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Resource FAQs

Gain exclusive access to a wealth of information on everything from best practice advice, to landlord-tenant related questions.

This comprehensive list of FAQs expands your knowledge base to implement best practices and are divided into the following categories:

COVID

If you have questions about COVID-19 and its impact on your rental property please visit the RHAWA Blog and COVID-19 web pages for more information in a timely manner. These resources are continually being updated as new information is learned and new resources are made available for renters and owners.


Common Landlord Mistakes

RHAWA recommends as a best practice that landlords run a credit and civil background check on all applicants signing the lease. Civil background checks should be run on any other occupants living at the property who are not signing the lease. Outside of Seattle, you can also check criminal records, but are required to assess them individually and only deny tenancy where a valid business reason exists. Spending time reviewing and checking the information a tenant provides you is not only time well spent, but will also save you money in the long run. Renting to an applicant based on your emotional reaction can lead to a fair housing lawsuit. A common error is renting to friends or family without following this important procedure. 

If you allow a tenant to break one rule, chances are they will try to break another one as well. Items such as unauthorized occupants, pets being noisy, and keeping the yards clean are important. The tenant agreed to the rules at the beginning of the lease, enforce them. Rules are there to ensure your asset is being taken care of properly. Also, differential enforcement of the rules can result in a violation of fair housing laws (if similarly situated tenants were treated differently).

You cannot accept a security deposit without a signed property condition checklist. Have the tenant look through the unit and note deficiencies before you sign the lease. This way if you don’t agree, you aren’t already bound by an agreement to rent to the person. There are other laws regarding the security deposit as well such as providing a receipt and providing the tenant of which bank the monies are held at and after tenancy sending a statement of deposit refund.

Never use a lease purchased at an office supply store, one you receive from a family member or friend, or one you found on the internet. While they had the best intentions, you need a lease that is state or sometimes, city specific. Not having the right clauses in your lease could cost you money. Also, while you can write anything you want into a lease, that doesn’t mean those clauses will all be legal. RHAWA recommends you receive a lease from either a local real estate attorney who is well versed in Washington landlord-tenant law or use RHAWA’s rental forms.

A landlord’s responsibility is to provide a rental unit that is fit to live in. Often, a landlord will need to make some repairs on a unit during tenancy. Many of these may be preventive maintenance. Addressing potential maintenance issues will save you money and time in the future. An annual inspection will help you keep the unit maintained and has the additional benefit of allowing you to see how the tenant takes care of the unit.

RCW 59.18.280 states that within 21 days after the termination of the rental agreement of the premises, or if the tenant abandons the premises as defined in RCW 59.18.310, the landlord shall give a full and specific statement of the basis for retaining any of the deposit together with the payment of any refund due the tenant under the terms and conditions of the rental agreement. The notice shall be delivered to the tenant personally or by mail to his or her last known address. If the landlord fails to give such statement together with any refund due the tenant within the time limits specified above, he or she shall be liable to the tenant for the full amount of the deposit and possibly much more.

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Tenant Selection

Resources
  • Tenant Screening Best Practices
  • Tenant Screening FAQs
RCWs

Should I have a smoke-free policy for my property? 

According to the Washington Department of Health, 92 percent of renters prefer to live in smoke-free housing; more than 95 percent of non-smokers prefer to live in smoke-free housing and 75 percent of people who smoke prefer to live in smoke-free housing. 

Some insurance agencies give a credit or premium reduction to landlords if they have a smoke-free policy in their apartment buildings. If you are considering this, check with your insurance agent about whether your current policy includes a penalty (explicit or hidden) if you do not presently have a smoke-free policy.  

Use RHAWA Form, Smoke Free Addendum to ban smoking in units and common areas and allows the option to ban smoking on the property grounds as a whole. 

Must I post no-smoking signs in public areas at my apartment building?  

Washington Law, RCW 70.160 bans all smoking in public areas and states smoking is not allowed within 25 feet of public doorways. This may include publicly accessible areas in apartment buildings, such as lobbies, especially if you have employees. In this case, the landlord should post no-smoking signs in these publicly accessible areas. 

Can the landlord require a tenant to purchase renter’s insurance? 

A landlord can have a clause in their lease agreement that requires a tenant to carry a specified amount of renter’s liability insurance, usually 100k to 300k. The best way to enforce a rental insurance policy is to require that the policy lists you as “additionally insured”, or similar terminology depending on the insurance company. This will cause you to be notified if the policy is cancelled or changed. 

Practically speaking, coverage for the tenant’s personal property and relocation assistance are included with a liability policy. The cost to the tenant is minimal and can easily be bundled with their auto insurance. 

Can I have a no-pets policy? 

You can, but fair housing law requires that you accommodate people with disabilities who use a service or assistance animal. Also, having a no-pets policy may limit your pool of applicants as it is estimated that 75% of renters have pets. Consider using an RHAWA Pet Addendum to create a pet policy that includes restrictions on quantity and size/type of animals. Alterations to your property may help reduce pet damage, such as a fenced off dog run or vinyl plank flooring. 

What is an appropriate amount for a landlord to charge tenants who pay rent late? 

While there are no specific laws that regulate what landlords can charge for late fees, it is a good idea to keep in mind what a court would find appropriate in the event that a tenant was ever to take you to court. A late charge can be based on a percentage of the rent (better used for lower rents), a flat fee, or a per-day late fee that accrues. However, fees exceeding 10% of rent in any given month are often considered excessive. Late fees may not be listed on a Pay or Vacate or Comply or Vacate Notice. 

Can I rent extra parking/garage spaces to someone other than the tenants in my triplex?  

Specific local laws may prohibit this practice. Check with appropriate county/city departments. 

Seattle: SMC 23.42.070 and 7.24.030(G) require that residential rental properties with two units or more must have a separate addendum or agreement for parking and the parking rate cannot be included in rent. However, the separate parking agreement can list $0 as the rent amount. 

Individual condo units are considered multifamily and must comply. ADU/DADU units and units with attached parking spaces that are a functional component of the unit (townhouses/rowhouses) are exempted. 

Properties zoned LR3 or higher and located in urban villages can rent out parking commercially to non-tenants. Non-urban village, smaller unit properties cannot rent spots commercially.  
If a renter in these unit types declines use of a parking space it can only be rented to another renter living at the same property. 

We would like to rent a house which is on a five-acre property in a rural area, but we want to keep a barn and surrounding field for our own use.   

Depending on the local jurisdiction, keeping the area for your exclusive use could be enforceable if included as an addendum to the lease with a detailed map of the property, delineating the boundaries of the rented space.  

 

What are the requirements for tenants to recycle? 

Generally, recycling rules are set by your waste management company.  

RCW 59.18.060(10) requires owners of multi-family properties to provide and maintain appropriate receptacles for garbage and regular removal of such waste. There is no similar requirement for single-family residences. 

Seattle: SMC 21.36.083, requires all residential structures (single-family, multi-family & mixed-use buildings) to participate in City of Seattle’s recycling program. As a part of this ordinance, the City mandates that no more than 10% of garbage waste can be made up of recyclable materials. 

 

How does the legalization of marijuana in Washington State impact my rental property’s no smoking and no drug use policies? 

This is an evolving area of law, but currently the short answer is there is no effect on your no smoking and no drug use policies. 

In the instance of smoking marijuana, regardless of whether it is legal or not it is still smoking and may be prohibited by the landlord. This is no different than the smoking of cigarettes. 

For other, non-smoking, instances of marijuana use a landlord may prohibit those uses as well, since marijuana is still considered an illegal drug under Federal law. However, be prepared to process a reasonable accommodation request due to a disability. 

 

How do I determine my rental rate? 

The first step would be to check Craigslist, Zillow, Rentometer or other similar websites for comparisons in your area. Also, by participating in their survey, you can access market data prepared by Commercial Analytics. There is no better way to accurately gauge the market than to go and physically compare seemingly comparable units.   

What are the best options for advertising? 

There are several free options for online advertising including Craigslist, Zillow (syndicated to Trulia and Hotpads) and Apartments.com. Craigslist is still very popular but has fewer fraud protections than other more modern sites.  

As long as you are not exclusively listing with specific groups or religious organizations which is a discriminatory practice, various community organizations offer listing services that can be effective. 

Signs at the residence are effective for capturing people specifically interested in your property’s neighborhood. 

 

What information must I include in my advertisement? 

All ads in Washington State must include whether or not you will accept a tenant-provided tenant screening report. 

Seattle: Under the First in Time Ordinance, you must also include your minimum screening criteria. This details all the factors you’ll look at when screening an applicant which would result in an automatic failure if they don’t meet the minimum. The information should be in the text of the ad, included as an image or series of images in the ad, or you may include a link to a 3rd party website where your criteria is permanently hosted. 

In addition to property features, it is a good idea to include any limitations such as limiting parking, laundry, occupancy limits based on septic.  

 

What types of restrictions may I include when advertising my rental? 

