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My Landlord Locked Me Out: What Can I Do?

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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Read this publication if you rent an apartment or house and your landlord changed the locks so that you cannot get into your place and you had no plans to move. #6316EN

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Should I read this? 

Yes, if all these are true:

  • You rent an apartment or house.

  • Your landlord changed the locks so you cannot get into your place.

  • You had no plans to move.

You should also get legal advice right away. If you are low-income, see contact info at the end.

Can my landlord legally lock me out?

Only if one of these is true:

  • It looks like you have abandoned the unit. See below.

  • A sheriff has executed a Writ of Restitution to evict you. See below.  

The landlord cannot:

  • change locks

  • add new locks

  • keep you from entering the unit in any other way

This is true even if you are behind in rent, utilities, or other fees.  RCW 59.18.290 .

*Call the clerk of your local Superior Court. Make sure the landlord did not file an eviction against you.  If the landlord did, and you believe the landlord did not serve you, get legal help right away.

If the landlord locks you out, you can take the landlord to court.  If you show the lockout was illegal, the court should order the landlord to pay you damages plus court costs.  How to I Sue in Small Claims Court? has info that may help, depending on how much your claim is. 

*You cannot file a Small Claims case to get a court order allowing you back into the place.  You must file something different. See a lawyer.

Can my landlord shut off my utilities?

Only to make repairs.  The landlord cannot shut off your utilities because you are behind in rent or to make you move.  RCW 59.18.300.

*If your utilities are in the landlord’s name, it is illegal for the landlord to stop paying the bills in order to get the service cut off.

You can take your landlord to court if the landlord shuts off your utilities.  If you win, the judge can award you up to $100 for each day the utilities were off.

Can the landlord take my things and keep them to get me to pay rent?

No.  The landlord can only take your property if you “abandon” the unit or the sheriff has executed a Writ of Restitution. There are rules about whether a landlord must store your belongings or dispose of or sell them.

What does it mean to “abandon” the place?

It means both these are true:

  • You stopped paying the rent.  

  • You acted like you have moved out.  Examples:  You moved all your things out.  You stopped sleeping there. 

*It is illegal for the landlord to put in the lease that the landlord can take your property.

The landlord got a Writ of Restitution against me.  What if I cannot get my stuff out of the apartment before my deadline?

The landlord under the sheriff’s supervision may move your stuff out if you are not there. You can deliver a written request to the landlord for storage of your stuff no more than three days after you get the writ of restitution.  Then your landlord must store your things. The landlord may also have to store your stuff if the landlord knows you have a disability that keeps you from asking the landlord to store your things. 

*You generally must pay moving and storage costs to get your property back. 

If you object to storage, your landlord cannot store your stuff.  The landlord will usually put it on the sidewalk or parking strip.  If they do not store it, your landlord and the sheriff do not have to protect your stuff from theft, weather, or other damage.

RCW 59.18.310; RCW 59.18.312

While I was out, my landlord took my things. He will not give them back. What can I do?

Write the landlord.  If true, put in your letter that you

  • Have not abandoned the place.

  • Do not intend to abandon the place.

Keep a copy of the letter for your own records. 

Make sure you can prove the delivery of your letter.  Examples:

  • Take along a witness who is not a household member.

  • Send the letter by certified mail return receipt requested and regular mail.  

If you do not get your things back after sending the letter, call the police.  If you send a written demand for your things, the landlord must return them. 

*The landlord can condition returning your things on you paying reasonable moving and storage costs only if the landlord legally removed your things in the first place.

You can also go to court to force the landlord to give you back your things.  The judge can award you up to $500 for each day the landlord kept your things, up to $5,000.

Can the landlord sell my things?

Only if:

  • You abandoned your rental unit and left your things behind.

  • You have been evicted pursuant to a Writ of Restitution and did not give your landlord a written request to store your things. (If you objected to the landlord storing your belongings, the landlord must place your things on the nearest public property);

If the value of your stuff is more than $250, the landlord must send written notice to your last known address 30 days before the sale (RCW 59.18.312(3)). If the stuff is worth less than $250, s/he must send written notice to your last known address seven days before the sale (RCW 59.18.312(3)).

The landlord cannot condition the return of your things on the payment of rent or other anything else you may owe (except for costs of storage and moving of your belongings to storage). If the landlord earns more from the sale than you owe, s/he must hold that money for you for one year from the date of sale.  You can claim the money during that time.

If the landlord sells your things, s/he may apply any money s/he makes from the sale to any rent or other costs you owe.

*If your stuff is worth two hundred fifty dollars or less, the landlord may sell or get rid of all of it except for personal papers, family pictures, and keepsakes, after only seven days' notice to you.

 

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 April 2018.

© 2018 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.)

6316EN

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Last Review and Update: Apr 02, 2018
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