how long you’ve been at the house what you are responsible for? It was in Clark County Vancouver Washington

    Thank You

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Noelani,

      Regardless of the duration of the tenancy, a landlord can only charge a tenant for damages beyond normal wear and tear. Normal wall scuffs and paint deterioration is considered “normal wear and tear”. Large dents or holes in the wall are not. So, the responsibility for the painting would depend on the severity of the damage the wall. It has nothing to do with if she’s live there for 1 year, or 10 years. Make sense?

      Cleaning on the other hand is different. A tenant is always responsible for returning the unit to the same level of cleanliness it was when they moved in. A landlord might have to pay to clean the carpets or mop the floors if your mother didn’t do an adequate job cleaning before she moved out. I would hope the landlord would have proof via pictures, but this is often an area of conflict between landlords and tenants. You’re not alone in that.

      Please know that this is just the industry standard, and I’m not a lawyer. Please don’t take this as legal advice.

  • Keri

    Dear Lucas,

    We had renters for one year and they were great, we were sad to see them leave. They let us know that one of toilets had condensation at the bottom of the toilet and we quickly repaired the wax ring and it seemed to do the trick, we asked them to contact us if the problem continued. They recently moved out; my husband and the tenant went through the check in sheet and it seemed like everything would fall under normal wear and tear until I cleaned the bathroom (just a bit more for the showing) and realized the toilet didn’t flush (clogged) and the “normal wear and tear” we thought was in the bathroom was completely water damaged wood floors. We signed off on their check out sheet so are we out of luck? We only have a few more days to give back the deposit? Do we need to suck it up or can we charge them a fair fee for the damage?

    Keri

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Keri,

      A landlord should still be able to charge a tenant for damage beyond normal wear and tear if they legitimately caused the problem…. even if you signed off on the sheet.

      Lots of tenants try to hide damage, and think that once they get that sign-off, they are no longer responsible. It’s just not the case in many situations. We are only human, and sometimes overlook things, or damage is discovered after the fact. Just create an amended check sheet and add your damage.

      However, you also have to consider the source of the damage. How can you claim that the damage caused by condensation was the tenant’s fault? A toilet is going to sweat, no matter who uses it, and wax rings wear out. Yes, they can be charged for a clogged toilet, but it seems like the water damage was due to normal toilet condensation or and old ring. Right?

      I hope that helps. Please know that this is just my opinion based on 10 years of experience and researching many of the state statutes. I’m not a lawyer, so please don’t consider this legal advice.

  • Nic

    We have a tenant who we are concerned won’t move out when his lease expires. I’ve seen a lot of law about eviction for failure to pay rent, renovations, etc., but I feel like I haven’t seen anything that covers how to remove a tenant who knows he is supposed to leave. Do we still have to go through an eviction process when the lease ends? And if so, what kind? Thank you.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Nic,

      That’s exactly what the eviction process is for. An eviction is a forced removal of a tenant who won’t vacate and no longer has the right to occupy the premises.

      The only time you would file an eviction action with your local court is if the tenant doesn’t leave after the lease has been terminated. Once you go to court, and win the judgement, then the sheriff will show up to remove the tenant by force.

      The reason the sheriff has to do it, is because a landlord is not allowed to change the locks or shut off utilities on a tenant, even if the tenant no longer has a lease. That is called a “self-help” eviction and it’s completely illegal in almost every state.

      Here’s a helpful guide: http://www.landlordology.com/tenant-eviction/

  • Jang

    Hi lucas,
    We did the walk thru and it turns out he turned off the fireplace pilot light and cant get it back on. He initially told me he did it to save gas bill and later tells me he did it because the fireplace wasnt burning correctly/ safely. He did not give me any notification of this issue. Can i deduct from the deposit get it back working?

  • Doug Hopper

    I have a tenant who signed a one year’s lease. Their lease is up at the end of April. They bought a home and have now moved. They realize that they are liable/responsible for the full rental amount and will be paying it until I can find another tenant. My question:

    Does a move out inspection need to be done at the time they moved out (with the 14 day provision), even though they will be continuing the rent payments and also, do I have the right to change the locks?

    It seems to me that because they are continuing with the regular rent, they should still be able to have the right of possession to the property until I can find another qualified tenant.

    Thank you.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Doug,

      Check out first 2 sentences in the following statute:
      http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=59.18.280

      It will explain by when you need to return the deposit, with the move out inspection report.

      However, I think it’s a wise choice to do the move-out inspection (and date it) immediately after they vacate the premise. If you wait 3 months, they might be able to claim that some of the damages happened after they moved-out and you wouldn’t be able to prove otherwise.

      If they still have keys, and plan to enter the property, then you should wait to do the move-out inspection until after all the keys have been turned in. You can also explain that to the tenants, and it might motivate them to turn in the keys early, even though they are still paying rent.

  • Bruce

    We let our lease tenants use our lawn tractor to maintain the property. It was stolen. Is the fair market value deductible from the deposit?

    Secondly, how big a hole or dent in walls is detectable?
    Thanks,
    Bruce

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Bruce,

      I’m sorry to hear about the tractor. I don’t see how the tenants can be held responsible, unless they acted inappropriately in storing the tractor, failed to lock it up, or failed to secure the keys. Robberies can happen to anyone, and if your tenant’s didn’t do anything wrong, then they are a victim just as much as you.

      The person who stole your tractor is the responsible party. This is always why we carry insurance. Further, if your tenants had renter’s insurance, it might cover the losses, rather than having to make a claim on your policy. However, I’m not really sure if a home owners policy would cover a tractor, if that is treated as a vehicle.

      There’s no specific rule on how big a hole needs to be to be considered “excessive damage”. My general rule of thumb is that anything larger than a nail or screw hole, would be considered excessive damage. Meaning, if I can fill it in with wall spackle, then I don’t charge the tenants. However, if the hole is so large that its still going to look “damaged” after the spackle is in place, then it will require drywall mud or patch repair work, and therefore I charge the tenants for this.

      I most commonly see and issue when tenants move out and leave giant screw hole from their wall-mounted TV. They think that mounting a TV is normal wear and tear, but they fail to realize the damage that it does.

      I hope that helps. Please keep in mind that I’m not a lawyer, so please don’t consider this legal advice. I’m just an experienced landlord, trying to help.

      • Bruce

        Thanks, Lucas.

        Tenants left the tractor sitting outside, in view of the busy street. 3 car garage not used.

        I also have to figure out cost on weeding. They were responsible for yard maintenance and did really well last year. This year they just let it go. I hadn’t checked on them until September. After talking to them, they cleaned up most, but not all, in October. Now moving out. I know I can bill for what is currently needed. but having let it go, even with pulling weeds now, there will be a lot of roots remaining. That will result in a lot of extra maintenance necessary in the spring that wouldnt otherwise have been needed. Any standards for billing for that? Or am I completely off base?

        Thanks again, your site really is a great service.

        Bruce

        • Lucas Hall

          Hi Bruce,

          I hear what you are saying, but I would not feel comfortable trying to charge them now, for extra maintenance in the spring. Plus, even though you and I both know there will be extra weeds, it’s tough to prove now, before the weeds have sprouted.

          If I were in your shoes, I would play it safe, and only charge them for the extra outdoor maintenance that occurs now and for which I have receipts. I would just write it off as a hard lesson – one that taught me to check-in on my tenants once a month – even if it’s just a drive by.

          Good luck man. I hope your week gets better!

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