Allowed restrictions include “No Smoking” and “No Pets”. You may not place restrictions based on a Fair Housing protected class. Examples of illegal restrictions in the State of Washington include, “No Section 8”, “No Felons” and “No Military”. Make sure you check for additional protected classes in your local jurisdiction. Restrictions on occupancy should be based on legal restrictions only such as septic capacity or local laws. 

What is a “minimum screening criteria?” 

RCW 59.18.257 states that prior to obtaining any information about a rental applicant, the landlord shall first notify the applicant in writing, or by posting, of what types of information will be accessed to conduct the tenant screening, what criteria may result in denial of the application, and if a consumer report is used, the name and address of the consumer reporting agency and the prospective tenant's rights to obtain a free copy of the consumer report in the event of a denial or other adverse action, and to dispute the accuracy of information appearing in the consumer report. RHAWA Form, Adverse Action Notice includes the required disclosure. 

If a prospective landlord denies an applicant, or accepts them conditional upon further considerations, they must provide the tenant with an Adverse Action Notice. 

A landlord who violates these requirements can be liable to the applicant for an amount up to $100.  

Make sure to refer them to RHAWA’s Tenant Screening Products 

 

Can I charge prospective tenants an application screening fee? 

Yes, the landlord may charge a tenant screening fee if they notify the applicant beforehand and comply with RCW 59.18.257.  

If the landlord uses a tenant screening service to run background screenings on applicants, the landlord may only charge the applicant for the costs incurred by running the screening.  

If you conduct your own screening of tenants, you may charge your actual costs in obtaining the background information only if the prospective landlord provide the above information, and the amount charged may not exceed the customary costs charged by a screening service in the general area. Charges may include costs incurred for long distance phone calls and for time spent calling landlords, employers, and financial institutions. 

 

What do I do if a prospective tenant says they have a service animal? 

Fair Housing laws require you to allow the service or assistance animal. These animals are not considered pets, and you may not charge the tenant any money in consideration of the animal. 

If the need for the animal is not obvious or apparent, you may ask the tenant to provide documentation from a licensed care provider verifying they are disabled and need each animal requested. If their request is not “reasonable” (e.g. three large dogs in a small apartment) you can enter into an interactive process to determine a reasonable solution. 

If issues arise with the animal during tenancy you may issue a 10 Day Notice to Comply detailing the problem the animal is causing which are in violation of behavior rules for the animal. 

 

Can I limit the number of occupants in a unit? I have a family of five requesting a small two-bedroom apartment. 

Washington State does not have any defined standards for the number of square feet required per occupant. A general rule of thumb is two tenants per bedroom plus one, but other factors such as size of rooms should be considered. Many local jurisdictions have specific laws on occupancy, so you should check your county and/or city standards for occupancy before making any decision on the number of tenants you allow in your rental units. When working with families, always be flexible in order to avoid discrimination complaints. Septic system limitations should always be followed rigidly. 

Seattle: The City of Seattle has standards different than those of the state when it comes to living space per occupant. SMC 22.206.020 essentially states that the minimum square footage required for one occupant is 130 square feet, for two occupants the requirement is 150 square feet, and each additional occupant over two occupants requires an additional 50 square feet. So, in this case the landlord would likely (as most studios are larger than 150 square feet) not be able to decline this couple based on the landlord’s feelings of their not being enough space.  

 

Can I ask applicants about criminal history and review criminal records? 

In most of Washington State you can use criminal history in your screening process, but you may not have blanket grounds for denial. Instead you must have a legitimate business case for denial after considering the nature and severity of the offense, the number and type of convictions, the time that has elapsed since the conviction, the age at the time of conviction, evidence of good tenant history before and after conviction, any additional information regarding rehabilitation, good conduct, or other factors provided by the applicant. 

In Seattle, the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance prohibits any use of criminal records in screening, except for a crime committed as an adult resulting in registration as a sex offender. Even for this narrow exception, a business case for denial must be made based on an individualized assessment as described above. 

 

How do I select the best tenant among multiple applicants? 

In order to avoid unconscious bias and the perception of discrimination, it is best practice to accept the first applicant that meets your minimum, pre-disclosed criteria. See RHAWA Form, Criteria Guidelines for more information. Outside of Seattle, if you choose to pool applicants and then select the most qualified, it is important to have a detailed disclosure to explain how you determine the “best” applicant in an unbiased manner and document your decision making process.   

Seattle: SMC 14.08.050 requires that the landlord must offer tenancy to the first tenant to apply with a completed application which meets their minimum screening criteria. The law includes many specific requirements such as: 

  • A notice detailing instructions for application and minimum criteria for acceptance must be included with any rental advertisement, posted at the property and given to each person before they submit an application. 
  • Applications must be marked with date/time received and date/time reviewed and considered complete. 
  • Completed applications must be fully processed in order received.  
  • If a person requests additional time to complete their application due to a language barrier or disability, the date of their request determines that person’s place in line of completed applications. 
  • If you ask an applicant for additional information not specified in your application/criteria notice, you must provide that person 72 hours to respond and place any subsequent applications behind that person in line. 

 

After offering tenancy to an applicant, you must allow 48 hours for that person to respond before moving on to subsequent applications. If I have multiple approved applicants can I take the highest bidder? 

For rentals not located in Seattle, pooling applicants could depend on several things and comes with the risk of misunderstanding. First, do not attempt this if you have not disclosed that you are accepting multiple applications and accepting the best fit. If you are planning to go this route you may want to consider putting a footnote in your ad that says something to the effect that if there are multiple approved applications, you will take the best offer.  

 

What should I do if the best applicant does not quite meet my minimum criteria? 

You can make a conditional offer of tenancy, using RHAWA Form, Adverse Action Notice (e.g., accept with a cosigner, higher security deposit, etc.). 

Seattle: SMC 14.08.050 requires that if you change your criteria, you need to advertise the rental again with the revised criteria and notify any previously denied applicants that would qualify under the revised criteria. 

 

After I denied tenancy, the applicant claims that I must return any forms I have containing their personal information. What are the laws regarding this situation? 

There are no current laws that require the landlord to return all the forms that the applicant filled out. However, due to risk of fair housing claims, RHAWA recommends you retain the application and documentation of the background information you received (e.g. the cover sheet only of an RHAWA Credit Report) for at least five years. In order to protect the applicant’s personal information, the detailed credit report should be destroyed, and the social security number should be blacked out on the application. 

 

I offered tenancy (contingent upon inspection) to an applicant that has a Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8). Now they say I would need to make $1750 in repairs. Is this required? 

Since the estimated work is over $1500, you have the option to deny tenancy based on excessive burden. If you choose to accept this tenant, you can apply to the Washington State Department of Commerce, Landlord Mitigation Program (LMP) for reimbursement of up to  $1000 after paying at least $500 yourself. You would also pay any additional expense over $1500, so in this case you would pay $750 and the LMP would pay $1000. You may be tempted to let future applicants know that your home will not pass inspection for the voucher program. This is not advisable as you would be open to fair housing complaints. If you get a voucher applicant in the future, talk to the case manager and get their advice on how to proceed.

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Leasing

Am I still covered under the Washington Landlord-Tenant Law even though I don’t have a written rental agreement? 

You have established residency by paying rent and/or putting a work order. While not recommended by RHAWA, verbal tenancies are legal in Washington State and are considered valid month to month agreements.  

Does the name and/or telephone number of the owner of a property need to be listed on the rental agreement? 

RCW 59.18.060(14) requires that the name and address of the landlord shall be in the rental agreement or on a notice conspicuously posted in the rented premises. If it changes the tenant must be notified by a new posting or certified mail. It does not require telephone number, just name and address. The Landlord is defined as the owner, lessor, or agent. 

If our lease prohibits vehicles leaking fluids on paving, do we have the right to tow violators at the owner’s expense? 

If the lease specifies that all violators of this clause will have their cars towed, you may be able to do just that. However, this may be seen as excessive in the eyes of a judge. A fine may be more appropriate.  

What paperwork is required to make my property “smoke free?” 

This is something that should be included in the lease agreement that you and your tenant sign. As a landlord, you are allowed to dictate all smoking rules (tobacco or otherwise) for your property. 

If a current term lease does not ban smoking in private units, but you would like to add an addendum to your rental agreement that bans smoking, you must wait until the lease term has expired and reverted to a month-to-month agreement before adding an addendum that bans smoking.  

Use RHAWA Form, Smoke Free Addendum to ban smoking in units and common areas and allows the option to ban smoking on the property’s grounds as a whole. 

Can we have a 2-year lease term? 

You can, but Washington State RCW 59.18.210 dictates that all lease agreements longer than one-year in length must be notarized to be valid. If not notarized, it will automatically convert to a month-to-month agreement after the first 12 months. 

Both parties must have their signatures notarized. The signers must personally appear before the notary public. Both parties can sign the document at different times before either the same notary, different time/locale, or before the same notary. 

If not signing together, a separate notary block would be used for each signer. Notaries commonly call that a "split-signing."  

