Going to your unlawful detainer (eviction) hearing

Read this if you got a Summons and Complaint for Unlawful Detainer, you have responded by submitting at least a Notice of Appearance and you plan to fight the eviction. #6315EN

Please Note:

  • Washington's laws affecting renters have changed as of July 23, 2023. Please read 2023 changes to Washington State's laws affecting renters.

  • Renters with low incomes may be appointed a lawyer free of charge before a court may proceed with an eviction. Call our Eviction Defense Screening line at 1-855-657-8387 or Apply Online to find out if you qualify.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Yes, you should use this if you rent the place where you live in Washington State, and both of these are true:

  • Your landlord gave you court papers called Summons and Complaint for Unlawful Detainer.

  • You have responded by submitting at least a Notice of Appearance. You plan to fight the eviction.

If the landlord gives you an Order to Show Cause with the Summons and Complaint, it means the landlord has scheduled an eviction court hearing. The legal expression for an eviction court hearing is a Show Cause Hearing.

If you get an Order to Show Cause and want to fight the eviction, you must go to the hearing. It is not enough to just deliver your Notice of Appearance or Answer or deliver your rent to the Superior Court Clerk.  

The date and time will be on the Order to Show Cause. You must be on time.

Many court hearings now take place online. The court papers that tell you your hearing date should also have information on how to log in online, or where to go if the hearing is in person. If you have any questions, call the clerk for your local superior court.

If you have a low income, the judge should give you the chance to apply for a lawyer. At your show cause hearing, ask the judge to reschedule (continue) the hearing so you can get a lawyer appointed to your case. You should insist on this right even if the judge wants the case to proceed without you having a lawyer.

A judge will decide if you have a good defense to the eviction. You may win the case right there. Or the judge might give you a full trial to fight the eviction.

A judge who thinks your arguments are not strong enough can say (can rule) that the landlord can evict you immediately and how much you owe the landlord.

Your landlord's lawyer will argue why the landlord should evict you. Then you argue why they should not.

  • If the judge does order your eviction, there is a very small window to ask that the decision is reconsidered. Contact a lawyer right away.

  • Only the sheriff can evict you. The landlord cannot change the locks and force you out.  

Gather all important papers or documents you need to argue your case. This may include:

  • your lease or rental agreement

  • your security deposit receipt

  • your move-in condition checklist

  • your list of things wrong with the place

  • rent receipts and cancelled checks

  • your eviction notices

  • the Summons and Complaint

  • your copies of your Notice of Appearance or Answer, stamped with the date you delivered them to the landlord's lawyer and the court

  • any written estimates for repairs to damages in the place

  • receipts for repairs you had done to the place

  • photos of any problems with the place. Bring originals if you can.

    Bring an extra copy in case the court wants to keep anything. If you are not sure you need something, bring it anyway! 

  • Ask any witnesses who could support your case to come to the hearing. They must have seen in person the damage or disputes between you and your landlord. The more witnesses with personal knowledge about your case, the better.

  • Watch how the system works before your hearing. Ask the court clerk when the court holds "show cause" hearings. Sit in on a hearing to get an idea how yours will go.

  • Before the hearing, practice what you want to say. Your presentation should be organized and short. Make a written list of important points if you can.

  • Let your witnesses know beforehand what you will ask them.

  • If you must go to the courthouse, make sure you know how long it will take you to get there and how long it will take you to get into the courtroom. You should take into consideration things like what parking is available if you are driving, which public transit stops to get on and off at if you must get to the courthouse that way, and having to get through courthouse security. Make sure you don't bring anything with you that will cause security to have to stop you. Don't bring your children with you if you can help it.

  • If your hearing will be online, do a tech check beforehand. Make sure you know how you will need to join the hearing. You may have to download an application, like Zoom. You should try to do this before the hearing date and time. Read Tips for phone and video hearings for more help on getting ready for an online or phone hearing.

If you do not speak English or have a speech or hearing impairment, you have the right to an interpreter in court. You must let the court know as far in advance as possible that you want an interpreter.

If your hearing is online, follow the instructions on how to log in. You may have to download an application, like Zoom.

If your hearing is in person, check in with the court clerk when you arrive at the courthouse. The clerk will tell you where to go. They may have posted the list of cases the judge will hear that day outside the courtroom, or they may read it aloud at the start of the session. If they do not list or read your case name, see the court clerk.

The judge usually starts by describing the court's procedure. Then they call the first case.

When the judge announces your case, go to the front of the courtroom with your evidence and witnesses. Usually, all plaintiffs, defendants, and witnesses must swear to tell the truth before testifying.

  • Explain why the landlord should not evict you. Tell the judge if your landlord did not make needed repairs, says you did not pay rent, but you did, did not give you proper notice for changing a rule, or gave you any notices late. If you deducted costs from your rent for repairs, say so.

  • Show the judge any evidence you brought. See "How do I get ready for the hearing," above.

  • If you have witnesses, tell the judge you would like them to testify. Ask your witnesses about why the landlord should not evict you. And what they know about what you have explained to the judge.

If the landlord is trying to evict you for not paying rent, you can ask the judge for a payment plan. Use our Motion to Reinstate Tenancy and for Payment Plan under RCW 59.18.410(3) form.

After hearing both sides, the judge may decide one of these:

  • You lose the case. The judge decides you do not have a good defense to the eviction. The judge will direct the sheriff to evict you. The judge might also decide you owe your landlord money. The judge might tell you then and there how much you must pay your landlord or make that decision later.

  • You win. The judge decides you presented a good defense to the eviction. The judge dismisses the case. You do not have to move out, at least for now. The judge might rule this way because the landlord did not follow the right procedures for eviction. If that is the case, the landlord may still be able to evict you later, after fixing any mistakes made in the eviction process.

  • The judge needs a full trial to decide the case. You get a trial date. If you are still living on the property, there will be a trial within 30 days.

Not at a "show cause hearing." 

If the judge orders a full trial, you have the right to a jury. If you want one, be aware that you may have to pay for one. Ask the court clerk for more information.

Make sure you go and make sure you arrive early. If you do not go, or are even a few minutes late, you will probably lose.

If you lose, the judge will let the landlord evict you. The sheriff can force you to leave the property. You may have to pay everything the landlord's Complaint asked for. This can include rent, damages, court costs, and lawyer fees.

No. Only the sheriff can physically move you off the property. The landlord must go to court to get the sheriff involved.

Maybe. You must act fast. It is very hard to stop an eviction at this point. You might be able to stop it if the landlord did something wrong in the eviction process. Try to get legal help right away.

If you were evicted because you owed rent, you may be able to save your tenancy if you can pay all the back rent, court costs and attorneys' fees you owe within 5 days of the court entering the judgment against you. You must make a written request to the court (a "motion") to do this before the sheriff comes to put you out. Use our Motion to Reinstate Tenancy under RCW 59.18.410(2) and for Order of Limited Dissemination Form.

You may also be able to file a motion asking for a payment plan. Use our Motion to Stay Enforcement of Writ of Restitution and for Payment Plan Under RCW 59.18.410(3) Form.

These motions are complicated. Try to get legal help as soon as possible.

Download | Printer-friendly

Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

Last Review and Update: Aug 23, 2023
Was this information helpful?
Back to top