How to Maintain a Fixed-Term Lease in Washington

Posted By: Christopher Cutting Law , Leasing ,

Maintaining a fixed-term tenancy is not as easy as it once was. With the passage of HB 1236, by default, every tenancy in Washington is now subject to a for-cause termination requirement. This change to state law applies to fixed-term and month-to-month tenancies alike. It is still possible to use and require your residents to follow fixed-term rental agreements, but takes a little more work than before. Here’s how to do it.

What is for-cause termination?

For-cause termination means that a housing provider must specify and prove one of 16 “causes” to end a residential tenancy; it applies to both fixed-term and month-to-month agreements. The resident may still terminate a month-to-month tenancy without cause. A housing provider must either offer a new term, allow the tenancy to continue month-to-month, prove one of the 16 causes in the statute for termination, or prove that the tenancy is exempt from the regulation.

What if I don’t want my residents on month to month agreements?

When you use either of RHAWA’s Term Lease agreements, you have the option to require the resident to either sign a new Term Lease agreement or vacate the property. This is your easiest tool for avoiding month to month terms, but it’s not automatic anymore and takes some action on your part.

You should formally serve the resident with RHAWA’s End of Term Notice with Lease Extension at least 60 days’ before the end of the current term. Instructions for how to serve it are included with the form. This notice includes an offer for a new fixed-term that is as long or as short as you choose. The form then gives the resident until 30 days before the end of the term to either sign and return the lease offer or provide notice of intent to vacate. It also says that if they do nothing, they must also vacate.

If your resident signs and returns the offer, great! You now have a lease for another term. If they want to negotiate on the length, rent, or something else, you can negotiate as much or as little as you want, but make sure that you finish negotiations and sign a new agreement before the current term expires. If your resident does nothing or says he or she intends to move, you can now enforce the end date in the last signed agreement in court if needed.

Can I increase the rent with this form?

You can increase the rent for the new term by giving the resident at least 60 days’ notice of the new rental amount before the term starts. This is part of the reason you must deliver the new offer at least 60 days in advance. Note that some jurisdictions (currently Auburn, Kenmore unincorporated King County, and Seattle require more than 60 days’ notice of a rent increase in some or all circumstances). Some jurisdictions also require some type of disclosure when giving this notice; those instructions are included in the RHAWA form as well.

Can I skip service and just e-mail the notice?

If you want to avoid formally serving the notice, you can contact the resident informally to see if he or she wants to sign a renewal early. In most places in Washington, if you and all tenants on the lease sign a renewal at least 60 days before the current term ends, you do not need to formally serve that same offer. Keep in mind that if you miss the 60 day deadline to either sign a new agreement or serve the End of Term Notice with Lease Extension, your tenants now have the option to stay month-to-month.

The cities of Seattle and Federal Way have extra requirements. In those cities, you must formally serve the lease offer between 60 and 90 days before the current term ends.  In addition, in the City of Seattle, your resident must sign the new agreement at least 90 days before the current term expires or you are required to serve the offer and your tenant can fine you three months’ rent if you do not serve the offer in time.