Does rent have to be due on the first of the month? 

Rent can be made due any day of the month. The date that rent is due constitutes the first day of a rental period in the agreement. 

Is the landlord required to prorate rent owed based on my move-in or move-out dates? 

At the time of move-in typically a landlord will require a full month’s rent payment to cover the partial month for when the tenant took possession, with the following month’s full rent being pro-rated to reflect that a partial amount for that period has already been pre-paid. 

Landlords are not obligated to pro rate the rent when the renter vacates, even if they don’t stay through the end of the month, unless a new tenant moves in during that period (at which point the former renter’s responsibility to pay rent ends). If a tenant is moving out in the middle of the month, they may be able to negotiate with the landlord for prorated rent based on the move out date, but this is not required on the part of the landlord. 

Does a renter have to move out at the end the lease? 

The RHAWA Rental Agreement form allows for three options: 

  1. A month-to-month tenancy that can be ended by the tenant with notice given 20-days prior to the end of a rental period. The landlord’s right to end the tenancy depends on the cause for termination and local jurisdiction.   
  2. A Lease for a term with a specific ending date that then reverts to a month-to-month tenancy (described above).  
  3. A Lease for a term with a specific ending date where the tenant’s right to occupy the premises ceases without the right to extend the term. This type of term is not permitted in the City of Federal Way under a ballot initiative that passed in 2019. 

Can I restrict tenants’ overnight guests and charge related fees?  

You can prohibit or limit tenant’s overnight guests, provided that it is written into your original lease agreement. If your lease agreement states that the tenant may have overnight guests for “X” number of days per a specified period of time, and the tenant has a guest that stays beyond what is allowed, you can charge a per day penalty fee, assuming one is listed in the rental agreement. 

We just bought a rental property with an existing renter in place. Is the lease agreement that the renter had with the previous owner still valid? 

Yes. A change in ownership does not invalidate a lease agreement in an overwhelming majority of cases. There could be an instance where the lease agreement may state that if the property changes ownership, the lease agreement becomes void, but this is very rare. 

Are our tenants also bound by the rules set forth by the Homeowners Association?  

Your tenants are bound to follow the rules as determined by the Homeowners Association. Providing an addendum to the lease which states that the tenants are bound to the additional rules dictated by the Homeowners Association, and having the tenants sign such an addendum, is a good idea. You should also furnish your tenants with a copy of the Homeowners Association rules. 

My lease states that at the end of its term that it does not allow the renter to continue as a month-to-month renter. Am I required to give the renter a termination of tenancy notice at the end of the lease? 

No. Because the lease specifies the exact date that the lease terminates and that it cannot revert to a month-to-month agreement after the 12-month term is up, neither party is required to submit notice to the other notifying them of their intention to not renew. It is, however, a good idea to remind the tenant that their tenancy expires, you will not be offering them a renewal, and they must leave.  

Do I need to provide the tenant with a copy of the rental agreement I sign? 

According to RCW 59.18.065, the landlord must provide a copy of the rental agreement to each tenant who signs it. In addition, the tenant may also request one free replacement copy of the lease agreement and property condition checklist during their tenancy. 

What will I need to do when the term lease ends? 

First, you must determine if the lease allows month-to-month, or if it expires unless renewed for another fixed-term. If the former, the landlord is not obligated to do anything as the tenancy will continue as month-to-month. 

If the latter, the landlord is advised to have a conversation with the tenant prior to the last month to determine if they want to renew. This allows you to start advertising for a new tenant during no later than the first week of their last month. Send out RHAWA Form, Move Out Instructions at the beginning of the last month letting the tenant know their responsibilities for a return of their deposit. If there is a prepaid last month rent, do not accept a new rent payment for the last month. 

Leases which explicitly state “no month-to-month” do not require a termination of tenancy notice from the landlord to end the agreement. 

I see there is a Mold Addendum in the RHAWA move in packet. Is this required? 

As of January 1, 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires all landlords to provide tenants a copy of a “Mold Informational Form” upon move-in. This is a form that both the landlord and tenant sign, acknowledging the receipt of it. Use RHAWA Form, Mold Handout with lease signing. According to RCW 59.18.060 (12), the Landlord must provide tenants with information approved by the department of health about the health hazards associated with exposure to indoor mold. Information may be provided in written format individually to each tenant, or may be posted in a visible, public location at the dwelling unit property. The information must detail how tenants can control mold growth in their dwelling units to minimize the health risks associated with indoor mold.   

How long should I keep signed rental agreements/leases on file? 

There are no laws which specifically state how long a landlord is required to keep tenant information on file. However, RHAWA recommends to its members that they keep files for all of their tenants for a period of six years after the tenant moves out. 

I signed a lease with a tenant and then learned they lied about information on the application which would have been grounds for denial. 

The answer to this question is highly dependent upon the wording in the rental application and lease agreement used by the landlord. There should be a clause in the rental application which states that falsifying any information may result in the denial of tenancy and/or termination of the rental agreement. If such a clause is present in your rental application or lease agreement, then yes, you may terminate the agreement. However, if no such clause exists you likely cannot terminate their agreement. 

A tenant signed a one-year lease before they saw my rental unit and now they don’t want to move in. What can I do? 

For this reason, it is best practice to require all tenants to view the property before signing the signing the lease. Legally, per RCW 59.18.310, the tenant is obligated to the terms of the lease and you can charge them rent until you find a new tenant (must make normal effort to fill the vacancy). 

What is the difference between a Security Deposit and a Damage Deposit? 

It’s all in the name. A security deposit stands for the security for performance of the tenant’s obligations in a lease or rental agreement. A damage deposit must only be used for damages to the property that result from the tenant’s actions. Outside of Seattle, RHAWA recommends having one deposit and using term “security deposit” to expand on your ability to use the money for other reasons besides property damage, such as unpaid utilities, notice fees, etc.  

Seattle: SMC 7.24.035(A,B) limits move-in costs (general deposit + fees) to one month’s rent. As part of that total cost, non-refundable fees are limited to 10% of rent and can only be designated for screening and cleaning. This ordinance does allow an additional deposit for pet damage, limited to 25% rent for each pet.  

How should tenants’ security deposits be handled when the rental owner assumes the role of landlord from another owner or a property management firm? 

RCW 59.18.270 specifies that the tenant's security deposit is to be transferred directly to an equivalent trust account that the successor landlord has set up. However, according to the state landlord-tenant law, the tenants’ deposits can be transferred directly to the owner who is then responsible for putting the money into a trust account. The landlord also must tell the tenant the bank’s name and location where the security deposit will be held at. If the property is sold the deposit money should be transferred to the new landlord.  

I heard that I’m required to put tenant deposits in a “trust account”. What does that mean? 

The term “trust account” does not refer to a legal trust. It simply means that you must maintain a regular bank account separate from other personal or business accounts. Deposits from several properties can be kept in the same account, as long as you keep an accounting of the funds held for each tenant. Name the account in a way that clearly identifies it is for tenant deposits held in trust.  

I just had tenants sign a lease agreement and write a $1,500 check for the deposit. The check bounced two days after they moved in. What can I do? 

Two of the biggest mistakes a rental property owner can make are to allow a prospect to move in before you receive the full security deposit, and to accept non-guaranteed funds. Grounds for eviction only come when rent is due and not paid.  

RCW 59.18.410 requires that all payments must be applied to rent before other charges and eviction for failure to pay can only be based on rent and security deposits on a payment plan. Non-rent charges can only be pursued in other civil actions. 

I have a prospective tenant who wishes to prepay one year’s rent. Should I be concerned about this? 

Some people may want to do this if they are in a position where they have cash on hand, but no current regular income. Proceed with caution and carefully screen them. By accepting pre-paid rent for a year from a tenant, it may be difficult to end the tenancy if they are breaking rules or causing damage.  In the City of Seattle, the Move-In Fee Ordinance restricts collecting money beyond a limited deposit amount, plus first and last month’s rent. 

I collected a security deposit without completing and signing a property condition checklist with the renter detailing the condition of the premises. What should I do?  

There are two options in this situation. The first is to complete a property condition checklist with your tenant immediately. This would enable you to hold on to the security deposit. Keep in mind, however, that any damages pre-dating the signed property condition checklist cannot be charged to the tenant, even if they may have been caused by the tenant.  

The other option is to return the security deposit. RCW 59.18.260 states no deposit may be collected by a landlord unless the rental agreement is in writing and a written checklist or statement specifically describing the condition and cleanliness of or existing damages to the premises and furnishing including but not limited to walls, floors, countertops, carpets, drapes, furniture and appliances is provided by the landlord to the tenant at the commencement of the tenancy. 

The lack of a property condition checklist does not mean the tenant isn’t responsible to give the unit back to you in the same condition you gave it to them. If your tenant does cause damage to the unit you can still request the tenant pay you the money for the repair. However, it may be difficult to prove if you must go to small claims court.  

I am signing a 12-month lease with new tenants. During the walk through, they mention they read it was their right to ask for a six-month payment plan for move in charges. Is this correct? 

