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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.
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I am a month-to-month tenant. How much notice am I required to give my landlord before I vacate my unit?
The law requires that month-to-month tenants give landlords at least 20 days written notice before vacating their units. If you are unsure about what kind of rental agreement you have, see more details in Rental Agreements. The landlord must receive written notice of your move-out date 20 days before the end of the rental period. For example, if your rent is due on the first of the month, and you plan to vacate by 30th, then the landlord must receive your written notice by the 10th of the month. Be sure to get proof that you sent your notice to vacate by sending it certified mail and regular first class mail and keeping a copy for your records. If you do not give your landlord proper 20 days written notice, or if you stay longer than the date you gave notice for, your landlord can charge you for the following month’s rent.
If your rental agreement states that your rent is due on an irregular day of the month, such as the 15th, just count 20 days backward from that date to determine that day of the month that your notice must be received by the landlord. The 20-day period is calculated from the day that your rent is due, not including any grace period you may be allowed before your rent is considered late.
I am tenant on a lease. How much notice do I have to give in order to vacate my unit?
Tenants on fixed term leases, such as a 6-month or one year lease, are committed to living in the unit for the full lease period. Look to your rental agreement to see what the notice terms are. If there are no specific notice terms dictated there, RCW 59.18.220 states that the tenancy ends when the lease ends. It is still a best practice to always give your landlord some notice before you move out to let them know what your plans are. Read detailed information on breaking your lease at Rental Agreements. The landlord may claim that you are still in possession of the property if you still hold the keys after the termination date, and may charge you for the following month’s rent.
What happens if I stay in my unit past the day I gave notice I’d be out, or if I vacate in the middle of the month?
If you can, try and get your landlord’s written permission to stay longer. If you stay past the day that you give notice to vacate, even for a day, your landlord can legally charge you rent for the entire following month. Some landlords will agree to prorate the rent if you want to stay a few extra days, or if you move out sometime in the middle of the month, but they are not legally obligated to do so. There is no law requiring that landlords prorate the rent for days or partial months that tenants occupy the unit. If you do need to stay past your notice date, it’s a good idea to get a written agreement with your landlord stating the number of days you’ll be staying, and agreeing upon the amount you’ll be charged for those days. If you move in the middle of the month, be sure to still provide a 20 day notice of move out for the following month in order to avoid being charged a full month of rent when you no longer live there.
If I vacate in the middle of the month, is my landlord required to prorate my rent for me?
Some landlords may agree to prorate your rent when you vacate, but they are not legally required to do so. If you vacate in the middle of the month, your landlord may legally charge you for the entire month’s rent. If you want to move out in the middle of the month, it’s a good idea to try and get a written agreement with your landlord stating the number of days you’ll be staying, and agreeing upon the amount you’ll be charged for those days.
I’m a month-to-month tenant. What happens if I only gave 18 days’ notice to vacate, or only gave my landlord verbal notice that I was vacating the unit?
If you do not give your landlord proper 20 days written notice, according to RCW 59.18.310, your landlord can charge you for the following month’s rent. If the landlord re-rents the unit right away, you could make the argument that the landlord doesn’t have the right to collect rent from more than one tenant on the same unit in the same month.
Can I give more than 20 days’ notice to vacate?
Yes. 20 days’ notice is the minimum requirement. The notice must be in writing.
Can I take back my notice to vacate if I’m not able to move out?
Your 20 days written notice constitutes a commitment to the landlord that you will vacate the unit, but you may be able to negotiate with your landlord to allow you to stay longer in the unit. The landlord does not have to provide you with any extra time past the notice date, and can charge you rent for the following month if you overstay, or start eviction procedures. RCW 58.12.030 states that you would become a “holdover tenant” who has stayed beyond the end of your rental agreement. For more information, see Eviction.
What if my lease requires that I give more than 20 days’ notice to vacate?
