The landlord must:
Maintain the unit so it does not go against state and local laws in ways that endanger your health and safety
Keep shared or common areas reasonably clean and safe
Fix damage to chimney, roof, floors, or any other structural parts of the living space
Maintain a reasonable program to control insect, rodent or other pest infestations, except when you caused the problem
Make repairs when something breaks in the unit, except if it is caused by normal wear and tear
Provide good locks for the unit and give you keys for them
Replace a lock or give you a new key, at your expense, if you ask for this after getting a court order granting you possession of a rental unit and excluding a former co-tenant. Example: after you get a restraining order against an abusive ex-partner or spouse. RCW 59.18.585
Provide fixtures and appliances necessary to supply heat, electricity and hot and cold water
Provide smoke detectors and make sure they work when you move in. But you must buy new batteries and maintain smoke detectors. 59.18.130(7)
Fix electrical, plumbing, heating systems if they break
Fix other appliances that come with the rental
Make repairs needed so the house is weather-tight
Tell you the name and address of landlord or their agent
Give you a receipt for your cash rent if your landlord accepts cash payments, even if you do not ask for one. If you pay in any other form, the landlord must give you a receipt upon your request - RCW 59.18.063
If more than one family lives in a house or apartment building, the landlord must provide trash cans and arrange for trash and, in some cases, recyclable items pick up. If only one family lives in the house or building, the landlord does not have to provide trash pick-up.
*The landlord does not have to pay for damages or problems that are your fault.
B. Tenant’s Responsibilities - RCW 59.18.130
Pay rent and any utility bills agreed upon
Follow city, county and state regulations
Keep the unit clean and sanitary
Dispose of garbage properly
Pay for control of any pest infestations that you caused
Properly use plumbing, electrical and heating systems
Restore the place to the same condition as when you moved in, except for normal wear and tear
You may not:
Engage in or allow any gang- or drug-related activity on the property
Allow damage to the property
Allow lots of garbage to build up in or around the unit
Cause a nuisance or substantial interference with other tenants’ use of their property
- Allow any of your guests to do any of the prohibited actions.
1. Changing the date rent is due
You can ask the landlord to change the date your rent is due. In some cases, the landlord must agree to a new due date. Read Can I Change the Date my Rent is Due.
C. What if the landlord sells the property?
This does not automatically end a lease or month-to-month agreement. If the landlord is selling the property and wants you to move for that reason, the landlord must give you a 90-Day Notice.
But the landlord might not need you to move out because of the sale. In that case, the landlord must give you the new owner’s name and address by hand delivery or by mailing you the notice plus posting it on the property.
The landlord must transfer all deposits to the new owner. The new owner must put them in a trust at a bank or in an escrow account. The new owner must give you the new bank or escrow company’s name and address.
D. Can my landlord enter my unit? - RCW 59.18.150
Except in an emergency, the landlord must give you at least 2 days’ written notice before entering your rental to make repairs or inspect the place. But if the landlord wants to show the rental unit to a potential new tenant or buyer, the landlord only has to give you a 1 day written notice. The notice must state:
the proposed dates of entry
the exact time of entry or the period during which it will happen, including earliest and latest possible times (The landlord must propose reasonable times)
a phone number for you to call to object to the entry date and time or to ask to reschedule
You cannot unreasonably refuse the landlord’s entry to repair, improve or service the unit. And your landlord cannot try to enter your unit for harassment. In the case of emergency or abandonment, the landlord can enter without notice. Read My Landlord Enters My Rental Unit Without My Permission to learn more.
E. What if my unit needs repairs?
Follow the steps in this section to ask for repairs. Read Tenants: If You Need Repairs. You can find sample letters to use.
STEP 1 – Write the landlord a letter.
Describe the problem and what needs fixing.
Include your name, address, and apartment number. If the landlord is a management company, include the name of the unit’s owner, if you know it.
Try to hand- deliver the letter or mail it “certified mail,” with a “return receipt requested” at the post office. This will make it easier to prove the landlord got the letter.
Keep a copy of the letter for yourself.
The best way to ask for repairs is through a letter, but if you send an email instead, keep records of what you sent and any responses you got from the landlord.
STEP 2 - Wait for the landlord to fix the problem.
After you give the landlord the letter, they have a certain number of days to start making repairs. How many days depends on the problem:
If you have no hot or cold water, heat, or electricity, or there is a life-threatening problem, the landlord has 24 hours to start repairs. RCW 59.18.070 (1).
If your refrigerator, stove, oven, or major plumbing fixture is broken, the landlord has 72 hours to start repairs. RCW 59.18.070 (2).
For all other repairs, the landlord has 10 days to start repairs. RCW 59.18.070 (3).
The landlord may be entitled to more time if repairs are delayed due to circumstances beyond the landlord's control. RCW 59.18.070.
If the landlord does not start repairs within the required time, you have 4 options:
Option 1. You can move out if the landlord does not make repairs within the required time and does not fix the situation within a reasonable time. All you need to do is give the landlord written notice that you are moving out and the reason why. RCW 59.18.090(1).
The landlord must return your deposits. They must also give you back the equivalent of the rent for the days you have already paid. Example: Your refrigerator breaks. You give the landlord proper written notice. They do not fix it after 72 hours. You move out on July 6. You have already paid rent for all of July. The landlord must give you back the equivalent of the rent for the rest of the 25 days in July.
