New Washington State Law: Landlords must give a "good" reason to end a tenancy or not renew a lease (Extended Version)
Authored By: Northwest Justice Project
Find out how the law about when and why a landlord can evict a tenant, or refuse to renew a lease, has changed. #6346EN
- Reasons a Landlord Can Evict a Tenant
- What are the legal reasons a landlord end a rental agreement or evict a tenant?
- Falling behind on rent
- Lease violation: a “substantial breach of a material term”
- “Waste or nuisance” which is unlawful or substantially or repeatedly interferes with neighbors
- The tenant harasses the landlord or another tenant
- The tenant gives false information on the application.
- The landlord wants to move into the rental unit
- The landlord wants to sell a single-family rental house
- The landlord wants to substantially remodel or tear down (demolish) the unit
- The landlord wants to convert the unit into a condominium
- The landlord has a legitimate economic or business reason
- The rental unit has been condemned
- The landlord shares a dwelling unit, kitchen or bathroom with the tenant
- The landlord is a transitional housing program
- The landlord offers a new lease, but the tenant doesn’t accept
- A resident fails to fill out a rental application
- Getting a Lease Termination Notice
- Get Legal Help
*Eviction law continues to change. Read about the latest changes to eviction laws.
Washington laws covering tenants and landlords have changed in a major way in 2021. These changes went into effect on May 10, 2021.
Before this new law, if you had a month-to-month lease, landlords in most of the state of Washington could choose not to renew your tenancy and end (terminate) the tenancy with only a 20-Day notice. They didn’t have to state a reason.
Now, landlords must have a “good” or legal reason. The new law lists what counts as “good” reasons. They must state the reason in a written notice. The law also lists what counts as a legal reason to not renew a rental agreement or to evict a tenant. There are a few important exceptions to this. We discuss the reasons and the exceptions below.
*If your landlord evicts you in violation of this new law, you may have a case for wrongful eviction. The new law makes clear that a landlord can be responsible (liable) for your harm if they evict you illegally. This harm could be substantial. Many people who are evicted face homelessness, loss of property, emotional distress, anxiety, and poor health outcomes. If your landlord locked you out or forced you out in violation of this new law, talk to a lawyer. There may be deadlines to file a lawsuit.
Many tenants have a written lease or rental agreement for a specific time (a “fixed term”). This fixed term is often for 6 or 12 months. Many other tenants have a “periodic tenancy” which is ongoing, usually on a month-to-month basis. Month-to-month rental agreements may be written or verbal. The law has different exceptions depending on whether a tenant has a “fixed term” or “periodic” rental agreement.
If you are a month-to-month tenant who has never had a written lease (you have only had a verbal agreement with your landlord), the law applies to you. Your landlord must give you a written notice with one of the good reasons listed below if the landlord wants to terminate your tenancy.
If you enter into a rental agreement for a fixed term, like six or 12 months, between May 10, 2021 and September 30, 2021 , your landlord must give you a 60-day written notice to terminate your tenancy at the end of the agreed end date in your lease. The notice doesn't have to state one of the reasons we discuss here.
If you have a written rental agreement for a 6 to 12 month term, and your landlord doesn’t want to renew the agreement once it’s up, your landlord can give you a 60-day written notice before the agreement is up. That notice doesn’t have to state one of the reasons below. If the landlord wants to terminate the tenancy before the 6 or 12 months is up, they must have one of the reasons below.
If you’ve had a written rental agreement for multiple 6 or 12 month terms, and you have never been a month-to-month tenant, your landlord must give you a 60-day written notice to terminate your tenancy. The notice doesn’t have to state one of the reasons below.
There are several legal reasons landlords can end a tenancy or evict a tenant. In all cases, landlords must properly serve a written notice (on paper). They cannot just tell a tenant verbally, or through a text message, or email. They cannot try to force a tenant out by changing the locks, or shutting off the utilities. You can sue a landlord who does this to you.
If a tenant is late on rent, a landlord may give the tenant a 14-Day Notice to Pay or Vacate any time after rent is due.
*These notices can only be served after certain requirements are met, like offering a payment plan if the rent due is because of COVID-19. Check WashingtonLawHelp.org for more information.
Read My Landlord Just Gave Me a 14-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Vacate to learn more.
If a tenant substantially breaks (violates) a term of the lease or rental agreement, the landlord may give the tenant a 10-Day Notice to Comply or Vacate. The notice must state which “material” (important) term of the lease the tenant substantially violated, and what exactly the tenant did and when (or failed to do).
A landlord may also give a tenant this type of notice if they substantially violate a material requirement of a subsidized housing program.
Read My Landlord Just Gave Me a 10-Day Notice to Comply or Vacate to learn more.
If the tenant receives four valid, properly served 10-Day Notices to Comply or Vacate within one year, the landlord may end the tenancy with a 60-Day Notice to Terminate before the end of the fixed term or period.
If a tenant repeatedly or substantially interferes with their neighbors’ or landlord’s right to use and enjoy their own homes, a landlord may give the tenant a 3-Day Notice to Quit. Tenants may also get this type of notice if they commit crimes on the property, or if they severely damage the property (or allow someone to do so).
The legal terms “waste” and “nuisance” have specific meanings. They are often misused. You should try to get legal help if you get a termination notice alleging you have caused waste or nuisance. Read My Landlord Just Gave Me a 3-Day Notice to Quit to learn more.
If a tenant sexually harasses the landlord, the landlord’s employee, or another tenant, and that is a violation of the lease, a landlord may give the tenant a 20-Day Notice to Terminate. A landlord may also give the tenant this type of notice if the tenant harasses the landlord, an employee or another tenant on the basis of race, gender or another protected status. Read My Landlord Just Gave me a 20-Day Notice to learn more.
