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. With some statutory exceptions, the rental of a dwelling unit for living purposes is generally covered under the RLTA.
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. Landlords planning a change of use or demolition or substantial renovation must provide 120 days' notice.
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 a landlord includes prohibited provisions in a rental agreement, the tenant may recover statutory damages of up to $500 together with costs of suit.
If the tenant is in unlawful detainer status, a landlord may bring a court action to evict the tenant. A tenant is in unlawful detainer status when he or she:
Cause Required for Eviction, Refusal to Renew, and Termination of Tenancy.
Except where the premises are rented for an indefinite time, on a month-to-month, or periodic basis during the first year, a landlord may terminate the tenancy without cause at the end of an initial lease term of three to 12 months upon at least 60 days' written notice. If the landlord does not give 60 days' notice, the tenancy becomes a month-to-month tenancy, which can only be terminated for one of the specified causes to evict. Nothing prohibits a landlord and tenant from entering into subsequent lease agreements that comply with the provided termination requirements. A tenant may terminate a tenancy for a specified time by providing written notice 20 days' prior to the end date of the specified tenancy.
Except as provided above, a landlord may not evict a tenant except for 14 enumerated causes:
Additionally, a landlord may not refuse to continue a tenancy except for two enumerated causes:
Notices must identify the facts and circumstances known and available to the landlord at the time the notice is issued that support the cause or causes with enough specificity so as to enable the tenant to respond. The landlord is allowed to present other evidence regarding the allegations within the notice where the evidence was unknown or unavailable at the time the notice was issued.
Where a tenant has permanently vacated for reasons other than termination by the landlord, and occupants co-resided with the tenant prior to and up to the tenant's vacation with the landlord's approval, the tenant must apply or reapply as a prospective tenant within 90 days of when the primary tenant vacates. In the event that the occupant fails to apply within 90 days or the application is denied, the landlord may commence an unlawful detainer action. This new provision regarding occupants is not applicable to subsidized housing.
A landlord who removes a tenant or causes a tenant to be removed from a dwelling in violation of the section specifying exclusive causes and the landlord's responsibilities with respect to occupants shall be held liable to the tenant for wrongful eviction for the greater of: (1) the tenant's economic and noneconomic damages; or (2) three times the monthly rent, as well as reasonable attorneys' fees and costs. The existing statutory damages available for inclusion in the rental agreement of prohibited provisions are increased from $500 to two times the monthly rent, and the standard is changed for a landlord from "deliberately" to "knowingly" including such provisions.
Conforming Sections and Definitions.
Other sections are amended to reflect the new section providing the only causes cognizable under the RLTA:
The terms "immediate family," "subsidized housing," and "transitional housing" are defined in the RLTA. References to a "fixed term" tenancy are changed to "tenancy for a specified time."
The Senate amendment:
(In support) It is a privilege to own and rent out property, and this bill protects tenants against discrimination and retaliation from landlords. "Just cause" laws will not scare away new landlords or property owners. This bill will protect the most vulnerable among us from bad actors. When tenants are given 20-day notices to vacate without any advance warning, they have to scramble to move, and they often do not have enough funds to secure new housing. Tenants have had their lives ruined because of 20-day notices to vacate. There needs to be a higher bar for what constitutes acceptable notices from landlords.
This bill is about equity. Evictions have detrimental effects on people's health. Tenants deserve transparency. For the safety of individuals and our communities, there needs to be protection for people's housing. This bill provides needed protection to tenants, protection that is especially needed for undocumented and non-English speaking tenants.
This is a very balanced bill. In certain communities in the state, nearly half of the residents are renting. There is a housing crisis in many communities in Washington, and this bill gives security to landlords and tenants. Low-income tenants are rent-burdened and live in month-to-month tenancies. The bill provides needed protections for people who struggle to find housing after being served with 20-day notices to vacate. This bill ensures that Washington joins Oregon and California in providing protection to tenants from no-cause evictions. The bill is critical because no-cause eviction protections prevent discrimination. The bill was necessary before COVID-19, and now it is needed more than ever.
(Opposed) The RLTA is already too burdensome, and more changes to the law should not be made. The costs for landlords and property managers are already too high right now due to COVID-19 to impose new rules and regulations. There should not be more carve-outs in the law for government programs. It is important not to make it more difficult for property managers, who already must continuously change their leases due to changes in the laws.
This bill limits the landlord's ability to remove a problematic tenant. Landlords have to provide safe housing for all tenants. Building management has been very difficult this past year. Passing this bill will only make it more difficult for tenants that have to endure others' problematic behaviors. This bill will allow tenants to engage in threatening and negative behavior toward their landlords and property managers. This bill will prevent landlords from handling problems presented by their tenants.
"Just cause" eviction policies do not reduce evictions, instead, they foster hostile relationships between landlords and tenants. The majority of landlords do not enjoy the eviction process, and always work to avoid evictions.