In most parts of the state it’s up to you if you want to negotiate this with them. Note, state law definition of rent includes recurring payments of move-in charges and in that case would be subject to pay or vacate if delinquent.  

Seattle: Renters who are moving in with rental agreements for 6 months or longer can choose to pay their deposit, move-in fees, and last month’s rent in 6 equal monthly installments. For terms between 30 days and 6 months, 4 equal monthly installments and for month-to-month agreements, 2 equal monthly payments. Pet deposits can be made in 3 equal monthly installments 

Tacoma and Burien: You are required to provide a 3-month payment plan for any term lease of 3 months or longer, or a 2-month plan for 2-month lease or month-to-month tenancy.

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During Tenancy

What are the correct ways to serve notices to tenants? 

First, attempt to deliver notices in person at the residence. If a tenant receives the notice(s) in person (do not deliver to an individual not signed on the lease), you have met your duty for service. If you are unable to deliver the notice(s) in person, a copy of the notice for each individual tenant signed on the lease must be posted conspicuously on the door and sent to each tenant by US mail from within the county which the property resides within (RCW 59.12.040). When a notice is mailed, the action provided for in the notice does not commence until one day after the notice is mailed. Mailing alone is never sufficient. There are three basic ways to serve a notice:  

  • Personal service: This occurs when you deliver the notice personally to the tenant. Once you have placed the notice(s) in their hands you have valid service. You must hand an individual copy of the notice for each individual signed on the lease to an adult occupant. Provide an additional copy addressed to “all other occupants”. 
  • Substituted Service and Mail: When you give the notice to someone of suitable age and discretion who answers the door because those listed on the notice are not available. In this type of service, you must always put a copy in the US mail. This also applies in situations where you have a husband and wife as tenants and you leave the notice with just one of them – you must mail a copy to have valid service on the other, plus one to “all other occupants”.  
  • Tack and mail: The situation when no one of suitable age and discretion answers the door. In this case tape your notice in a visible place – which is usually on the front door and put a copy in the US mail. Never leave a notice with a young child or with anyone who is unable to comprehend what is happening when you knock on the door. When mailing the notice, it must be mailed from the county in which the rental property is located. Again, mail a separate copy to each tenant plus an additional copy addressed to “all other occupants”. Do not mail the notice certified or registered mail as this means the tenant can refuse to accept the notice. When mailing a notice, it is a good practice to request a proof of mailing receipt which is completed by the letter carrier.  
  • After service of notice is completed a Declaration of Service Form should be filled out by the person who served the notice. This document is for court and should be given to your eviction service. The person who served the notice should indicate the date the notice was served, the type of notice served, and the manner of service. The declaration should be signed and dated by the person who served the notice and indicate the city the declaration was signed in.  

What does “two days’ notice” mean? Do weekends count? 

The Courts in Washington have determined the time frame is based on calendar days. Start counting the day after serving the notice, and then take action the day after the required waiting period is complete. Example: When serving a 2-day Notice to Enter Premises, date of service is day zero, the following two days are the wait period and you can enter on the fourth day. 

See RHAWA Resource, Instructions for Serving Notices, which is also included in all RHAWA Forms for notices that must be formally served.  

My tenant was convicted of a crime and sentenced to jail, what should I do?  

In this instance the landlord is still required to follow the formal procedure of serving a fourteen -day notice to pay rent or vacate when the failed jailed tenants rent becomes passed due. After this fourteen-day period has passed without payment of rent the landlord can then move forward with an eviction. During the eviction process the tenant can choose to ask the landlord to store the personal property, however, if the tenant does not make this request the landlord can choose to place the personal property in the nearest public storage area, unless the tenant is disabled or unable to store the personal property. There are procedures in which a landlord must follow when storing the personal property of a tenant; this is described in RCW 59.18.312. RHAWA would recommend you consult with your eviction service or attorney if storing the personal property is the option chosen.  

Does my tenant have to agree to a rule change? 

If the tenant is on a term lease, they do not have to agree to a rule change unless they want to. You cannot take any legal action against them. If the tenant is on a month to month agreement, you can require a rule change with 30-day notice prior to the beginning of the rental period.  

I’ve received noise complaints about my tenant. What can I do? 

Ultimately, tenants committing rules violations which are not the result a failure to pay monies owed should be served a 10 Day Notice to Comply if other means of achieving compliance do not work. The 10 Day Notice covers scenarios such as excessive noise, undisposed garbage, and unauthorized occupants. 

You may choose to first talk to your tenant and offer a warning, but the 10-Day Notice is your legal tool which would allow you to evict the tenant if they fail to comply. 

I have received several complaints about a tenant being too noisy after-hours. What can I do?  

While you can include “quiet hours” rules in your lease, the State of Washington does not legislate quiet hours. Noise control is typically controlled by the cities. The typical quiet hours are from 10pm to 7am. 

Enforcing quiet hours requires a few steps. One, a tenant must file a complaint with the landlord. After this the landlord should have someone verify that the noise complaints are valid. If they are, the landlord can then choose to serve the tenant with a 10-day notice to comply with the lease agreement as it pertains to excessive noise. 

If quiet hours are not defined in the lease, landlords should check their own cities before serving any kinds of notice regarding excessive noise as noise codes vary from city to city. 

I suspect my tenant is involved in criminal activities on my property. What can I do? 

While every situation is different, and oftentimes, individual legal advice is needed, some general guidelines are: 

  • If someone reported the suspicious conduct to you, ask them for names (if known), dates and times of suspicious incidents. Inquire whether they are willing to be a witness if needed. 
  • If witnessed by you or a staff member, document the names, dates and times of suspicious activity. However, be careful not to engage in illegal surveillance of a tenant or interference with their expectation of privacy. 
  • Evaluate whether you will have sufficient proof to satisfy your burden(s) of proof in court. 
  • Work with law enforcement (many police departments have task forces that deal with specific types of criminal conduct (drug dealing or manufacture, gang activity, etc.). 

Your personal safety comes first, don’t engage in conduct that puts you or your staff/vendors in danger.  

I have a rental home that is currently listed for sale, but my tenant is being uncooperative in working with me to show the property. What can I do? 

RCW 59.18.150 states a tenant cannot unreasonably withhold access to a rental unit in the case of a landlord exhibiting a unit, amongst other reasons. A landlord is responsible for providing a tenant with at least one days’ written notice before entering a unit for showing. As long as the landlord ensures the tenant has received the notice, there should be no legal problems.  

If, after proper notification, should the tenant object to entry, you should evaluate whether that objection is reasonable or not.  If it is, you should try and work with the tenant to remove the objection. If a tenant unreasonably refuses to grant access to the rental unit, you should issue notice of default and a new notice of entry. If the tenant continues to deny entry, the landlord has the option under RCW 59.18.150 to fine the tenant up to $100 per incident where they refuse access after proper notification. 

I have a tenant with a support animal that is aggressive with other tenants and barks constantly. What can I do? 

If the animal is disturbing other tenants and breaking quiet hour rules in the lease, you can ask the tenant to keep the animal controlled and/or serve RHAWA Form, 10-Day Notice to Comply or Vacate in the same way you would if the tenant were harassing other tenants and breaking quiet hour rules.  Please note, however, that a disabled tenant may make a further accommodation request that you waive or modify your rules. You will need to proceed carefully and thoughtfully.   

I verbally allowed my tenant to add a second dog, and now they are destroying the backyard. What can I do? 

The verbal agreement essentially becomes part of the lease terms. You can work with the tenant to find a solution, such as limiting the dogs’ access to a portion of the yard and have the tenant make or pay for repairs to the landscaping. If it is a month-to-month agreement (not a term lease), you could issue a 30-day notice using RHAWA Form, Notice of Change in Terms of Tenancy, limiting the number of dogs allowed. If necessary, once the terms are changed, you could follow up with RHAWA Form, 10 Day Notice to Comply with Agreement or Vacate. 

Who is responsible for handling pest infestations in a rental property? 

RCW 59.18.060(4) states that it is a landlord’s duty to provide a reasonable program to control pests and infestations and to control infestations in multifamily buildings. If you can prove an infestation was caused by a specific tenant, you can charge them.  

In the case of a single-family home, infestations are generally the responsibility of the tenant unless the landlord fails to cure an infestation left by the prior tenant or fails to make repairs that would prevent infestations. The landlord should also take responsibility for any exterior issues such as moles.  

For Seattle properties, SMC 22.206.160 states that it is the duty of landlords, whether written into the lease agreement or not, to “Exterminate insects, rodents and other pests which are a menace to public health, safety or welfare”. However, SMC 22.206.170 (C) also states that one of the duties of a tenant is to “comply with reasonable requests of the owner for the prevention or elimination of infestation.” 

If your property is subject to a pest control program, you may wish to add a term to your rental agreement requiring the tenant to cooperate with program requirements.   

My tenant is complaining of mold on their windowsills they believe is causing illness. I can’t identify a cause or solution to the issue. What can I do? 

