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To read the specific laws in the WA State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act, click on the RCW (Revised Code of Washington) links throughout the Tenant Services website.
Tenants Union Tenant Counselors are not attorneys, and this information should not be considered legal advice. Please read our full Tenant Union Disclaimer.
1) Eviction Notices
There are several different types of notices that landlords can serve tenants, depending upon the reason for eviction. An eviction notice must first be served properly and the tenant must have failed to comply, pay, or vacate within the specified timeframe. This must happen before the landlord can begin the eviction court process by serving you an “unlawful detainer” eviction lawsuit, called a Summons & Complaint. This is not a complete list, but the most common notices to vacate are:
- 3-day notice to pay or vacate
- 10-day notice to comply with the terms of the rental agreement or vacate
- 3-day notice for waste or nuisance
- 20-day notice to terminate tenancy (a “no cause” notice)
These notices are indicators that the landlord is going to initiate an unlawful detainer action against you if you do not respond within the time limit. According to RCW 59.12.040, the landlord must attempt personal service of the eviction notice (give it to the tenant personally) or the landlord may leave it with another person of suitable age and discretion who resides there, or if no one of suitable age and discretion is there, post it on the door, provided it is also sent in the mail. If the notice is posted on the door and sent in the mail, don’t count the day it was served in the timeframe. Weekends are included in the notice days. Your landlord may personally deliver the notice to you. It does not have to be delivered by the sheriff or notarized in order to be valid.
There may be a brief period at the very beginning of the eviction in which tenants can negotiate directly with their landlord to stop the eviction. It is very important that any agreement you come to with your landlord be in writing, signed and dated by both parties if possible.
1a) Three Day Pay or Vacate Notice
In order to win in court against an eviction for non-payment of rent, the tenant must be able to establish that they do not owe the rent the landlord is trying to collect. A 3-day pay or vacate notice does not mean that you have to vacate the premises within three days. Eviction is a court process and your landlord cannot have you removed from the premises until a court order has been issued. There are very few ways to stop an eviction for non-payment of rent, if you actually owe the money, besides paying your rent in full within the three day timeframe. Always avoid paying in cash, but if you do, RCW 59.18.063 requires that the landlord provide a receipt for all cash payments. A landlord must accept the rent payment if it is made in full and paid within the 3 day timeframe, and will no longer be able to proceed with the eviction. If the tenant makes a partial payment or pays after the timeframe the landlord may still be able to proceed with eviction. Some landlords won’t accept any money until after the court process is complete. Always prioritize paying your rent above other expenses. There are no exceptions in the law for people with young children, or people who have lost their jobs or have been met with other unexpected loss of income or personal tragedies. The law does not allow tenants to withhold rent because of unmade repairs (except in limited cases), complaints against the landlord, or money the landlord owes them.
Some tenants choose to leave within the 3-day timeline because vacating may allow them to avoid the eviction lawsuit. The landlord may still be able to file a lawsuit against them or send them to collections in an attempt to recover money they owe. A 3-day notice to pay or vacate can be served upon a tenant who is even one day behind or one penny short in rent. Most rental agreements indicate a due date for the rent, usually the first of the month, and some indicate a grace period before the rent is to be considered late, usually three to five days later. The Residential Landlord-Tenant Act in Washington State does not specifically entitle tenants to a grace period of any kind. If the grace period passes and you have not paid your rent in full, your landlord can serve you with a 3-day pay or vacate notice and issue a late fee.
Your landlord does not have to accept partial payments for rent during the three day timeline, though they may choose to. If your landlord accepts money after issuing the notice, document the payment in writing, because in some situations (but not all) it may invalidate their eviction notice. If you negotiate a payment plan be sure to put the agreed amounts to be paid in writing, and document that all eviction proceedings will cease. Payment in full within the three days is the best assurance to stop the eviction from moving forward, (though it is still possible that your landlord will proceed with the lawsuit on an unlawful basis).