If the landlord finds out that the tenant intentionally lied about or left out important information on the rental application, the landlord may give the tenant a 30-Day Notice to Terminate. Read My Landlord Just Gave Me a 30-Day Notice to learn more.
If a tenant must register as a sex offender, but does not disclose this fact on the application or when it happens during the tenancy, the landlord may give the tenant a 60-Day Notice to Terminate. Read My Landlord Just Gave Me a 60-Day Notice to learn more.
A landlord who wants to move into the unit (or have an immediate family member move in) may give the tenant a 90-Day Notice to Terminate. If the landlord ends the tenancy with this type of notice, but then does not actually move into the unit, the tenant may sue the landlord for wrongful eviction. Read My landlord gave me a 90-Day Notice to learn more.
A landlord who wants to sell the home may give the tenant a 90-Day Notice to Terminate. If the landlord ends the tenancy with this type of notice, but then does not actually sell the single-family home, the tenant may sue the landlord for wrongful eviction. This reason doesn’t apply to apartment buildings. Read My landlord gave me a 90-Day Notice to learn more.
A landlord who wants to substantially rehabilitate (renovate or remodel) or demolish the rental unit or building (or have an immediate family member move in) may give the tenant a 120-Day Notice to Terminate. If the landlord ends the tenancy with this type of notice, but then does not actually rehabilitate or demolish the unit, the tenant may sue the landlord for wrongful eviction. Read My Landlord Just Gave Me a 120-Day Notice to learn more.
A landlord who wants to convert the rental into a condo may give the tenant a 120-Day Notice to Terminate. If the landlord ends the tenancy with this type of notice, but then does not actually convert it into a condominium, the tenant may have a legal basis to sue the landlord for wrongful eviction. Read My Landlord Just Gave Me a 60-Day Notice to learn more.
A landlord who has a legitimate economic or business reason to end the tenancy may give the tenant a 60-Day Notice to Terminate. This reason has to be different than one of the other reasons the landlord could have used.
If a rental unit has been condemned (officially declared uninhabitable by a local agency), a landlord may give the tenant a 30-Day Notice to Terminate. If the government agency orders that the tenants should leave immediately because the unit is so unsafe, the landlord has to give as much notice as possible. If a rental home has been condemned, the landlord may have to pay relocation assistance to the tenant.
Read Tenants’ Rights: My Place has been condemned to learn more.
If a tenant and landlord share a common kitchen or bathroom, a landlord may give the tenant a 20-Day Notice to Terminate. The 20 days have to be before the end of the fixed term or rental period. Read My Landlord Just Gave me a 20-Day Notice to learn more.
*Transitional housing means rental units owned or operated by a nonprofit organization or government agency that provides supportive services to people who are formerly homeless. Transitional housing programs may have their own rules about who can live there. Examples: some are only for people below a certain age. Some have educational and training programs.
Many transitional housing programs may give a tenant a 30-Day Notice to Terminate if the tenant no longer qualifies to be in the program, or if the tenant has completed the training. Read What are my rights in transitional housing? to learn more.
A landlord must offer a new rental agreement to a tenant with a lease that is expiring at least 30 days before the end of the lease term. If a tenant doesn’t sign the new lease offered, the landlord may terminate the tenancy and start an eviction lawsuit. The terms of the new rental agreement must be “reasonable.” This reason doesn’t apply to you if you already rent with a month-to-month agreement.
If a tenant who has a rental agreement with a landlord moves out, but other residents of the rental unit stay and are not on the lease, the landlord may give the residents a 30-Day Notice to apply to keep living there. The notice would require that the remaining tenants to fill out a rental application or move out. If the remaining tenants fill out an application, the landlord must screen them under the same criteria as any other applicant. If the tenants don't fill out the rental application within the 30 days, the landlord may start an eviction case (unlawful detainer) against them.
All of the notices we discuss above have to be served in writing, on paper. They cannot be served through email, text or verbally. The landlord has to try to serve the tenant at home, in person. The landlord may serve someone else who lives with the tenant, if they are of a reasonable age to accept them (for example, the landlord cannot serve the papers to a young child), as long as they also mail a copy of the notice to the tenant.
If the landlord cannot serve the tenant or anyone else who lives in the rental unit, the landlord may post the termination notice in an obvious and visible place (usually by taping the notice to the door), if they also mail a copy of the notice to the tenant.
*If you get a termination notice or eviction court papers, try to get legal help right away. Information about where to get legal help is below.
Termination notices like the ones we describe here are just the first step in ending a tenancy. If a tenant gets a termination notice, but continues to stay in the rental unit, the landlord may start an eviction court case (called an “Unlawful Detainer Action”).
After that, the landlord may serve the tenant with eviction court papers (a Complaint and a Summons). The landlord may either serve the tenant with court papers that have not yet been filed with the court, or they may have been filed (officially registered and stamped with a case number).
Once the papers are stamped with a case number, it usually means a public record will be available to view online. This is what we usually mean by saying the tenant has “an eviction on their record” and it can make it harder to find a place to rent in the future.
Washington’s state laws are called the Revised Code of Washington (RCW). The most important laws covering tenants and landlords are in the Residential Landlord-Tenant act (RCW 59.18). The eviction process (Unlawful Detainer) is in RCW 59.12.
Tenants who own their own manufactured or mobile home but rent lot space from a park owner are covered by another set of laws, the Manufactured/Mobile Home Landlord-Tenant act (RCW 59.20).
Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help.