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Know Your Rights » During Your Tenancy » Seattle Laws

Seattle Laws FAQ

How do I know if I’m protected under Seattle laws?

The King County Parcel Viewer is a research tool that offers detailed information on all properties in King County. The property report lists each address within a specific jurisdiction. It will designate whether or not your rental is in Seattle city limits. Find the property by address, then click on the “Get Districts Report” link. See Locating Your Landlord for more information.

Do Seattle landlords have to have specific reasons to end tenancies?

Yes. The Just Cause Eviction Ordinance, or JCEO, requires that Seattle landlords have just cause reasons to terminate tenancy or evict month-to-month or other periodic tenants (tenants who pay rent weekly or twice a month). There are 18 total just causes listed in the ordinance. Just causes for eviction include nonpayment of rent, noncompliance with lease terms, chronically late rent payments, and the intention of the landlord to occupy the unit themselves or rent the unit to an immediate family member. The notice required for each just cause reason varies. Outside of city limits, there is no just cause protection for tenants, and landlords can ask tenants not on a term lease to vacate with only 20 days’ written notice.

The landlord cannot use just cause evictions in retaliation for a tenant asserting their rights under landlord-tenant law or calling code enforcement. Seattle tenants experiencing retaliation can contact the DPD at 206-615-0808. This does not include tenants on leases, whose tenancy ends when the lease ends unless otherwise stated in the lease.

What can I do if my landlord violates the Just Cause Eviction Ordinance?

JCEO is enforced by the DPD, or Department of Planning and Development. They can be reached at 206-615-0808. Some Just Cause reasons allow tenants to pursue monetary damages if the landlord doesn’t follow them, up to $2000 in Small Claims Court. See Just Cause Eviction Ordinance (SMC 22.206.160) for more information, and Seattle Landlord-Tenant Laws, a publication made by the DPD.

What if I am required to vacate the unit at the end of my lease? Is that considered just cause?

The landlord can require in a lease that the tenant vacate a unit at the end of the contract period, even in the City of Seattle. If your lease requires you to vacate at the end of the contract, you must do so unless the landlord agrees in writing to renew your lease or make you a month-to-month tenant. For more information, see Rental Agreements.

Why does Seattle have better protections for tenants than other parts of the state? How can we get just cause protection statewide?

Tenants and tenant advocates have worked to win additional protections for Seattle renters. Laws can be very difficult to change, housing advocates are working to win just cause and other protections for the entire state. Landlord lobbying groups are constantly working to expand the number of just cause reasons. Your elected officials need to know how renters are being impacted by rental laws in Washington State. Call the Washington State Legislative Hotline at 800-562-6000 and tell them your story. You can leave a message for your state Senator, two Representatives and the Governor. Also, you can find email addresses and information about upcoming bills that impact renters at the Washington State Legislature website.

What if my landlord gives me less than 60 days’ notice of a rent increase of 10% or more in a 12-month period?

If you have been given less than the required amount of notice, you can contest an improper rent increase. See our Sample Letter: Improper Rent Increase or Rule Change . Tenants can also file a complaint with the DPD, which has the authority to rescind an improper rent increase notice. If the landlord does not follow the requirement to provide a 60-day written notice for a rent increase of 10% or more, and instead serves a 3-Day Pay or Vacate Notice, the tenant can pay the rent increase by writing “payment under protest” on their check. The tenant can then pursue the difference owed from the improper rent increase in Small Claims Court. It would also be a good idea for the tenant to pursue legal help through the Housing Justice Project or Legal Action Center in Seattle. See the “Legal Assistance Guide’:/rights/section/legal-assistance-guide for renters for more information.

Some tenants will choose not to pay the increase at all and just pay their regular amount. The risk here is that the tenant could end up in eviction court for nonpayment of rent after service of the 3-Day Pay or Vacate Notice, and will have to explain to a judge or court commissioner why they think the rent increase is not appropriate. This can be a risky choice, because whenever a landlord files an eviction lawsuit against a tenant, it creates a permanent record of eviction even if the tenant wins the court case.

What is third party billing? What are my landlord’s responsibilities under the third party billing ordinance?

Third party billing is when the landlord is billed by the utility company and then passes the cost on to the tenants living in three or more rental units. Landlords must inform tenants of any new billing practices. Each bill must include the name, address and phone number of the landlord or billing company, and must detail each item the tenant is being charged, including service and late fees. It must also include information on beginning and ending meter readings for sub-metered units, the due date and date late fees will be applied and past due balances. Statements must also detail a process for disputing billings, as well as an address for submitting disputes to the landlord or company. The ordinance also limits the amount of service charges, late fees and NSF check fees a landlord can collect per month. Utility bills for the building must be made available to tenants on the property for up to two years.

What can I do if my landlord is violating the third party billing ordinance?

Tenants who think they are being incorrectly billed must send a notice to the landlord or billing agent (whoever is identified as the responsible entity) within 30 days of the billing in question. The billing agent or landlord must respond to the concern within 30 days. If no resolution can be reached with the landlord or agent, the tenant can file a complaint with the Seattle Office of the Hearing Examiner or opt to take the landlord to Small Claims Court.

Under what circumstances is my landlord obligated to pay relocation assistance for me to move?

The Relocation Assistance Ordinance requires landlords to pay relocation money to low-income tenants who are displaced from their units because of housing demolition, substantial rehabilitation, change of use or removal of restrictions placed on subsidized housing. Tenants are entitled to 90 days’ notice before they have to vacate the unit for one of these purposes. The owner must obtain permits in order to perform any of the actions listed above, and must first apply for tenant relocation licenses for residents impacted. Tenants are eligible for relocation assistance if their family income is less than 50% of area median income. The amount for relocation assistance changes from time to time, but can be up to $3,000. The landlord pays half and the city pays half.

30 days after the landlord submits an application for a tenant relocation license, the landlord must deliver a tenant relocation information packet to the tenant. Tenants must apply for relocation assistance within 30 days after the owner delivers them a relocation information packet. Tenants do not automatically get relocation assistance just because the landlord applied for a relocation license. They must take action to apply for the relocation assistance money. Call the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) at 206-615-0808.

How much is relocation assistance?

The amount for relocation assistance changes from time to time, but can be up to $3,000. The landlord pays half and the city pays half. See Tenant Relocation Assistance for more details.

What rights do I have if my unit is being converted into a condominium?

Both state and municipal laws govern condo conversions in the city of Seattle. State law entitles tenants to 120 days’ notice in the case of condo conversion, and gives renters the right of first refusal to purchase the unit. Seattle also has a relocation requirement for condominium conversions, and requires that landlords inform tenants of the relocation assistance in writing with 120 days’ notice. Households earning less than 80% of area median income will qualify for relocation assistance if they opt not to or cannot purchase and remain in their unit. Qualifying households will receive the equivalent of three months’ rent in relocation assistance. Elderly renters or people with disabilities may receive some additional funds to help with moving costs. The developer must pay this relocation assistance by the date the tenants vacate the units.

RCW 64.34.440(1)(b)’ also states the reasons that a landlord can evict a tenant during the 120-day notice period. During the notice period immediately preceding a condo conversion, tenants can be evicted for failing pay rent, causing a waste or nuisance on the property, or violating another tenant’s peaceful enjoyment of the property, or any other reason listed in RCW 59.12.030, such as failure to comply with a 10-day notice to comply or vacate.