RCW 59.18.230 that tenants cannot sign away their legal rights under the landlord-tenant act in a rental agreement. Your contract may require 30 days’ notice or more, but it may be arguable that tenants can only be held to the 20 days notice legally required under state law in RCW 59.18.200. You may decide to give more notice, but only 20 days is required under the law. Though tenants do have an argument that the landlord does not have the legal right to require they give 30 days’ notice to vacate, you may not want to take the risk that your landlord will try to charge you for the following months’ rent. It may be best to give 30 days’ notice anyway, if possible, to avoid the chance that your landlord charges you rent for the following month and sends you to collections or Small Claims Court. Speak to an attorney for additional information and advice on your specific situation.
If I’m on a lease, do I still have to give 20 days’ notice to vacate? What about at the end of the lease?
RCW 59.18.220 states that the tenancy ends when the lease ends, unless the contract specifically rolls it over into a month-to-month tenancy, or the landlord offers the tenant a new rental agreement. Look at your lease for any specific notice provision that you may have agreed to. If your lease automatically becomes a month-to-month tenancy, you must give your landlord 20 days written notice before you vacate. It is still a good idea to give your landlord written notice that you are moving out. Tenants on leases are committed to stay in the unit for the full term. If you break your lease, it is still a good idea to give your landlord written notice that you are vacating the unit before the end of the contract term. For more information on breaking your lease, see Rental Agreements.
What if I don’t leave a forwarding address for my landlord to send my deposit accounting to?
Be sure to notify the post office of your forwarding address. If you don’t have a secure new address, you can provide the address of a reliable friend or relative. Your landlord is obligated under RCW 59.18.280 to send your deposit statement within 14 days to your last known address or deliver it to you personally. If you do not provide them with a new address, they may end up sending it to the unit you just vacated, and will not reach you unless you have your mail forwarded. This can be a problem for tenants because the landlord may have complied with their obligations by mailing the deposit accounting to the last known address, but the tenant never received it and assumes the landlord failed to deliver the refund statement. This might impact the tenant’s ability to argue the landlord failed to deliver the refund statement within the required 14 days. See Deposits for more information.
What condition do I have to leave my unit in when I vacate? What can I be charged for after I move out?
RCW 59.18.130 requires that tenants return the unit to the condition they found it in when the moved in, minus normal wear and tear. There is no further legal definition of normal wear and tear in the Landlord-Tenant Act. There may also be some requirements outlined in your rental agreement. It’s a good idea to get documentation of the condition you leave the unit in, and get documentation of any steps you take to clean or repair the unit. Tenants can be charged for any damages they caused to the unit above normal wear and tear. For more information, see Deposits.
What can I do if my landlord requires cleaning before I vacate that I believe is above and beyond my legal obligation?
Your landlord can only enforce rules and conditions of tenancy that are established in your rental agreement. If your contract required you do professionally clean carpets or blinds, then you agreed to those terms of the tenancy and can be held to those commitments. However, RCW 59.18.140 states that the tenant must conform to all reasonable rules and restrictions laid out by the landlord in the rental agreement. If the rental agreement calls for clean-up of the unit that may be considered unreasonable, like that the tenant must have the unit professionally cleaned by three different cleaning companies, the tenant may be able to argue that the rule is unreasonable. Otherwise, the law requires tenants to return the unit to the condition it was in when they moved in, minus normal wear and tear. If your landlord requires extra cleaning that was not agreed upon in the rental agreement, it is up to you to decide how to respond. While your landlord may not ultimately be able to enforce those requirements legally, they may still attempt to charge you for not doing those things after you move out, or may take those costs out of your deposit. See Deposits for further information and ideas on how to handle those charges or negotiate with your landlord to avoid extra charges.
Does the landlord have to do a walk out inspection with me?
The Landlord-Tenant Act does not require that your landlord do a walk out inspection with you, though you certainly can ask them to do one. It’s a good idea to get thorough documentation of the condition you leave the unit in, even if your landlord won’t inspect the unit before you move out. They are required to complete a move-in checklist with the tenant at the initiation of tenancy. One way to get documentation is to take detailed photographs of the unit before you leave. Putting a copy of the day’s newspaper in each frame will prove the date it was taken (Small Claims Court judges may not accept camera date stamps because they can be tampered with).