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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.
Domestic Violence & Harassment
Tenants who are survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or unlawful harassment have protections under the Landlord-Tenant Act and Domestic Violence Prevention Act. The law offers specific definitions for each of these:
- Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior (physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, or psychological) used by someone to control an intimate partner. It is physical harm, injury or assault, or the fear of imminent physical harm, injury or assault, between family or household members, past or current intimate partners, or people who have a child together (RCW 26.50.101).
- Sexual Assault is any unwanted physical or verbal sexual contact (RCW 70.125.030).
- Stalking is intentional and repeated harassment or following of another person that causes them fear for their safety, the safety of another person, or of their property (RCW 9A.46.110).
- Unlawful Harassment is a pattern of intentional behavior that seriously alarms, annoys, or harasses. This behavior must cause significant emotional distress, or cause a reasonable person to fear for the well-being of their child (RCW 10.14.020. Unlawful harassment also includes any request for sexual favors a landlord asks for from a tenant in return for performance of the landlord’s duties (RCW 59.18.570).
1. Breaking a Lease
The Landlord-Tenant Act allows survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or unlawful harassment to break a lease and move if necessary. Tenants needing to break their lease for these reasons must provide the landlord with either a valid order of protection or a report from a qualified third party regarding the incident. “Qualified third party” can include law enforcement, health care professionals, state court employees, mental health professionals, clergy members, or domestic violence/crime prevention advocates. In addition to providing the landlord with a copy of the valid order for protection or report from a qualified third party, tenants must also notify their landlord in writing within 90 days of the incident that they are a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or unlawful harassment. The report from the qualified third party must include specific information about the incident. See Washington Law Help’s Landlord-Tenant Issues for Survivors of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and/or Stalking for sample letters and a sample report from a qualified third party.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) outlines clear legal protections for survivors of domestic violence. It states that tenants may not be denied admission to or terminated from Low Income Public Housing, project-based Section 8 housing, or the Section 8 (Housing Choice) voucher program because of their status as victims of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking. Public Housing Authorities (PHA’s) and landlords must prove that there is an “actual and imminent threat” to other residents or staff on the property in order to evict a household for reasons related to domestic violence. PHA’s and Section 8 landlords can divide up or split a lease in order to evict an abuser while letting the rest of the household remain.
PHA’s and Section 8 landlords can ask a tenant to verify that they are a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking. The tenant can comply with this request by providing either a police record, a valid order for protection, or a statement that is written and signed by a victim’s service provider, medical professional, or attorney verifying that abuse, violence or stalking occurred. The name of the perpetrator must be included in the record or statement. The landlord or PHA must give the tenant at least 14 business days to provide this information, and they may accept other forms of verification, at their discretion. This information must be kept confidential by the PHA or landlord, unless otherwise agreed upon by the tenant, unless the information is necessary in an eviction proceeding or if required to do so by law.
In the case of serious threatening violence from one tenant towards another, there are additional protections in the Landlord-Tenant Act. The Act states that if a tenant is threatened by a neighbor with a firearm or other deadly weapon, and an arrest is made, and the landlord fails to evict that tenant within 7 days of the incident of violence, the threatened tenant can break their lease and move. If the tenant is threatened by the landlord with a deadly weapon, and an arrest results, the tenant has the right to break their lease and vacate the unit without any further obligation under the rental agreement. In either case, the tenant is not obligated to pay rent following the date they vacate the unit, and is entitled to a prorated refund of any rent they pre-paid. It’s a good idea to obtain a copy of the police report in order to document the situation. The tenant’s deposit should be evaluated for any damages above normal wear and tear, and a statement regarding the use of their deposit should be sent to them within 14 days. For more information, see Deposits.