Option 2. Go to court or mediation. You can hire a lawyer and go to court to force the landlord to make repairs. You cannot sue for repairs in Small Claims Court.
If the landlord agrees, you can go to mediation. This is usually cheaper and quicker than court. RCW 59.18.090(2).
Option 3. You can hire someone yourself to make the repairs and subtract the amount from rent. RCW 59.18.100. Be careful! This legal process can be complicated. Try to get legal help before you do this.
*Important: You must be up-to-date in rent and utilities to use this method. RCW 59.18.080.
To use this method:
- Give the landlord a good faith estimate of the repairs. You can give the landlord this estimate at the same time as the original notice of the problem. RCW 59.18.100(1). The cost of the repair cannot be more than 2 months’ rent.
- If your repair has a 10-day waiting period: Before you contract to have the repairs made, you must wait the entire 10 days after giving the original notice to the landlord about the problem, and you must wait 2 days after you give the estimate, if this is later. There is no rule like this for 24- and 72-hour repairs. You can contract for these repairs as soon as you give the landlord an estimate. RCW 59.18.100(2).
- Provide the landlord or the person that works for them (like a property manager) an opportunity to inspect the work that was done.
- After the work is done, subtract the cost from your rent for the next month.
Can I make as many repairs as I want?
No. There are limits to the cost of repairs you can make by hiring someone to do it and deducting the cost from your rent.
Each repair must cost less than 2 months’ rent if you hire someone or less than 1 month’s rent if you do the work yourself.
You cannot spend more than 2 months’ rent on repairs in any 12-month period if you hire someone or more than 1 month’s rent if you do the work yourself.
Your monthly rent is $750. You hired someone to make repairs in March. That cost $1,500. You could deduct $750 from April’s rent and $750 from May’s rent. You would not have to pay rent for April or May.
Your rent is $750 a month. The repair cost was $1,000. You could deduct $750 from April’s rent and the final $250 from May’s rent.
Option 4. Make the repairs yourself.
*Important: You must be up-to-date in rent and utilities to use this method. RCW 59.18.080.
To use this method:
- Give proper notice and wait the required time, depending on the problem. See above.
- Fix the problem yourself in a skilled, competent way.
- Provide the landlord or an agent (like a property manager) an opportunity to inspect the work that you did.
- Once you are done, subtract the cost of materials and your own labor time from next month’s rent.
Example: Your monthly rent is $800. In March, you made 4 separate repairs. Each cost you $200. You could deduct $800 from April’s rent. You would not pay rent in April.
*If you repair something badly, the landlord can hold you responsible.
You can put your rent in Escrow. This is complicated. Read RCW 59.18.115 at your local law library and try to get legal help.
F. My landlord did not make needed repairs. Can I refuse to pay rent?
No! If you do not pay rent, even if your place needs repairs, the landlord may start an eviction case against you.
G. Illegal Actions by the Landlord
The law prohibits a landlord from taking certain actions against you:
1. Lockouts - RCW 59.18.290
Even if you are behind in rent, the landlord cannot:
Read My Landlord Locked Me Out: What Can I Do?
2. Utility Shut-offs - RCW 59.18.300
A landlord can only shut off utilities to make repairs. They cannot shut off your utilities
It is also illegal for the landlord to purposely not pay the utility bills to get the service turned off. You can sue the landlord if they shut off your utilities. If you win, the judge can award you up to $100 for each day that you had no utilities. Read My Landlord Shut Off My Utilities! to learn more.
3. Taking Your Property
The landlord can only take your things if you abandon the unit. RCW 59.18.310.
*It is illegal for a rental agreement to say the landlord can take your property.
If the landlord takes your things, first contact the landlord in writing. If you do not get your things back that way, get legal help.
You can also start a Small Claims case against the landlord for the return of your things. The judge can award you up to $500 for each day the landlord kept the stuff, up to $5,000. RCW 59.18.230.
4. Renting Condemned Property
Landlords cannot rent property that is condemned or unlawful to occupy because of code violations. RCW 59.18.085(1). You might be able to sue the landlord if you find out they knew they rented you property with major code violations. RCW 59.18.085(2). Talk to a lawyer.
If the rental is condemned while you are living there, the landlord must give you 30 days’ notice and also give you financial help to move. Read Tenants' Rights: My Place has been Condemned to learn more.
5. Retaliatory Actions against You - RCW 59.18.240
The landlord cannot retaliate against you for asserting your legal rights or making a complaint to a code enforcement agency.
There is a presumption that a landlord is retaliating if they do any of these:
increase the rent
reduce your services
increase your obligations
evict you within 90 days after you assert your rights, after you report the landlord to a government agency, or after an inspection or proceeding by a government agency due to your report. RCW 59.18.250.
These cases can be tricky. If you think the landlord is retaliating against you illegally, try to get legal help.
Examples of possible retaliation:
You reported a bedbug infestation to the city. The city notifies the landlord that they are inspecting the place. The landlord then tells you he is raising the rent.
You properly notify the landlord that you are deducting costs for repairs from your rent. The landlord gets this notice and then shuts off your water utility service.
If the landlord raises the rent or gives you an eviction notice within 90 days of a legal action you took against them, it may count as retaliation and be illegal. Try to get legal help if you think this is happening. You may be able to sue the landlord for retaliating against you for reporting them or for enforcing your rights as a tenant. Retaliation may also be a defense to an eviction lawsuit.