Changes to Residential Landlord-Tenant Law 

A number of new laws go into effect on July 28, 2019, that change residential landlord-tenant law. The following is a partial summary of the biggest changes affecting residential landlord-tenant law in Washington. None of the following affect commercial landlord-tenant law. 

Increasing the rent requires 60 days’ notice

A landlord or its agent must now provide a minimum of sixty (60) days’ prior written notice of any increase in the rent.  The new rent will not become effective until the new term of the lease, usually at the beginning of the month.  RCW 59.18.140(3)(a).  There is an exception to this rule if the tenant receives a rental subsidy based on the income of the tenant.  RCW 59.18.140(3)(b).

Landlords may still increase the rent, but must give additional time regardless of how much the rent is increased.  Local rules may impose additional restrictions and notice requirements.

 

Armed Forces exception for termination of tenancy’

A tenant in the military who receives deployment or “permanent change of station” orders may terminate a residential lease.  The tenant must provide written notice of the orders to the landlord, including a copy of the orders.  This rule applies if the tenant is required to move 35 miles from the rental premises, is released from active duty, discharged from the military, or directed by the military to relocate to government housing.  RCW 59.18.220(2).  Similar language applies to mobile home tenants.  RCW 59.20.090(4)(b).

This is not a substantial change from existing Washington State law.  The new law eliminates a seven-day deadline for the tenant to provide the landlord notice of the orders within seven days of receipt of the orders. The new law provides new definitions for “permanent change of station.”

 

Termination of tenancy for demolition or substantial rehabilitation

If a residential landlord plans to demolish, substantially rehabilitate or change the use of property, the landlord must provide at least 120 days’ notice of termination of the tenancy. This law does not apply in areas that already have passed laws requiring relocation assistance if the tenancy is to be terminated to demolish or rehabilitate the property.  RCW 59.18.200(2)(c).  Currently, only Seattle and Tacoma have more restrictive laws, but other municipalities are considering them.  Landlords should check municipal codes and ordinances before proceeding to terminate tenants for these purposes.  

The new law goes into some detail defining “change of use,” “demolition” and “substantially rehabilitate.” RCW 59.18.200(2)(c)(ii)(A)-(D). “Change of use,” is changing the property from residential use to non-residential use or to a specialized residential use such as to a retirement home, emergency shelter or hotel. “Substantially rehabilitate” means structural repair or remodeling requiring permits including building, electrical, plumbing or mechanical permits.  “Demolish” means either destruction or relocation of the premises.

Penalties for violating the law are outlined.  If, for example, a landlord gave a month-to-month tenant a standard 20-day to vacate and, immediately, after the tenant moved, applied for a demolition permit, the landlord would be potentially liable for up to three times the monthly rent plus attorney’s fees and court costs.  RCW 59.18.200(3).

Residential landlords intending to make extensive repairs to the property after the tenant moves should consult with an attorney and review this new law carefully before giving notice. Giving additional time for the tenant to move does not mean the tenant does not need to pay rent or comply with other terms of the tenancy.

 

Eviction reform

The Washington legislature passed the “Eviction Reform” bill, SB 5600, creating substantial changes to the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act.  The changes impact the ability of residential landlords to enforce their rights and remedies under the lease and at law.  The changes include the following:

 

Rent is redefined

“Rent” in residential tenancies is defined as “recurring and periodic charges identified in the rental agreement for the use and occupancy of the premises.”  This may include utilities.  “Rent” does not include late fees, damages caused the premises, security deposits, attorney’s fees, court costs, or any other cost that is not charged periodically.  RCW 59.18.030(25).

14-day notice to pay or vacate

Residential landlords may no longer use a three-day notice to pay rent or vacate.  Tenants must receive 14 days’ notice.  The 14-day notice must contain statutory language advising tenants how to request assistance to help pay rent.

14-day notices may include unpaid utilities but may not include late fees, attorney’s fees or other penalties related to failure to pay rent or for causing damage to the premises.

A 14-day notice to pay rent or vacate the premises may be viewed and downloaded from the “forms” section of this website.  The form includes instructions for preparing and delivering the notice.

 

A tenant may not be evicted for non-payment of amounts other than rent

A landlord may not evict a tenant for failure to reimburse for damages, failure to pay late fees, or failure to pay a security deposit.  There is an exception for security deposits, however, if the landlord is accepting payment of the deposit by installments, in which case the installments are considered periodic in nature and therefore rent.

Landlords may still sue and collect amounts from tenants if payments are delinquent or the tenant causes damages.  An action for unpaid late fees other damages may be maintained simultaneously with an unlawful detainer.  The remedy for such actions, however, may not include eviction of the tenant.

 

Late fees are limited

If the landlord prevails in an unlawful detainer action for non-payment of rent, the court may award up to $75.00 in late fees.  RCW 59.18.410(1).

How money is applied to the tenant’s account is restricted

Payments made by a tenant must be applied first to rent before payment may be applied to late fees, damages or attorney’s fees.

Tenants may reinstate their tenancy after judgment

If a tenant is found liable for unlawful detainer for non-payment of rent, the tenant has five court days after entry of the judgment to pay all the rent due, any court costs, late fees up to $75.00, and attorney’s fees (if any are awarded).  If the tenant was found liable for unlawful detainer for non-payment of rent within the last 12 months, the tenant must pay all the above costs plus an additional $50.00 for each prior judgment. RCW 59.18.410(2).