This is a problem that should be addressed immediately as a landlord could be held liable in a situation such as this and be ordered to pay damages to the tenant. It is important to determine the cause of the mold, whether it is from the failure of some building element or due to the tenant’s lifestyle or conduct.   

Landlords would be advised to purchase a mold test, or contact a company that can test for mold, and treat the problem. You can contact a DOH staff and get more information at www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/ts/IAQ/Got_Mold or call 1(360) 236-3090. Even when a hazardous condition is caused by the tenant, it is wise to use trained professionals to assess and correct the problem.  

Is it my obligation as a landlord to compensate a tenant for lost perishables or use of a hotel in the case of a lengthy power outage in the area?   

Our duties as landlords are to provide a habitual home, meaning providing the basics such as heat, water, and lights. However, when a storm occurs as a result of a weather-related circumstances it is considered an act of God and beyond the landlord’s control. Under such circumstances rental property owners are not obligated to pay for a hotel or discount rent for inconvenience, providing shelter or breaks in the rent is something that is at the landlord’s digression. In the case of a tenant’s items being damaged the landlord is not obligated to pay for those items. This is the purpose of renters’ insurance. The landlord’s insurance covers the building; the tenant’s insurance covers their personal items, relocation expenses and personal liability.  

Different rules apply when a utility interruption is caused by something within the landlord’s control or the landlord’s conduct is deemed negligent.   

If a tenant causes an accidental fire, what are the landlord’s responsibilities?  

First, something as significant as a fire loss may require detailed and specific legal advice.  In general, as long as the fire was not due to your negligence you are not responsible for anything except for the repair of your building. RHAWA recommends you require all tenants to obtain renters insurance which would then pay for the tenants lost personal belongings and provide them with temporary housing assistance.  

The law doesn’t directly deal with this situation unless the unit is “red tagged” and deemed uninhabitable by the local municipality. RHAWA’s lease forms address this problem and supplements the very general laws on the subject.  In the event the occupancy can be continued the landlord shall make the repairs as needed in a reasonable promptness and rent should not be abated during that period. In the event occupancy cannot be continued but the owner elects to make the repairs in a reasonable amount of time, the rent should be abated during the time the premises are not occupied by the tenant. But in all other respects, the terms and provisions of the rental agreement remain in effect. In the event the premises are so damaged or destroyed and incapable of being satisfactorily repaired within a reasonable amount of time, then the rental agreement is terminated effective the date of the damage and the occupant should immediately vacate the premises. The landlord is not required to pay tenant relocation assistance as a result of a tenant caused incident, RCW 59.18.085(3)(a)(i). A landlord will not be required to pay relocation assistance to any displaced tenant in the case the condemnation or no occupancy order affects one or more dwelling units and directly results from conditions caused by a tenant.  

Can I use the renters’ security deposit to pay the cost of maintenance issues at the property? 

First, it is important to understand that monies can’t be deducted from the security deposit during the tenancy.  Second, unless the damages to the roof were directly caused by the tenant, it is not legal for the landlord to pay for the cost of fixing the roof using the tenant’s damage deposit. As is stated in RCW 59.18.060, the landlord has the duty to maintain the home in reasonably good repair. In this case, the roof is required to function as it was intended, meaning the leak must be fixed. 

My tenant claims I owe them for 2 days rent for not having heat, even though I provided space heaters the same day they reported the problem, and had the furnace fixed in three days. Am I required to reimburse any rent? 

Washington State RCW 59.18.070 outlines the time permitted to a landlord to commence repairs. In this case, because the tenant had no heat, the landlord is obligated to begin repairs within 24 hours from when the problem was first reported by the tenant. If repairs were started within 24 hours, and completed “promptly,” the landlord does not owe the tenant any compensation. However, if repairs were not started within the 24-hour period the landlord may be ordered by a court or arbitrator to deduct damages from the rent owed by the tenant (RCW 59.18.100RCW 59.18.110). Because the landlord fulfilled their duties in this instance, no rent reimbursement is necessary. 

If a tenant clogs a toilet, are they responsible for resolving the problem and covering the costs if a plumber is needed? 

RCW 59.18.060(7) states that it is the landlord’s duty to maintain plumbing in good working order, except when the defective condition was caused by the conduct of the tenant. Also RCW 59.18.130(3) requires the tenant to properly use all plumbing fixtures. Most toilet and sink clogs are common issues that tenants can resolve themselves using simple tools like plungers and plastic drain clog removers. Provide clear instructions on what you expect tenants to do. For more involved repairs, hire a licensed, bonded and insured professional and charge the tenant back if the issue was caused by their negligence. When you do engage a plumber, it is a good idea to have them document the source of the clog and where it was located in the drain.  

What kind of notice do I need to provide to enter an occupied rental unit? 

Once a tenant takes possession of your rental unit, that tenant has right to exclusive use and possession of the rental unit. The landlord cannot enter the unit without proper notice except in cases of emergency. RCW 59.18.150 requires the landlord to provide at least one days’ written notice with the intention to enter the unit to show the unit to prospective purchasers or tenants, and at least two days’ written notice of the intention to enter the unit for anything else. Use RHAWA Form, Entry to Premises Notice and follow instructions for posting notices. Of course, a tenant can consent to entry without any notice as well. Just make sure to document permission in writing, such as email, and that all occupants are copied on the communication. 

The law also states that the tenant shall not unreasonably withhold consent to the landlord to enter the dwelling unit in order to inspect the premises, make necessary or agreed repairs, alterations or improvements, supply necessary or agreed services or exhibit the dwelling unit to prospective or actual purchasers, mortgages, tenants, workers, or contractors. According to the statute  

No notice is required to enter the property in an event of an emergency or abandonment; however, this provision should not be used as an excuse to enter the unit without notice. If a tenant will not agree to the entry of a unit then the landlord needs to provide a notice to the tenant noting the dates and times the landlord was denied access and stating that according to the law RCW 59.18.150(7) the next violation is subject to a hundred dollar fine, or if you used a RHAWA lease, the tenant is in violation of a lease term and you can serve a ten day notice to comply with the lease. If you are still denied access, it is time to call an attorney or eviction service. 

Can I require my tenants to replace furnace filters in my lease? 

In a single-family home, you could require this but the consequences of them not doing it properly are high, so probably not advisable. Either way, it is a good idea to be clear in your lease/rental agreement what types of regularly replaced items like filters are the tenants’ responsibility. 

Who is responsible for yard up-keep, landlord or tenant? 

For multi-family properties, the landlord should maintain the landscape because RCW 59.18.060(3) requires the landlord to maintain the common areas. In single-family homes, many landlords require the tenant to maintain the landscape, although it is often difficult to consistently enforce. Also, a landlord may be held liable for tenant injury, especially if they provide yard care equipment to the tenant. Many landlords find it more effective to provide landscape service and cover the expense with rent. 

Many local jurisdictions have ordinances requiring a basic level of yard maintenance. Check your city or county website to understand your responsibilities as a landlord. 

Whenever you have a multifamily property, you should carefully consider whether there is part of the property that is excluded from the common area. For example, some buildings have patios or lanais that are exclusively for use by a specific tenant.  This is an area where some customization of your lease may be appropriate.  

Seattle: In the case of a property consisting of two or more units, SMC 22.206.160.B.1, holds that it is the landlord’s duty to maintain a clean and sanitary condition in all shared areas, including yards and courts. 

What do I need to do to change roommates on a lease? 

First, all parties must agree to making the change. A replacement tenant should be screened the same as the current tenants were. If they pass your screening, you may add them to the agreement using the RHAWA Form, Roommate Addendum. This document may also be attached to the lease to remove any outgoing tenant and add any incoming tenant. In jurisdictions that require an Information to Tenants type document (Seattle is an example), an updated copy of the disclosure must be provided.   

The incoming tenant should also sign a copy of the inspection and inventory checklist on the back with the sentence "I am accepting the condition as originally stated on this copy of this report," as well as copies of all other required documents stated in the lease. 

How do I handle the deposit when tenants change roommates? 

The RHAWA Roommate Addendum makes it clear that the deposit remains with the property and is not refunded to the outgoing tenant. If the tenant requests their share of the deposit back, you are not required to do so. Rather, the outgoing tenant should approach the incoming tenant about being compensated for inheriting their half of the deposit.  

I have a single tenant on a month-to-month rental agreement, and it appears an additional person is living with him now. What can I do? 

Your lease should include a limit on how long a guest can stay without being added to the agreement as a legal resident. You have the right to screen any additional residents, and in some cases limit the number of additional occupants (see further detail on Tenant Selection/Setting Policies). If they do not comply with your request to screen the person and process as a legal resident, you can serve RHAWA Form, 10-day Comply or Vacate. 

If they meet your minimum screening criteria, use RHAWA Form, Roommate Addendum to add additional occupant to the lease.  

