The Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act at RCW 59.18.310 defines abandonment as non-payment of rent and the tenant’s intent to not resume tenancy of the leasehold premises. Washington Case Law requires the landlord provide clear and convincing evidence of the tenant’s words or actions indicating intent to not resume tenancy. Abandonment is always a loaded factual question which requires the landlord to collect and preserve evidence indicating the tenant does not intend to return to the leasehold premises for residence.
We recommend that you issue a 48 Hour Notice of Intent to Enter Property, but such notice is not required in clear cases of abandonment. When you enter the property, please take a camera with you to collect and preserve evidence that you see, in plain view. Your entry should be limited to the extent necessary to ascertain whether or not someone is still residing at the property. Use the camera to photograph all areas of the premises, in plain view, to show why you believe the tenant has abandon occupancy. Ideally, your photos should show: the living room areas are empty of furniture; the kitchen is empty of cookware, dishware, cutlery, and edible food; the bedroom(s) should show a lack of bedding and clothes; and the bathroom should show a lack of toiletries and personal items. If the rooms are not empty and have the personal items necessary to sustain ones needs, the facts may dictate continued occupancy not abandonment.
I do not believe that incarceration, institutionalization or temporary lapses from occupancy necessarily constitute abandonment. Many, if not most, incarcerated folks hope to return home.
Once again, it is up to you as the property owner and/or manager to discover, determine, and preserve evidence that would suggest the tenant’s “intent” to not resume tenancy. Contact the utility provider to determine if the account has been transferred back into the owner’s name.
Interview neighbors to ascertain if the occupants indicated their intent to vacate the leasehold. Preserve any notes or documents which would tend to indicate that the tenant has relinquished possession of the property without an intent to return.
If it is apparent that the tenant does intend to return, to resume tenancy, then you do not have an abandonment situation and you may not change locks or deprive the tenant from the right to occupy the leasehold. RCW 59.18.290 makes it unlawful to exclude a tenant from a dwelling without a court order.
Upon determining abandonment, it is necessary for the landlord to store, and provide notice of such storage of, any remaining personal property left at the leasehold consistent with RCW 59.18.310. Within 21 Days of discovering abandonment, the landlord is required to send a deposit disposition letter advising the tenant why the landlord will be holding onto all or a portion of the tenants deposit consistent with RCW 59.18.280. The deposit disposition letter is sent to the leasehold premises if you are unaware of the tenants forwarding address.
Contact my firm at email@example.com to discuss your problem tenants. I practice in all counties east of the Cascades in Washington and Northern Idaho. My office, located near the Spokane courthouse, is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m, except Fridays when we close at 3 p.m.