The court may allow tenants to remain in the rental premises with a payment plan

A residential tenant who is liable for unlawful detainer for non-payment of rent may file a motion requesting the court to allow the tenant to remain in the premises.  The court has discretion to allow this for “good cause” and on terms that are “fair and just” for both the landlord and the tenant. RCW 59.18.410(3)(a).  A tenant may ask the court to delay enforcement of an eviction judgment with minimal and sometimes no notice to the landlord or the landlord’s attorney.  RCW 59.18.410(4). 

“Good cause” and “fair and just” terms are not defined by the new statute.  The court, however, is required to consider whether the failure to pay rent was willful, caused by exigent circumstances unlikely to recur, the tenant’s ability to pay the judgment, the tenant’s past payment history, hardship on the tenant, and the tenant’s past and present conduct under the lease.  RCW 59.18.410(3)(a)(i)-(vii).  The court must make a written finding as to whether the tenant is receiving a rent subsidy that would make it possible for the landlord to obtain disbursements from the State landlord mitigation program.  RCW 59.18.410(3)(e).  The court may not allow the tenant to remain in the premises if the tenant has received three or more notices to pay rent or vacate in the preceding 12 months.  RCW 59.18.410(3)(d).

 

If the court elects to allow the tenant to stay after considering the tenant’s motion, the delay may only be for up to 90 days.  The court may require payment of the judgment during this period according to a payment plan. If the payment plan takes longer than 30 days, the payments for each 30-day period must be at least one month’s rent, and the entire judgment must be paid in full.  RCW 59.18.410(3)(c)(i).  Any payment plan shall require the tenant to pay at least one month’s rent within five court days.  RCW 59.18.410(3)(c)(ii).  If the tenant’s application for a stay includes proof that a portion of the payment will come from a public or non-profit emergency rental assistance program, the court may provide additional time for that payment.  RCW 59.18.410(3)(c)(iv).  What this means is that the tenant may be allowed to remain in the premises, but may not get further behind in the rent.

If the court imposes a payment plan under this law, and if the tenant fails to make a payment, the landlord must serve the tenant with a notice of default giving the tenant three calendar days to pay in full before the sheriff may remove the tenant.  RCW 59.18.410(3)(c)(iii)(A).  The notice may be delivered like a notice to pay rent or vacate, meaning posting-and mailing is acceptable instead of requiring personal service.  Unlike with posting and mailing a notice to pay or vacate, it is not necessary to add an extra day for mailing.  RCW 59.18.410(3)(c)(iii)(B).  

The notice of default for failure to pay court-ordered payments is statutory.  RCW 59.18.410(3)(c)(iii)(B).  A form notice of default of court-ordered payments may be viewed and downloaded from the “forms” section of this website.  The form includes instructions for preparing and delivering the notice.

 

Eviction summons language is changed

When starting a residential unlawful detainer action, the landlord is required to prepare and serve a summons and a complaint on the tenant.  The form of the summons is set out in RCW 59.18.365.  The summons was entirely reworded by the new amendments. Residential landlords must use the new form.  Using the old eviction summons form will result in the case being dismissed.

 

Attorney’s fees may be limited

Attorney’s fees may still be awarded to the prevailing party in a residential unlawful detainer action. However, the court will not award attorney’s fees if the tenant did not appear or contest the eviction, or if the judgment for rent is equal to or less than $1,200.00 or two months’ rent.  RCW 59.18.290(3).

If a judgment and a writ of restitution are entered against a residential tenant and the tenant files a motion to reinstate its tenancy, the court may award attorney’s fees only if the tenant is reinstated.  Attorney’s fees must be paid as a requirement to reinstatement.  RCW 59.18.290(4).

Thus, the landlord’s ability to get attorney’s fees awarded is reduced.  However, the attorney’s fees will be awarded and paid by the tenant if the tenant seeks to remain in possession of the premises after losing an eviction.

New procedures for alternative service

When commencing an unlawful detainer action, the first step is to personally serve the tenant with the summons and complaint for unlawful detainer.  This is called “service of process.”  Sometimes tenants avoid service of process, which can delay the case. 

There is an existing procedure called “alternative service” where the court authorizes a landlord to obtain service of process by delivering the pleadings by posting copies on the door of the premises and by mailing additional copies by regular and certified mail.  This law is changed so that it is no longer required that the landlord first obtain a court order allowing alternative service.  RCW 59.18.055.  When obtaining a judgment after alternative service, the landlord must file a declaration describing the efforts at personal service.  The declaration must indicate service was attempted at least three times over a period of at least two days at different times of the day.

For landlords, this is a positive development.  Landlords may potentially save hundreds in court costs by using the new alternative service procedures.

Landlord mitigation fund procedures are updated

Washington State maintains a fund to pay landlords when tenants fail to pay rent or cause damage to the property.  RCW 43.31.605.  The new laws provide that rent, late fees, attorney’s fees and costs awarded after an unlawful detainer may be paid from the fund.  The state is required to provide forms on its website for landlords to apply for reimbursement.

The amount of money available in the fund is limited.  If there is not enough money to pay a claim, the claim will be on a waitlist and paid in the order claims are received.

Funds will only be disbursed to landlords if the residential tenant is low-income and receives a housing subsidy.  The court must additional make a finding that the tenant is a receiving the subsidy. RCW 59.18.410(3)(e).  

 

If you need assistance with a tenant dispute, an eviction, a lease or other landlord-tenant situation, please call 206.443.8678 today to speak with one of our experienced attorneys.

 

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