Seattle: For Seattle leases entered after July 30, 2020, if the new occupant is a family member (very broadly defined to include dating relationships), you must accept the person even if they do not meet your minimum screening criteria. 

My renter paid a pet deposit, but they no longer have the pet and now want that money refunded. They are still living in the unit. What can I do?” 

If you had used the word “fee”, you could have kept the full amount, unless in the City of Seattle where pet fees are not allowed. Since the charge was called a “deposit”, you must hold the sum in trust and the tenant can receive a refund based on performance at the end of tenancy. In this case, account for the pet deposit in the same way as the security deposit, providing the property checklist, detailed accounting of repairs and any remaining deposit within 21 days of moveout. Because there was a separately labeled amount for pet damages, you can only charge pet damages to that portion of the deposit and must return the balance even if the general security deposit was not enough to cover other damages.  

My tenant wants to sublet their rental. What should I do? 

First, determine the tenants’ intentions. Are they truly subletting for a period and returning, or moving early and finding someone to inherit the rest of their lease? 

If the latter, the recommended procedure would be to treat the situation as a change in tenancy and screen accordingly. If it is a true sublet for a short period it is important that all parties understand their responsibility – the person subletting is actually a tenant of your tenant. Your tenant is still responsible for all of their actions and to pay you rent and report maintenance issues. You still have to serve your tenant to evict. This is why many landlords do not allow subletting. 

My tenant has failed to pay rent. What can I do? 

If the tenant has not paid rent or other recurring housing costs, in full, by the due date (including any grace period) the landlord’s option is to serve a 14 Day Notice to Pay Rent or Vacate. This gives the renter fourteen calendar days to pay the rent in full, or vacate. A failure to do either allows the landlord to go to court to evict. Do not accept partial rent payments in this scenario. You cannot base eviction on any monies owed other than “rent” which is defined to include recurring housing costs. Other monies owed such as fees or damages can only be collected through other legal means, not as part of an eviction judgement. Late fees cannot be listed on a 14 day notice. 

If they still fail to pay at the conclusion of the cure period, you can work with an eviction service or attorney to proceed with an unlawful detainer action.  

I have a one-year lease with a tenant who vacated after only three months at the end of November. I have done everything possible to re-rent, but the unit is still vacant after two full months and the tenant has not paid rent since moving out. 

Provided that the landlord has made an effort in good faith to re-rent his property, pursuant to RCW 59.18.310, the landlord has a right to receive rent payments from the former tenant until either a new tenant is found, or his lease term expires. If the tenant refuses to pay the landlord, RCW 59.18.160 states that the landlord may bring action in an appropriate court when a tenant fails to pay a reasonable time. 

You need to be sure to act reasonably to mitigate your damages.  If the market has substantially changed since the inception of the original lease, it may be necessary to reduce the rent to attract a replacement tenant.  In this case, the original tenant would still owe lost rent.  If you fail to act reasonably, the tenant might be able to successfully argue that you forfeited your claim for lost rent.  

How can I collect unpaid rent and other monies owed after a tenant moves out? 

First, complete the move out condition checklist and assess any damages. Deduct cost of repairs and other monies owed including rent and fees from the security deposit. If additional money is owed, include this in the statement including the date payment is due, and mail to the tenant’s last known address within 21 days of moveout per RCW 59.18.280. If they do not pay by that date you can turn the account over to a collection agency who will retain 25 - 50% of any debt collected as compensation. Alternatively, you can take the tenant to small claims court, but you may still need assistance of a collection agency or attorney to collect the debt. See https://www.atg.wa.gov/small-claims-court-0 for more information. 

We have a month-to-month tenant who has paid the rent late on a consistent basis, and has not paid any of the corresponding late fees. I have sent them a pay or vacate notice each time rent was late. What can I do? 

In Washington State, you could serve this tenant with a 20-day notice to vacate at any time if you wish to end the tenancy. You can deduct any monies owed, including fees from the security deposit following RCW 59.18.280. You cannot, however, collect anything other than rent and other recurring housing costs as part of an eviction judgement. 

Seattle: Under SMC 22.206.160(C), Just Cause Eviction Ordinance, the tenancy can be ended since they have paid rent late 4 times within a 12-month period and received a written notice for each violation. 

If my tenant files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and owes me back rent, am I still able to collect the rent owed? 

Once a tenant enters bankruptcy, they may no longer be pursued anywhere except bankruptcy court unless “relief from stay” is granted by the Judge. The practical effect of most Chapter 7 filings is that the tenant is discharged from pre-petition debt, which makes it uncollectible. 

Are there any restrictions on how much I can raise the rent? 

If you have a month to month agreement, you can raise the rent as much or as often as the market will bear, given you provide 60 days’ notice to increase rent, or 90 days’ notice for increases over 10% in the city of Kenmore. . If you have a term lease, you cannot unilaterally change the rules or raise the rent mid-term. Prior to renewing a term lease, the landlord and tenant should discuss and agree to new terms, including any increase in rent.  However, be sure that your rent increase is not retaliatory as defined in RCW 59.18.240-250. 

My tenant paid “last month’s rent” five years ago, but now their rent is $200 more. When they get ready to move out, will they owe $200 or do I have to cover the difference? 

It depends on your lease. The RHAWA lease states that the amount paid at move-in is a “last month’s rent pre-payment” applied toward the last month’s rent, in which case the tenant will owe the difference.

How do I split my property’s utility bills between multiple tenants?  

There are companies that can install a submetering system for electricity, but if that is not a cost effective solution, you need to come up with an equitable calculation where you are not collecting an amount more than the actual cost of electricity. 

Water, sewer, garbage, and electricity are generally split based on the number of people per unit, while gas heating is often split based on the square footage of the units. Disputes over fairness are common since one tenant could be conserving energy while another could use excessive energy. To avoid this, many landlords simply include the cost of utilities in the rent.  

In Seattle, there is an ordinance which regulated utility cost recapture in buildings larger than duplexes.  

   

How can I ensure that my tenant has opened and closed an account with Seattle City Light? 

There is a form online at the Seattle City Light website called the RESA form (Residential Electric Service Application) that you can have your tenant sign, giving you permission to open and close their account. Once you have this form signed by the tenant you can fax it into Seattle City Light. 

 

Neighbors are dumping garbage in the dumpster behind our rental property to the point where we are covering additional expense for collection. What can I do? 

If you know who is doing the dumping (and better yet, have pictures or video) you can file an illegal dumping complaint with the appropriate government office. Search your city or county website for more information. Also, many dumpster rental companies offer locking dumpsters. This may be a simpler, more permanent solution.  

What do I need to do to start billing my tenants for water, sewer and garbage? 

First, note that you may only make unilateral changes to rental agreements that are month-to-month or will be month-to-month or renewed by the effective date of the change. This requires 30 days’ notice as a change of rules. Use the RHAWA Notice of Change in Terms of Tenancy. 

If the property is in Seattle, and 3+ units, you must follow SMC 7.25 which regulates third party billing rules for utilities.  

To change the terms of tenancy for utility billing, you must provide 90-days’ notice prior to the termination of the current lease or the same 90 days prior to the beginning of the new effective rental period, if the agreement is month-to-month. The notice must include a copy of SMC 7.25, a detailed description of the method being used to determine each tenant’s portion, and how the common-area utilities are being allocated. The notice must also include important facts as to who will be doing the billing, what access may be needed, how, when and where payments are to be made and what the service charge will be.  

Landlords are required to post or provide copies of the three most recent bills along with a copy of the utility billing breakdown methodology. Landlords must maintain and provide, if requested, copies of these bills for a 2-year period of time. 

If you are using a Third-Party billing agent it is your responsibility to ensure that they are properly licensed by the State and by Seattle. 

I own a triplex with a shared dumpster and have started incurring extra garbage fees, but I cannot determine which tenant is causing the problem. What can I do? 

In this case, it is advisable to recoup the extra costs by increasing the rents for the properties. You might also consider adopting rules governing what can be placed in the shared receptacles.   

I have a 3-unit building with no separate water meters for individual units. I would like to charge for water. How do I do this? 

Some landlords choose to split the utility bills based on unit size and/or number of occupants according to the lease. Other methods can also be used, if they are spelled out in the lease agreement and the tenant agrees to the terms. It is important that any methodology you adopt be non-discriminatory. There are cases where a landlord’s formula was deemed to disparately impact protected classes such as families with children. 

Another, perhaps easier, way of dealing with this is to just incorporate your estimated water costs into the amount of monthly rent that you charge for each unit. However, a landlord should absolutely be sure that, whatever method they use in this scenario, they follow the terms of the lease agreement. 

Seattle: SMC 7.25 regulates how 3+ units can split water/sewer/garbage bills between tenants.  

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End of Tenancy

What do I do if my tenant has failed to pay rent and it looks like they might have moved out, but they have left a lot of things on the property? 

