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Disaster Info for Renters/Tenants

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project - CLEAR Intake Line LSC Funded

Find out about your rights as a tenant if the place you are renting was damaged due to a natural disaster. #6374EN


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*Not all of this info may apply or help, depending on the extent of the disaster.

The place I was renting was damaged in the disaster. What are my rights?

It depends on

  • How bad the damage is

  • What your lease says about damage/destruction in the event of a disaster

  • Whether you are up-to-date on your rent payments

If the last is true, you should mail or personally give the landlord written notice about the damage if at all possible. A sample notice asking for repairs is at the end of this publication. If you use this letter, attach a copy of RCW.18.060 to it. We have provided a copy at the end of this publication.

*Depending on the extent of the disaster, you may not be able to give the landlord notice. Talk to a lawyer if you can.

Can I stop paying the rent until the landlord fixes the place?

No. You cannot stop paying rent to force the landlord to make repairs. RCW 59.18.080.

How much time does the landlord have to start making repairs?

*The law talks about starting to make repairs, not finishing the repairs.

S/he must start making repairs as soon as possible after getting your written notice and no later than:

  • 24 hours to start to restore heat, hot or cold water, electricity, or fix a very hazardous condition.

  • 72 hours to start fixing a refrigerator, range and oven, or major plumbing fixture supplied by the landlord.

  • Ten days in all other cases.

RCW 59.18.070.

*A landlord who cannot meet these timelines due to circumstances beyond his/her control must still finish the repairs as soon as possible. RCW 59.18.070.

Can I get out of my lease because of property damage?

Maybe. You can move out if the landlord does not make repairs within a reasonable time after getting your written notice, and after the 24-hour, three-day or ten-day period to start repairs is up.  In that case, you must give the landlord written notice and then move out immediately. You will be entitled to a refund of any prepaid rent and the security deposit under the security deposit rules. RCW 59.18.090. (Our Your Rights as a Tenant in Washington and Can I Get My Security Deposit Back? publications have more info.)

*You will have to move if the city/county condemns the place. This means the damage was so bad that the agency issues you and the landlord a notice saying no one can live in it. RCW 59.18.085.

The damage to the place was so bad that I cannot live in it. I am moving. Can I get my security deposit back?

The landlord can only keep your security deposit to apply it towards his/her losses from your lease violations.   Examples: not paying rent; damaging the place.

To get your security deposit back after a disaster destroys or seriously damages it, you will probably have to ask for it back. Normally, before moving out, under state law you must

  • give the landlord or manager proper written notice that you are moving and of and your forwarding address.

  • wait 21 days after that to hear back from the landlord, and then write a demand letter, and possibly take other action.

RCW 59.18.280.

*After a disaster, you may not be able to do these things, including finding the landlord, who the disaster may also have displaced. Talk to a lawyer. Our publication called Can I Get My Security Deposit Back explains more and has forms you can use.

Is the landlord responsible for damage to my personal belongings?

Not if the disaster caused the damage.

You may be eligible for other help:

  • SBA personal property loan - for the repair or replacement of clothing, furniture, cars, appliances, and other items damaged/destroyed in a disaster. This loan is for up to $40,000.

  • You may be entitled to tax relief, depending on the property's value. See the IRS publication called Personal Property Loss.

My apartment was NOT damaged. The next day, my landlord told me to move out. He wants the place for his daughter who lost her house in the disaster. The landlord told me if I was not out, he would change the locks. Do I have to move?

Changing the locks is illegal. No matter what, even if you are behind in rent, your landlord cannot:

  • lock you out of the unit 

  • change locks

  • add new locks

  • keep you from entering the unit in any other way

RCW 59.18.290.

The only way the landlord can force you to move is if s/he files an unlawful detainer (eviction) case in court against you and gives you a chance to respond to the case.

My lease is not up yet. Can the landlord make me move anyway?

The landlord can only ask you to move if:

  • The landlord has reason to do under the lease (check your lease!)

  • You are using the property for drug-related activity

  • You are engaging in gang-related activity

  • You are engaging in activity on the premises that creates an imminent hazard to other people's physical safety.


Thanks to Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, whose work we adapted to reflect Washington state law.

This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.
This information is current as of October 2016.
© 2016 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014.

(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for
non-commercial purposes only.)



Download Sample Letter - Request for Repairs

Last Review and Update: Mar 28, 2018