The 3-day notice is to be served to you, or a person of suitable age and discretion in your household, in person, or posted on your door and sent to you in the mail. Incorrect service in and of itself does not invalidate an eviction action against you, though it may become a defense in your eviction. It is likely if payment is not received in full within the 3-day timeline, and the tenant does not vacate the unit within 3 days, that the landlord will proceed to eviction court. The worst thing a tenant can do is ignore the notice or not communicate with the landlord about the notice or their inability to pay the rent. Keep in mind it is not in the landlord’s financial interest to evict you, as it typically causes considerable financial loss for them. Negotiation with your landlord can sometimes be helpful. But if the landlord hears nothing from the tenant, they may assume that their only recourse is to file an eviction lawsuit.
If you are not able to pay the rent you owe, you do have the option of vacating the unit within the three day timeline. This will prevent the landlord from taking you to eviction court, and you will avoid having an eviction lawsuit on your record. Turn in your keys and document to your landlord that you’re vacating the unit, so your landlord can inform their attorneys not to file the eviction lawsuit. For information on how evictions can impact your ability to find rental housing, see Housing Search. However, even if you vacate within three days, you still owe your landlord the rent money and your landlord can still sue you for the amount of rent and legal fees, or possibly send you to collections in order to recover that money.
Keeping documentation of all your rent payments is crucial to protect yourself against wrongful eviction. Paying rent into a drop box, or paying in cash without receiving a receipt from the landlord can leave a tenant vulnerable to claims that the money was lost or never received. Pay your rent by personal check whenever possible. If you can’t pay by personal check, you can use a money order, but take precautions to prove the amount by photocopying the money order after you fill it out but before you separate it from the stub. Sometimes it can take months for the money order company to recover documentation of the amount if you request it, often too long before the eviction process concludes. Write what the check or money order is specifically for on the front, for example, “March rent in full only.” This is important because if you have a back debt to your landlord they could apply that money to what you owe and then claim you failed to be current on your rent. Your landlord should provide you with a receipt upon your request, or prepare a receipt to have the landlord sign and date. If you pay in cash, the landlord must automatically issue you a receipt under RCW 59.18.063. You can also ask a third party witness to come with you who can attest that the rent was delivered and received.
1b) 10-day Notice to Comply or Vacate
The landlord may serve a 10-day notice to comply or vacate to a tenant who is violating or accused of violating a section of the rental agreement. The notice should list which section of the rental agreement is being violated, and give the tenant 10 days to come into compliance with that section. If the tenant is not complying after the 10-day timeframe, the landlord may proceed with the eviction process. The notice expires after 60 days under RCW 59.18.190.
It is important for tenants to respond to the 10-day notice in writing stating that they are or will be in compliance with the rental agreement. It is a good idea to include all written documentation possible to support the claim. For example, if your landlord sends you a 10-day notice to remove unauthorized pets from the unit, you can send the landlord a letter explaining the situation and documentation to show how you are in compliance.
Or, you may also decide to vacate the unit within the 10-day time frame instead of complying with the term of the lease. If you vacate, your landlord cannot bring an unlawful detainer action against you, and you will not have an eviction on your record, but you will be held responsible for the consequences associated with breaking your lease or vacating without giving proper notice.
If you disagree that your landlord’s claim that you were out of compliance, you can write a letter back to the landlord requesting they rescind the notice. It’s a good idea to back the letter up with evidence or documentation. For example, if you got a notice for a noise complaint, but had been out of town that week, you can provide proof that you were staying elsewhere during that time.
1c) 3-day Notice for Waste, Nuisance or Illegal Activity
A waste, nuisance, or illegal activity notice is less common, but requires quick action by any tenant who receives one. Waste and nuisance, in this instance, are terms that indicate a gross offense on the part of the tenant, for example major destruction of the rental unit or an arrest on the property. It may also include criminal offenses, including drug- or gang-related crimes. This notice does not give the tenant the option of complying, but instead requires that the tenant vacate the property immediately in order to avoid an eviction lawsuit. Sometimes the landlord may give a 3-day notice for waste or nuisance when it is not appropriate. Seek legal advice and assistance if you receive a 3-day notice to vacate for waste or nuisance.
