Residential Landlord-Tenant Act—Generally. 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. Under the RLTA, a tenancy for a specified time terminates at the end of the specified lease period. A tenant who terminates a lease prior to the end of the specified period is liable for rent until the end of the period, although the landlord must mitigate their 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 a 20-day 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 a 120-day notice to the tenant.
Enforcement Remedies. The RLTA specifies the remedies available to a tenant for a landlord's violation of their duties. 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. Rental agreements may not include provisions in which the tenant agrees to certain actions, including waiving rights and remedies under the RLTA, limiting liability of the landlord, and paying late fees within five days following the rent due date. If a landlord deliberately includes prohibited provisions in a rental agreement, the tenant may recover statutory damages up to $500 with the costs of suit and reasonable attorneys' fees.
Unlawful Detainer. If a tenant is liable for unlawful detainer, a landlord may bring a court action to evict the tenant. A tenant is liable for unlawful detainer when the tenant:
Cause Required for Eviction, Refusal to Renew, and Termination of Tenancy. A landlord may terminate a tenancy without cause at the end of an initial lease term between three and 12 months upon a 60-day written notice. If the landlord does not provide a 60-day notice, the tenancy becomes a month-to-month tenancy, which may only be terminated for one of the specified causes. For any other tenancies with a specified period, and for tenancies on a month-to-month or periodic basis, a landlord may not terminate the tenancy except for one of the enumerated causes. At the end of a tenancy of a specified period, it becomes a month-to-month tenancy. A landlord and tenant may enter into subsequent lease agreements that are in compliance with the provided termination requirements. A tenant may terminate a tenancy for a specified period by providing at least a 20-day written notice before the end date of the specified tenancy.
Otherwise, a landlord may not evict, refuse to continue a tenancy, or terminate a periodic tenancy, except for the following causes and after the applicable notice periods:
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 to enable the tenant to respond and prepare a defense. The landlord may present other evidence regarding the allegations within the notice when the evidence was unknown or unavailable at the time the notice was issued.
Other Occupants. If 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, the occupant must apply or reapply as a prospective tenant within 90 days of when the primary tenant vacates and meet the same screening, background, and financial criteria as any other prospective tenant. If 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.
Enforcement Remedies. A landlord who removes a tenant or causes a tenant to be removed from a dwelling in violation of the provisions specifying enumerated causes for eviction or refusal to renew or terminate a tenancy is liable to the tenant for wrongful eviction and the greater of:
The existing statutory damages available for inclusion of prohibited provisions in the rental agreement are increased from $500 to two times the monthly rent, and the landlord must have knowingly, instead of deliberately, included such provisions.
Miscellaneous. Other technical revisions are made to reflect the new enumerated causes for eviction and refusal to renew or terminate a tenancy under the RLTA, including removing provisions allowing a landlord to terminate a periodic or monthly tenancy with a 20-day notice and provisions that provide when premises are rented for a specified time the tenancy is terminated at the end of the specified time.
The committee recommended a different version of the bill than what was heard. PRO: State law allows landlords to evict tenants without providing a notice or reason. The bill simply asks landlords to supply a reason for evicting their tenants. Nearly 500,000 renters are trying to make ends meet and are using credit cards or borrowing from friends to stay current on rent. A majority of families of color depend on rental housing, and the status quo has left them vulnerable. No-fault evictions can lead to homelessness. The bill will limit and prevent homelessness, especially for BIPOC communities. Stable homes create stable communities which lead to stable economies. The bill proposal is already implemented and working in multiple cities in the state. Federal Way and Auburn have local ordinances in place to address fixed-term leases. The bill works in coordination with other current legislation, and includes several negotiated amendments between stakeholders. Landlord expenses when turning over tenants are too high, and the proposed just causes are very comprehensive, especially with the inclusion of other good cause, such as a legitimate business or economic reason. Allowing fixed-term leases would nullify all of the other 16 proposed just causes. Seattle has the second-highest number of no-cause evictions in the state, despite having a just cause ordinance, because of the use of fixed-term leases. Fewer than 30 percent of black communities own homes as opposed to 50 percent previously in 1970. Black renters are falling behind on rent at higher rates than other renters. Washingtonians deserve a right to a fair process while enduring dueling pandemics of COVID-19 and racism. Poll numbers support that landlords should give a reason in order to evict. The probationary period for no-cause evictions is a fair and balanced compromise. The bill also serves housing equity goals. If landlords are allowed to discriminate against tenants for no reason, the receipt of any rental assistance becomes ineffective. Generational wealth has not been evenly distributed or made available to BIPOC communities. The black community has been forced into rental housing market due to past practices of redlining. Certain local affordable housing task forces support just cause evictions in their housing strategies. Some tenants are confused if no-cause evictions must be reported on other housing applications, and 20 days is not long enough to find housing. Tenants are afraid to ask for repairs to be done in fear of retaliation and receipt of a 20-day eviction notice. The bill does nothing to prevent landlords from removing problematic tenants. The argument that the bill violates contract rights would also apply to the entire RLTA. Protections in the bill are similar to those implemented in other states on the west coast and nationally. The bill will prevent tenants from being discriminated and retaliated against by landlords. Landlords have used a 20-day eviction notice when other methods to evict were inaccessible. One landlord still evicted a tenant despite after receiving rental assistance for the tenant to remain in the unit. While rental housing might be a business for landlords, it can be life and death for tenants. Tenants do not have the power to influence lease terms, including the option to terminate a lease at the end of the term. No-cause evictions for long-tenured tenants displace them from their communities. Fixed-term leases do not provide tenants with a defense in court. Periodic tenancies of month-to-month offer more protections, and fixed-term leases can be as short as a few weeks. Black women are seven times more likely to be evicted than white men. The bill provides tenants a meaningful period of time to respond to any reasons for evictions, and represents principles of due process.
CON: Evictions are a lose-lose outcome for both parties, except for attorneys involved in such actions. A fixed-term lease is not an eviction but a contract between two parties with an expected end date. A 20-day notice is too short for month-to-month tenancies. Evictions are not the problem when there is a massive state housing supply shortage. Small landlords will be more likely to sell, resulting in permanent lost housing stock. The bill overreaches into private contracts and makes it a one-way contract. The bill limits landlords when addressing behavior issues with tenants by linking evictions to four other notices. Penalizing landlords for converting a unit might be more appropriate. The bill will negatively impact landlords. Allowing leases to expire is another effective method to remove problematic tenants and avoid costly eviction cases. Problematic tenants may persist or arise even after any probationary lease period. Notice provisions in the bill do not provide enough time for landlords to make repairs or renovations. The court process is too slow to evict tenants. Landlords will be forced to renew tenancies in perpetuity and create hostile living environments for other tenants. Student housing providers need to rely on fixed-term leases to ensure a smooth transition between student populations. Evictions are too costly and time consuming and decreases property values. The bill will result in increased attorney costs for landlords that will be passed on to the tenant, creating more costs overall for both parties. Landlords will no longer risk a larger pool of eligible tenants, and the bill does nothing to help mitigate risks of renting to any tenants. The bill ties the hands of property managers to address issues, and should only extend the current 20-day eviction period. Landlords need to be able to manage out bad actors, and those tenants that cannot comply with basic lease rules.