Disaster Info for Renters/Tenants
Authored By: Northwest Justice Project
Find out about your rights as a tenant if the place you are renting was damaged due to a natural disaster.
- The place I was renting was damaged in the disaster. What are my rights?
- Can I stop paying the rent until the landlord fixes the place?
- How much time does the landlord have to start making repairs?
- Can I get out of my lease because of property damage?
- The damage to the place was so bad that I cannot live in it. I am moving. Can I get my security deposit back?
- Is the landlord responsible for damage to my personal belongings?
- 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?
- My lease is not up yet. Can the landlord make me move anyway?
*Not all of this info may apply or help, depending on the extent of the disaster.
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.
No. You cannot stop paying rent to force the landlord to make repairs. RCW 59.18.080.
*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.
*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.
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.
*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.
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
add new locks
keep you from entering the unit in any other way
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.
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
NOTICE REQUESTING REPAIRS
Landlord's name and address:
This is to notify you that the rental unit at which you manage and I occupy needs these repairs:
The Washington Residential Landlord Tenant Act requires you to begin to make repairs requested by me within one of these specific time periods:
- Twenty-four (24) hours to repair the loss of hot or cold water, heat or electricity, or a condition imminently hazardous to life.
- Seventy-two (72) hours when the defect deprives the tenant of the use of a refrigerator, range and oven, or a major plumbing fixture supplied by the landlord.
- Ten (10) days in all other cases.
A list of landlord responsibilities required by the Act is attached. If the repairs are not completed within the applicable period of time, I plan to use the remedies provided in the Act.
(sign your name)
(print your name)
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.)