A common misuse of this notice is for a noise violation. Being loud is not a “nuisance” for the purposes of this law. A tenant should be issued a 10-day notice to comply or vacate for noise issues; waste or nuisance are generally considered to be far more serious than noise complaints.
1d) 20-day Notice to Terminate Tenancy
A 20-day, (also sometimes called a no cause notice), is a notice that a landlord gives to terminate the tenancy of month-to-month renters. In most cities in Washington, landlords can ask month-to-month tenants to leave with only twenty days written notice. The notice must be written, and must be delivered at least 20 days before the end of the month or rental period. The landlord does not have to give a reason why they are asking you to leave, and currently no exceptions or extensions exist in Washington state law. If a tenant who has received a 20-day notice to vacate does not vacate within the 20 day period, the landlord can file an unlawful detainer action against them. Landlords cannot legally terminate tenancies for reasons that are discriminatory or retaliatory.
In some situations if the tenant has a disability that impairs their ability to move out they may request a reasonable accommodation for more time under Fair Housing laws. If the landlord refuses to provide an accommodation the tenant can file a complaint with their local office of civil rights. See Fair Housing Resources for more information.
In the city limits of Seattle, tenants have Just Cause Eviction Protection, which requires that the landlord have a just cause reason to ask them to leave. Washington State renters need Just Cause protection as well. Without Just Cause protection Washington State renters are extremely vulnerable to retaliation. Because a landlord does not need to give a reason to terminate your tenancy it is very difficult to prove that it was in response to you asserting your rights or other legitimate grievances.
2) Summons and Complaint
After the initial notice has expired and you are still in the unit the landlord must have a neutral third party such as a process server or the Sheriff serve you the eviction lawsuit. The landlord cannot serve the lawsuit directly themselves. The lawsuit is made up of two documents served together called the “Summons and Complaint.” They will both have numbers running down the left side of the page and the upper left hand corner will say your name (defendant) vs. the landlord (plaintiff). If the landlord hired an attorney to draft the lawsuit, the attorney’s name and contact information will be in the bottom right-hand corner of the page. This is important because you may need to serve a response to that attorney.
The Summons and Complaint are often served without having been filed in the court, so it does not necessarily mean that you have an eviction on your record when you receive them. This is an excellent point in the process to try to settle the eviction with your landlord before they file the lawsuit with the court. Once the lawsuit is filed at the courthouse that is when a permanent record is created. An eviction record—regardless of whether you win or lose—can cause you to be denied housing later on by a tenant screening company. The easiest way to tell if the lawsuit has been filed is to look at the front page to see if there is a stamped filing number. It looks something like “9-2-123456” and will be located on top right corner of the page.
If you do not respond to the Summons and Complaint, you will automatically lose the eviction. The deadline for your response will generally be one week from the date you received the Summons and Complaint. Your answer will give you an opportunity to explain the circumstances surrounding the eviction and to present any defenses you have against the eviction lawsuit. See Legal Assistance Guide to find a legal aid agency to assist you with your response. On the front page of the Summons there is a date for response. If you do not respond by that date, you will get a default judgment against you and will automatically lose the lawsuit. You can use forms to assist with your response, but it doesn’t have to be in any particular format. However, your answer to the Summons and Complaint must be submitted to the court in writing prior to the due date in order to not automatically waive your right to a court hearing. If you want an opportunity to appear in court, at the bare minimum you must inform the landlord’s attorney that you intend on appearing by filing a Notice of Appearance. It is very important that you document that the landlord or their attorney received your response before the deadline. You can fax it to their office and print out a fax confirmation sheet, or you can hand deliver it to their office. Ask them to date and sign for it and note the specific time it was received.
