Washington State

House of Representatives

Office of Program Research



Civil Rights & Judiciary Committee

HB 1656

This analysis was prepared by non-partisan legislative staff for the use of legislative members in their deliberations. This analysis is not a part of the legislation nor does it constitute a statement of legislative intent.

Brief Description: Protecting tenants in residential tenancies.

Sponsors: Representatives Macri, Jinkins, Shewmake, Robinson, Doglio, Ryu, Morgan, Goodman, Cody, Orwall, Slatter, Thai, Reeves, Appleton, Dolan, Bergquist, Peterson, Pollet, Gregerson, Frame and Davis.

Brief Summary of Bill

  • Amends the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act in a variety of ways, including specifying what constitutes cause for eviction.

Hearing Date: 2/6/19

Staff: Cece Clynch (786-7195).


Residential Landlord Tenant Act.

The Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA) regulates the relationship between residential landlords and tenants, and includes provisions regarding the duties of tenants and landlords and remedies for violations of those duties. A "tenant" is defined as any person who is entitled to occupy a dwelling unit primarily for living or dwelling purposes under a rental agreement. Subject to a few exceptions spelled out in statute, the rental of a dwelling unit for living purposes is generally covered under the RLTA. One of the specified exceptions is occupancy by an employee of a landlord whose right to occupy is conditioned upon employment in or about the premises.

Damage or Security Deposits.

Landlords often collect deposits and fees and other amounts prior to, or at the outset of, a tenancy. One such deposit is a damage or security deposit, the purpose of which is to cover any damage caused to the property by the tenant, in excess of wear resulting from ordinary use. There are no statutory restrictions upon the amount of such a deposit, but the RLTA does require that the amount be placed in a trust account. Any interest earned generally belongs to the landlord.

Within 21 days after the termination of the rental agreement and vacation of the premises, or after abandonment by the tenant, the landlord must give a full and specific statement of the basis for retaining any of the deposit and pay any refund due the tenant. No portion of any deposit shall be withheld on account of wear resulting from ordinary use of the premises. A landlord complies with this requirement if the required statement or payment, or both, are delivered to the tenant personally or deposited in the mail within 21 days.

Failure to provide the statement and refund within the time specified subjects the landlord to liability to the tenant for the full amount of the deposit and the landlord is prohibited, in any action brought by the tenant to recover the deposit, from asserting any claim or raising a defense for retaining any of the deposit unless the landlord shows that circumstances beyond his or her control prevented compliance or that the tenant abandoned the premises. The court may award up to two times the amount of the deposit for intentional refusal by the landlord to provide the statement or refund due.

Duration and Termination of Tenancy.

A tenancy for a specified time, sometimes also called a lease, is deemed terminated at the end of the specified period. A tenant who terminates a lease prior to the end of the lease period is liable for rent until the end of the period, although the landlord is required to mitigate his or her damages by attempting to re-rent the unit at a fair rental price.


Alternatively, premises may be rented for an indefinite time, from period to period or month to month. Such a tenancy is automatically renewed for another period until terminated by either the landlord or the tenant by giving at least 20 days' written notice prior to the end of any of the months or periods of tenancy.

Enforcement Remedies and Unlawful Detainer.

The RLTA specifies the remedies available to a tenant for a landlord's violation of his or her duties. Generally the tenant must provide the landlord with written notice and a reasonable opportunity to fix or comply with the duty, the timeframe for which varies depending upon the type of problem. If the landlord does not perform, the RLTA specifies a tenant's remedies, but generally the tenant must be current in rent before exercising any remedies. Damages may be awarded to a tenant when a landlord engages in certain unlawful practices. If a landlord includes prohibited provisions in a rental agreement, the tenant may recover statutory damages of up to $500 together with costs of suit.

Eviction pursuant to an unlawful detainer action is a remedy a landlord may pursue against a tenant in unlawful detainer status. The definition of "unlawful detainer" applicable under the RLTA, as well as with respect to other tenancies not governed by the RLTA, is found in a chapter separate from the RLTA, chapter 59.12 RCW. A tenant is in unlawful detainer status when he or she:

If the tenant is in unlawful detainer status, a landlord may bring a court action to evict the tenant. A landlord prevailing in an unlawful detainer action is entitled to a judgment for restitution of the premises together with damages and rent found due. The prevailing party in an unlawful detainer action may be awarded costs and reasonable attorneys' fees. The landlord may not physically force the tenant off the property, but must rely on the sheriff to do that.

Summary of Bill:

A number of changes are made to the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA).

Residential Landlord-Tenant Act Coverage and Prohibitions.

The definition of "tenant" is amended to include any occupant who has coresided with the tenant for six months or more prior to the tenant vacating the property.

The exception under the RLTA for occupancy by an employee of a landlord whose right to occupy is conditioned upon employment in or about the premises is stricken.

Language in the RLTA that provides that a tenancy for a specified time is deemed terminated at the end of the specified time is stricken. Upon expiration and absent an agreement to renew a rental agreement, such a tenancy shall be construed to be a tenancy from month-to-month and subject to the protections of the RLTA.

"Rent" or "rental amount" is defined to mean consideration for use and occupancy of the premises. These terms do not include charges for costs incurred due to late fees, damages, utilities, deposits, legal costs, or other fees, including attorneys' fees. A landlord must first apply any payment made by a tenant toward rent, before applying any payment toward these other costs. Continued tenancy or relief from forfeiture may not be conditioned on a tenant's payment or satisfaction of any monetary amount other than rent. However, this does not foreclose a landlord from pursing other lawful remedies to collect these other costs.

A landlord is prohibited from unreasonably restricting the ability of a tenant to have an immediate family member or members reside with the tenant. However, nothing in this provision shall be construed as invalidating or impairing federal, state, or local laws with respect to occupancy.

If a landlord deliberately includes statutorily prohibited provisions in a rental agreement, the landlord is liable for actual damages sustained by the tenant, statutory damages not to exceed one month's rent or treble actual damages (rather than not to exceed $500), as well as costs of suit and reasonable attorneys' fees.

Cause under the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act.

A new section is added to the RLTA which provides that a landlord may not evict or terminate a tenancy absent cause, and specifies that the following are the only reasons that constitute cause under the RLTA:

A person violating this provision shall be held liable in a civil action up to four and one-half times the monthly rent of the property at issue, as well as for court costs and reasonable attorneys' fees.

Damage or Security Deposits.

Together with the specific statement of the basis for retaining part or all of a damage or security deposit, the landlord must include copies of estimates received or invoices paid to substantiate damage charges. Any damages not substantiated by third-party documentation may not be charged to the tenant.

No portion of any deposit may be withheld on account of "normal wear and tear" (rather than "wear") resulting from ordinary use of the premises. "Normal wear and tear resulting from ordinary use of the premises" means deterioration that results from the intended use of a dwelling unit, including breakage or malfunction due to age or deteriorated condition. Such wear doesn't include deterioration that results from negligence, carelessness, accident, or abuse of the unit, fixtures, equipment, or other tangible personal property of the landlord by the tenant or the tenant's guests.

The court must award up to two times the amount of the deposit for the intentional refusal of the landlord to provide the required statement, documentation, or refund due.

Appropriation: None.

Fiscal Note: Not requested.

Effective Date: The bill takes effect 90 days after adjournment of the session in which the bill is passed.