If you find that the tenant has failed to pay rent, but there is still a significant amount of their items at the property making it unclear if the tenant has actually left the property, serve an RHAWA Notice of Abandonment following standard procedures outlined in RHAWA Resource, Instructions for Serving Notices. This notice is not required by law, but is recommended as it gives the tenant 48-hour notice to respond should they still claim to be a tenant. Failure to respond will then allow the rental housing owner to declare the property abandoned and continue through the process. 

RCW 59.18.310 outlines procedures for taking possession of the rental property and disposing of any personal property left behind. The landlord must send a Storage of Tenant’s Personal Property notice to the tenant indicating how long you will be storing the items and where they can be picked up.  

I sold my tenant’s abandoned goods. What do I do with the money from those sales? 

RCW 59.18.312 specifies that when the required period has passed for holding a tenant’s items, a landlord may then dispose of, or sell, the items. The landlord is then permitted to apply any income earned from such sales towards the costs incurred by the landlord for drayage and storage of the goods. The landlord, however, cannot take possession of any additional income beyond the costs of storage until a period of one year has passed. If, after one year, the tenant does not make a claim on the excess income, the landlord is permitted to keep the remaining balance of money that was being held. See RCW 63.29 for the process of depositing excess income. 

I served a 14-day pay or vacate notice, and now the time is up with no payment. How do I check to see if the tenant has vacated? 

If a landlord wishes to see if a tenant is still living at their property, they should post an Entry to Premises notice on the door of the property, as well as mail one to the tenant’s last-known or provided address. A notice to enter requires 2 days of notice per RCW 59.18.150. However, if the tenant is behind on rent AND the landlord suspects the tenant is no longer there, abandonment may have occurred. In this case the landlord may enter immediately per RCW 59.18.310

I won a judgment of eviction against my now former tenants, but they have left a lot of junk in the house. What should I do? 

RCW 59.18.312 provides detailed instructions on what can be done with a tenant’s abandoned goods once the Sherriff executes the Writ of Restitution.  

How can I have an abandoned automobile removed from my rental property? 

In the case of an automobile being abandoned at the property, a landlord cannot sell the automobile because the landlord does not possess the title to it. The landlord should contact either the Department of Motor Vehicles, or the Washington State Patrol, and inform them that you have an abandoned vehicle on your property that needs to be towed. 

If it is a multi-family property and it is posted for towing, you can follow your usual procedures for towing of illegally parked vehicles.  

How much notice do I have to give the tenant that I’m terminating their tenancy? 

RCW 59.18.200 specifies that in a tenancy which is month-to-month, or an expiring term which reverts to month-to-month, landlords must provide 20 days’ or more notice prior to the end of the rental period. If a landlord is terminating tenancy in order to demolish, substantially renovate or change the use of the property, they must give 120-days’ notice. 

Currently, the cities of Seattle, Burien and Federal Way specify various notice requirements to terminate tenancies based on the cause. Without a “just cause”, unilateral termination by the landlord is prohibited. Refer to related RHAWA forms and local code for specifics. 

I want to demolish and rebuild my property which is currently occupied by a month to month tenant. How much prior notice am I required to give my tenants? 

RCW 59.18.200(2)(c)(i) requires that the landlord provide 120-days’ notice when terminating tenancies due to demolishing, substantially renovating or changing the use of a rental property. 

Seattle: Under SMC 22.210 the landlord/property owner must first obtain a “Tenant Relocation License” and then furnish each tenant with a “Tenant relocation assistance packet”, which must be returned to the landlord within 30-days in order for a tenant to be eligible for relocation assistance. The landlord will then have to pay relocation assistance to qualified tenants.  

Tacoma: Under TMC 1.95, the landlord is required to include tenant relocation assistance packets with the 120-day notice. Eligible tenant households are entitled to receive relocation assistance of $2,000, $1,000 paid by property owner and $1,000 paid by City of Tacoma. 

I served my month-to-month tenant a 20-day notice to terminate tenancy. They have not communicated with me and have not moved out by the required date.  

If your tenant remains on that property after that date, they are unlawfully detaining your property as defined by RCW 59.12.030 at which time you can proceed with the eviction process. RHAWA recommends hiring an eviction service for routine evictions or an eviction lawyer for more complex situations. 

Note: If in Seattle, Burien or Federal Way, you must have a “just cause” to terminate the tenancy and depending on the cause, you may be required to give more notice. 

I have a rental house that I would like to move into in the spring. How much notice am I required to give the tenants? 

Assuming the rental agreement is month-to-month, all that is required of a landlord in this situation is that they provide a tenant with a 20-day notice to vacate 20 or more days before the end of the rental period. If on a term lease, you cannot unilaterally end the term early. However, you can try to negotiate different terms with the tenant.  

Seattle and Burien: An owner may terminate a month-to-month rental agreement with 90 days’ notice prior to the end of the rental period if no equivalent unit is available in the same building. The notice period may be reduced to 20 days in cases of hardship. If the owner or their direct relative fails to occupy the unit for 60 of the next 90 days following the termination of the tenancy, violation is presumed.  

Federal Way: 120 days’ notice required. If the owner or their direct relative fails to occupy the unit for 90 of the next 120 days following the termination of the tenancy, violation is presumed.  

I have a tenant on a term lease that rolls over into a month-to-month tenancy in two months. They have not broken terms of the agreement, but they are extremely demanding and I do not have the time or energy to deal with them. What can I do? 

In most of Washington State, you can end the agreement by serving RHAWA Form, Termination of Tenancy - 20 days, 20 days prior to end of the term. Just be sure you are not retaliating against them for something they had the legal right to do (e.g., file a complaint about conditions at your property), as this is against the law and could result in fair housing fines. Do not give them a reason for terminating, but document additional time you spent on them compared to other tenants, and any inappropriate behavior for records in case of a future complaint.   

Seattle, Burien or Federal Way: You must have a “just cause” to terminate a month-to-month agreement and would not be able to end the tenancy in this situation. If you do not have time to manage the tenancy, consider hiring a property manager and raising the rent to cover your costs.  

My tenant gave me 20 days’ notice on the 1st of the month and wants to vacate on the 20th. They only paid 20 days prorated rent.  

RCW 59.18.200 states that tenancies “shall be terminated by written notice of twenty days or more, preceding the end of any of the months or periods of tenancy”. They must pay the entire amount of their last month rent, unless you find another tenant to move in early, at which point you should refund the previous tenant for the number of days you received prorated rent from the new tenant. 

My tenant is breaking their term lease. What do I do, and how do I get what they owe me?  

This falls under rules of abandonment RCW 59.18.310. You have two choices.  

First, you could attempt to negotiate an early termination, using RHAWA’s Early Termination Agreement. In those documents, you may stipulate any penalties or other considerations for allowing the tenant to move early. Be sure that any fees listed are great enough to ensure they offset your lost rental income while re-renting. 

Second, you can follow RCW 59.18.310 which details abandonment of a unit and bill them for unpaid rent for the number of days of your vacancy loss, plus any costs you incur to re-rent – which can include utilities to keep the place habitable, advertising, and agency fees. You can also charge for a rent adjustment if you need to lower the rent to place a new tenant.  Oftentimes, there is a lot of communication with a tenant who is vacating and this can sometimes be interpreted as your agreement or acquiescence to their early termination. To avoid this, it is a good idea to write a letter clarifying that your coordinating their move out is just to facilitate the transfer of possession (accepting the keys, etc.) and is not a waiver of the strict terms of the lease.  

You must also follow the deposit refund provisions required by RCW 59.18.280. Tenants moving out of state cannot be served for small claims court, so plan accordingly. 

Six months after signing a one-year lease, my tenants gave notice to vacate at the end of the month. I have already found a new tenant, but they want to move in before the end of month. Can I make the current tenant leave early to accommodate the new tenant? 

First, unless you signed an Early Termination Agreement with the current tenant stipulating a new termination date, they actually have the right to occupy through the end of the original lease term as long as they continue to pay rent and comply with the terms of the agreement. You always have the right to negotiate new terms, but you cannot force them to move out early.  

My tenant moved out at the end of the lease agreement without giving me twenty days’ notice. Can I legally deduct one months’ rent from their deposit? 

The answer to this depends upon the exact wording of your lease agreement. If the lease was for a specific term, and stated that the contract would not revert to a month-to-month agreement, per RCW 59.18.220, the tenant would not need to give notice due to the fact that both parties already know the agreement will be terminating. In this case, the best practice would be to discuss lease renewal with the tenant several weeks before the term ends. 

If the lease agreement explicitly states that the lease will revert to a month-to-month agreement following the satisfaction of the original lease term, then, yes, the tenant is required to provide the landlord with 20-days’ notice as outlined in RCW 59.18.200(1). If the tenant does not do so the landlord may withhold an additional month’s rent from the tenant’s deposit, provided that the landlord makes a good faith effort to re-rent the property to minimize the loss of rent income. 

My tenant gave me 20 days’ notice to vacate via email. Is this a legal way of giving notice? 

While nothing in the RCW’s specifically addresses email as a form of submitting a written notice to vacate, a general assumption would be that it is a valid form of submitting written notice. As prevalent as email is today, it is likely that a court would find that the tenant submitted adequate written notice to you. Rental owners, however, should never rely upon email as appropriate or legal service of a notice. 