If the lawsuit has already been filed, file your response with the court in addition to the landlord’s attorney. Consult with an attorney to make sure you don’t waive any defenses in your written response. See Legal Assistance Guide for information about how get help responding to an eviction. The comprehensive packet Eviction and Your Defense has many of the forms you can use to respond.
3) Payment or Sworn Statement Requirement
Some tenants may also receive a notice titled “RCW 59.18.375 Payment or Sworn Statement Requirement” at the same time or soon after their summons and complaint is delivered. Look closely for this notice, as it requires extra attention and response. Tenants who receive such a notice must file a sworn statement with the court or pay the amount owed the landlord into the court registry within 7 days of the date the case is filed with the court (by the deadline stated on the notice) in addition to filing their answer or notice of appearance. Such notices can only be used in eviction lawsuits based upon 3-day notices to pay rent or vacate, not with any other type of notice. Paying the money into the court registry as the notice requires does not stop the eviction. Essentially, this will just “buy” you the opportunity to have a hearing. Seek legal assistance immediately for more information on how to respond to a payment or sworn statement requirement.
4) Show Cause Hearing
You may also receive an order to show cause with or soon after you receive the summons and complaint. This is a notice of the date of your court appearance, called the Show Cause Hearing. If the tenant responded to the lawsuit, both parties go to court. The show cause hearing is the tenant’s chance to raise any and all defenses they have against the eviction lawsuit. Tenants may be able to secure legal representation at the show cause hearing. The judge will hear both sides of the case and then make a ruling. The judge may decide to send the case to trial. The vast majority of evictions go in the landlord’s favor. Non-native English speakers have the right to an interpreter provided by the court. Notify the court as soon as possible of your need for interpretation. Seek assistance and representation from legal services agencies at Legal Assistance Guide. For more information on the show cause hearing, see Eviction and Your Defense.
If the tenant loses the lawsuit, a judgment will be issued against them in the amount of rent owed, plus other fees owed the landlord, as well as court costs and attorney’s fees. If the tenant wins the eviction lawsuit, the case is dismissed. However, the eviction filing will still appear on the tenant’s record. The landlord’s attorney may offer the tenant a stipulation, or settlement agreement instead of going to court. Be sure and have an attorney look at any stipulation before you sign it. They can often have hidden or difficult consequences. Do not sign any stipulation if you cannot comply with it.
If a tenant being evicted for non-payment of rent loses in eviction court, but has an unexpired lease term, the tenant can reinstate the tenancy by paying off the full amount of the judgment into the court registry. See RCW 59.18.410 to read the specific text of the law regarding reinstatements, and speak to an attorney to get guidance and information on your situation.
5) Writ of Restitution
If you lose in court, you will be issued a judgment in the amount of money you owe in rent, court costs, attorney’s fees, and other fees. The Sheriff will also serve you with a writ of restitution, the notice of when the sheriff is coming to oversee your removal from the property if you have not already vacated. The deadline will be 3-4 days from the court date, the sheriff’s name and phone number will be posted on the top of the writ. The date will list 12 am as the time of the eviction, but the sheriff will not show up to remove you at midnight. The sheriff may come to remove you and your belongings from the property any time after midnight of the date listed.
If you receive a writ of restitution, you must vacate the property. You can call the sheriff and leave a message letting them know when you will be out of the unit. Only in very rare circumstances can an eviction be stopped once the writ has been issued. For more information on how to stop a writ of restitution that has been issued in error, see Landlord Illegal Acts and talk to an attorney. See Legal Assistance Guide for more information.
The landlord can call off the eviction at any time in the process, though they will typically say their hands are tied and that they must continue. If you can negotiate a payment plan with your landlord and they sign an agreement for you to remain on the property, notify the Sherriff as soon as possible. It would also be wise to file a “Motion for Reinstatement” with the court, which legal aid agencies may be able to help you with.
Landlords have an obligation to store any property of the tenant’s that remains in the unit after the writ of restitution has been enforced if they receive a written request from the tenant within three days after the writ has been issued. The tenant can be held responsible to pay for the costs of storage and hauling of their property.