Before using this information, please read:
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.
A termination of tenancy is different than an eviction. A termination is the landlord ending the rental agreement and asking the tenant to vacate the rental unit. A tenant can have their tenancy terminated and move out without being evicted. An eviction is the actual court process and lawsuit to have a tenant removed from the property if they fail to leave.
Month-to-month tenants must be given written notice of at least 20 days before the end of the rental period that their landlord is terminating their tenancy. 20-day notices are also sometimes called “no cause” notices. In most cities in Washington, the landlord does not have to give a reason why they are asking the tenant to leave, and currently no 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, they become a “holdover” tenant, and the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit against them.
This guide is intended to give an overview of the eviction process and provide some context for renters as to how evictions can play out in Washington courts. The eviction process is known as an “unlawful detainer action,” and the law gives the landlord the right to initiate a court process to remove tenants from a rental unit. It is crucial that all tenants facing eviction speak directly with an attorney about their situation for advice, assistance and, possibly, representation. For more information and resources, see Legal Assistance Guide.
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)
Evictions in Washington State generally take around three weeks from start to finish, but this can vary. There are many variables that impact the length of time the eviction process will take. Below is a sample timeline for eviction due to non-payment of rent. This timeline assumes that the landlord is moving through the eviction process as fast as the law allows. This timeline is just a sample. Do not assume that your process will move at the same speed. Talk to an attorney for more information on the specifics of your case.
- Self-help evictions are illegal (RCW 59.18.290). The removal of a tenant from a rental property cannot be done by the landlord without a court order. Evictions must be ordered by the court and must be served by a county sheriff, who will also oversee the removal of the tenant from the property if they have not already vacated. Tenants who are being illegally removed from a property can call the police.
- Lockouts are illegal (RCW 59.18.290). Landlords cannot restrict tenants from access to the unit by changing the locks, even if the tenant is in the midst of an unlawful detainer lawsuit or has a writ of restitution issued against them. If illegally locked out, the tenant has a right to regain access to the unit, but must pay for the cost of any damages they do to the unit in order to regain access. Tenants who are being illegally removed from a property can call the police.
The following is general information about low-income housing programs and eviction policy. There are many different programs available that help tenants with low-incomes or special housing needs. Different regulations will apply to different programs, and sometimes tenants don’t know exactly which program they are participating in, or are a part of more than one program at a time. It can often be hard to know exactly what program a tenant is a part of and which regulations apply. In addition, being evicted from housing that is subsidized by the government may put your ability to stay in low-income housing programs at risk. It is best to consult an attorney to help navigate low-income housing evictions.
Most low-income housing programs have additional rules and policies that govern the eviction process. In some cases, tenants living in low-income housing have increased protections above and beyond what is offered in state law. For a complete look at low-income housing policy, see Subsidized Housing & Section 8.
1. If You Cannot Pay Your Rent
Contact your landlord as soon as you realize you may not be able to pay your rent. Clear communication is essential. Let your landlord know that while you may not be able to pay on time, you are looking for help. Ask if he or she will accept partial payments until the rent is paid in full — and write out a payment plan that you can afford.
2. Where to Turn
Start by calling Washington State 211 at 2-1-1 from a landline, 206-461-3200 or 800-621-4636 or 206-461-3610 for TTY/hearing impaired calls. You’ll be asked to explain your situation and give your address and zip code for referrals to agencies serving the area where you live. The staff at the Community Information Line will tell you about agencies that can help with rental and move-in costs. They can also refer you to other resources such as financial education classes.