Is it legal to charge a tenant a “termination fee” for breaking the lease? 

In general, RCW 59.18.310 only outlines that a tenant breaking a term lease is responsible to pay rent through the entire term until the landlord, working in good faith, finds a new tenant. The landlord is free to offer other terms to the tenant, including a lease break fee in lieu of holding them responsible for the entire term of the original agreement. However, the outgoing tenant can choose to take their chances that a new tenant will be found while they continue paying rent. While some landlords might provide for a termination fee in their lease, RHAWA does not recommend the practice. 

A tenant on a month-to-month agreement gave 20-day notice to move out, but then changed their mind after I already signed a lease with another tenant.  

A notice to vacate can be rescinded by the tenant. However, the landlord must also accept this. In the situation where the landlord has already found a new tenant, the original tenant could be found to be illegally occupying the unit if they choose not to vacate. In order to avoid having to default on a signed agreement with a new tenant (in which case you should work with an attorney), do not sign a lease until you have possession of the property. Instead, use RHAWA Form, Agreement to Enter into Lease to hold the unit under deposit with the new tenant while waiting for the prior tenant to vacate. 

What do I do when a single tenant dies at my property? 

RCW 59.18.595 outlines detailed instructions on handling the death of sole occupant. The process involves sending a series of notices to notify all known contacts you have related to the tenant of the various steps involved to remove the property of the deceased and settle accounts.  

Are landlords required to change the carpeting and paint between tenancies? 

In Washington State, there are no laws governing how often carpeting must be changed in a rental unit. Rather, RCW 59.18.060 merely states that a landlord has the duty to keep floors and walls in reasonably good repair. Section 5 also states that “except where the condition is attributable to normal wear and tear, (a landlord shall) make repairs and arrangements necessary to put and keep the premises in as good condition…at the commencement of the tenancy. 

For the purposes of damage accounting at the end of tenancy, Washington courts generally assume a 7-year usable life on carpets and a 2-year life on paint in rental homes. Therefore, if you had to paint after just one year of use, you could safely deduct half the cost from the security deposit. 

Seattle: SMC 22.206.080 states that landlords must keep walls and all floors and floor coverings in a sound and sanitary condition, and in good repair.  

I had the hardwood floor refinished right before my tenant moved in and they did a lot of damage to it. While I don’t have budget to refinish it again this year, can I charge the outgoing tenant for devaluing the floor? 

The answer to this is dependent upon how much wear and tear the wood floor was subject to during the time the tenant lived at the property. If the tenant lived at the property for 7 years, normal “wear and tear” would probably allow for the floor to become devalued due to markings on it. Any time you are withholding money from a deposit but not spending it on a specific repair, courts are skeptical of the deduction.  

I gave my tenant a move-out checklist specifying they should have carpets professionally cleaned, but they did not get it done. Can I deduct carpet cleaning charges from their deposit? 

If a property condition (pre and post) check-list was completed, and the carpets are now in much worse condition that they were upon move-in (beyond normal wear and tear) the landlord could withhold, from the security deposit, the extra amount of money needed to cover the cost of cleaning the carpets. 

However, RCW 59.18.130 (10) also states that the tenant shall not be charged for normal cleaning if he or she has paid a non-refundable cleaning fee. This would mean that even if the carpets were in worse shape than could be expected from normal wear and tear, the non-refundable cleaning fee would be expected to cover the costs of cleaning the carpet and the landlord would not be able to withhold any money from the tenant’s deposit. 

My tenant moved out on the 31st of October, after giving the proper 20-day notice to terminate tenancy. How long do I have to refund their security deposit? 

RCW 59.18.280 requires that deposits must be postmarked within 21 days after the tenant has vacated the property, unless using an old lease referencing earlier law that required return within 14 days. 

Only after failing to remedy damages within the 21-day while making every conceivable effort, landlords are advised to mail a preliminary deposit refund statement showing all charges to date, along with a letter explaining the remaining damages which have not been completed, and an estimated date for their completion. The owner should then issue the final deposit refund statement based on final charges as soon as possible. 

How much of the deposit can a landlord charge for damages? Is it more than the deposit or just the amount of the deposit? 

You can charge as much as is needed to repair the property, excluding normal wear and tear. (RCW 59.18.280) and a Deposit of Refund Statement has been issued within 21 days. 

A tenant had a pet onto the property without my knowledge or permission. Upon move-out I found ruined carpet and damaged subfloor. How much of the tenant’s security deposit can I withhold? 

Whether damage was caused by an animal or something else, RCW 59.18.260 states that the landlord can charge the tenant’s security deposit for any damages and repairs that are not due to normal wear and tear. However, keep in mind that courts will generally not award damages to replace a carpet that was older than its usable life, generally considered to be seven years. For carpets less than seven years old, t is best practice to prorate the cost of carpet replacement based on lost use. 

How do I handle a deposit refund check in the situation where there are roommates? Should I issue one check to all, or evenly distributed checks to each?  

RCW 59.18.280 does not specifically address this situation, it just states that you can hand deliver or mail the deposit to the last known address of your former tenant(s). RHAWA recommends that you communicate with the tenants before they move out and agree on one person who will receive a single check to split among themselves.  

A tenant moved out owning rent. Can I take this out of the deposit? 

All monies owed to you by the tenant can be deducted from a security deposit. This includes, but is not limited to, unpaid rent, late fees, unpaid utility bills, all damages that are beyond normal wear and tear, damages caused by a pet, etc. as long as it is specified in writing when the security deposit is accepted.  

What is the definition of normal wear and tear?  

There is no actual definition for “wear and tear.” A landlord should use sound, realistic judgment when distinguishing between “normal wear and tear” and damage. The basic idea is that physical items break down and wear out even if they are used in a proper manner.  By way of example, every time I walk on a carpet, I am degrading the fibers, but this is clearly within “normal” wear and tear.  Damage is usually something caused by an accident, negligence or inappropriate use. Any damage must be documented on the property condition checklist, comparing move-in condition with move-out condition.  

I had a tenant move out who did not return the keys for the property. Can I deduct the cost to re-key the locks from her deposit? 

In most of Washington state, this would be considered part of the normal turnover cost in order to re-rent the unit described in RCW 59.18.260, unless your lease specifies that lock changes between tenants are covered in some way. 

Seattle: SMC 22.206.140(A)(7) requires that you change the locks between tenants at your own expense, or otherwise secure the premises with an alternative locking system.  

If a former tenant has a dispute about the amount the landlord withheld from their security deposit what is the time frame on a response from the landlord? 

RCW 59.18.280 states that the landlord must provide a full and specific statement of deposit return within 21 days after the termination of the rental agreement. In case of a dispute, the landlord must provide a specific explanation of why the deposit withheld. There is no definite time frame required for a response from the landlord, but it should be “reasonable”.  

Most tenants just don’t understand how much repairs cost. Providing them a copy of all invoices and time logs could go a long way toward resolving this kind of dispute.   

I had not painted in several years and did not paint when my new tenant moved in. They painted it themselves in a color I don’t like. Now that they’ve moved out, can I charge them for repainting? 

If the paint had been new when they moved in, and the tenant used a dark color that required more than the usual amount of work to cover, you could safely charge them with the difference in cost, especially if your lease contained a clause prohibiting alterations. Generally, paint in rental housing is considered to have a 2-year life so it would not be wise to charge them for this. Also, if the tenant had complained to you in writing about the paint, especially unsanitary conditions, they may have the right to remedy the situation themselves under RCW 59.18.100

My tenant failed to provide a forwarding address for mailing the deposit refund. What are my responsibilities? 

RCW 59.18.280 requires that you postmark a Deposit Refund Statement within 21 days of the renter vacating to the most recently known address, which in this case would be rental unit they just vacated. Unpaid rent and other damages may be deducted from the Security Deposit. 

What are the laws regarding what former landlords can or cannot say when giving a reference to another landlord about a former tenant? 

In Washington State there are laws regarding retaliatory action that all landlords should be conscious of. RCW 59.18.240 outlines what “retaliatory action” is presumed to be, but also states that “Reprisal or retaliatory action shall mean and include, BUT NOT BE LIMITED TO…” This means that giving a bad reference about a former tenant could be interpreted as a retaliatory action by the landlord. The best thing to do when giving a reference to another landlord regarding a former tenant is to stick with stating that they were a tenant of yours, paid rent on time or late, etc. Getting into personal issues can open you up to a lawsuit. 

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RHAWA resources are copyrighted. Unauthorized use, publication or distribution is strictly prohibited. Formal legal advice and review is recommended prior to selection and use of any provided resource. RHAWA does not represent your selection or execution of any resource as appropriate for your specific circumstances. Rental owners/managers and tenants are each advised to seek independent legal advice on matters arising from use of any resource. No representation is made as to the sufficiency or tax consequences from use of any resource.


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