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Credit & Collections FAQ

Do I file against the property manager or the landlord?

RCW 59.18.030 states that the definition of landlord includes anyone designated as a representative of the owner, lessor, or sublessor, including but not limited to an agent, resident manager or property manager. The owner of your property is the person, people, or corporation named on the property title. Many owners hire property management companies to handle the daily business of running the rentals. Anyone designated by the landlord to be acting as their agent can also be considered a landlord, and is also responsible for following all the obligations set out in the law. Thus, more than one person may be considered your landlord and can be taken to Small Claims Court. You can file suit against both the owner and the property manager, or just one individually. You must have correct addresses for each in order to file. For more information on how to find a correct mailing address for the property owner, see Researching Your Landlord.

What if my landlord is out of state?

Washington State has “long arm” jurisdiction over out-of-state property owners (RCW 59.18.060). Landlords who live out of state still have all the same obligations under the Landlord-Tenant Act. If they violate one of the provisions that describes the duties of landlords, they are deemed to have submitted themselves to the jurisdiction of Washington State courts. Tenants may serve notice of Small Claims Court upon them in the same manner of any landlord living within Washington State, as long as it is served in accordance with Landlord-Tenant Law. Out-of-state landlords who are served notices of Small Claims Court in Washington State are entitled to not less than 60 days to appear and answer. You may want to consider if there is an appropriate party in-state that you can file against in order to make service easier.

Where do I file if my landlord lives in a different county than the rental property?

File your small claims suit in the district court of the county where the landlord resides. If you cannot locate the landlord’s address, you can file in the district of their place of employment. You can file suit against both the owner and the property manager, or just one individually. If you are filing against both the property manager and the owner, you can file in any district where any one of the defendants lives. Carefully consider who you want to file against as you may want to strategize regarding what county you are filing in. You can find a list of the district courts in Washington State at the Washington Courts Directory site. If you are unsure what district court is appropriate to file in, contact the court office and ask them to check the address for you.

The Property Management company of the building I live in has a collections department. Are they covered by laws pertaining to collection agencies?

Collection agencies are considered to be a business whose primary purpose is debt collection. Management companies or businesses that collect debts through collections departments are not true collection agencies, and therefore not covered under federal or state laws pertaining to collection agencies. They still have power to collect debts against you, but are not regulated in the same way. Speak to an attorney for more information on how to dispute non-regulated collections actions against you.

How much does it cost to file in Small Claims Court?

Filing in Small Claims Court generally costs around $35, but you can include that in the claim amount against your landlord. Tenants cannot recover wages lost as a result of the landlord’s actions, but they can include the cost of the filing fee.

If the state law says that I can’t be evicted for non-payment during the 60-day notice period after the foreclosure, do I still owe the rent?

The state law does not state that you don’t owe the money; it only addresses what are appropriate causes to begin an eviction action.

How much can I sue for in Small Claims Court? What if I want to sue for more than $5,000?

You can sue for up to $5,000 in Small Claims Court, and you can only recover money for specific contractual or legal violations. If you have claims against your landlord for amounts totaling more than $5,000, you can try to file against them in a different court. See our Legal Assistance Guide for more information. Since it can be very difficult to find an attorney to file a civil suit against your landlord, you may also choose to sue your landlord for only $5,000 of the money they owe you so that you can still use Small Claims Court. You cannot split the difference and sue the landlord both in small claims for the $5,000, and again in a different court for the remaining amount.

Can I sue in Small Claims Court for emotional distress or lost wages?

No. There must be a specific section of landlord-tenant law or a written agreement that has been violated in order to use Small Claims Court, and you can only sue for money owed to you. You cannot sue to force the landlord to do something. For example, you can sue to recover your deposit, but you cannot sue to force your landlord to repaint the unit. Small Claims Court is also not a venue for tenants to sue their landlord for emotional distress, harassment, or violations of law that do not have specific monetary damages associated with them. Tenants cannot recover wages lost as a result of the landlord’s actions, but they can include the cost of the filing fee.

Can I bring witnesses with me to Small Claims Court?

You can ask witnesses to speak in court on your behalf. For example, you can ask a neighbor who witnessed you vacating the unit on a certain day to come and speak for you in court.

Do I have to be a U.S. citizen to use Small Claims Court?

No, tenants do not have to be a US citizen to use Small Claims Court.

Can I sue a roommate or neighbor in Small Claims Court?

Yes. Small Claims Court can be used to resolve any monetary dispute below $5,000.

If I’m owed more than $5,000 can I sue my landlord in small claims and then sue again for the difference in a different court venue?

No, only one court venue must be chosen. If you are owed $7,000 you can only sue once for the $5,000 in small claims, and forgo your claim on the remaining amount, or sue for the total $7,000 in a different court venue.

I am not a native English speaker. Can I get interpretation in Small Claims Court?

Some courts will provide interpretation for non-native English speakers, to both plaintiffs and defendants. You can request interpretation at your court date when you file the case, or when you file your answer to the case if you are being sued.

If I lose in Small Claims Court, can I appeal the decision? 

In some cases, decisions can be appealed to the Superior Court. However, appeals are costly and may not guarantee positive outcomes for the tenant. For detailed information on the appeals process, see Small Claims Court in Washington State.

Can I take my landlord to Small Claims Court while I’m still living in the property?

Yes, though carefully consider how taking your landlord to Small Claims Court during your tenancy may impact your ability to carry out a positive landlord-tenant relationship with them. It is likely best to wait until after you have vacated the property in hopes that you can secure a neutral or positive referral when you vacate the premises. There is also concern that your landlord may attempt to retaliate against you, like not renewing your lease. While retaliation is illegal under the Landlord-Tenant Act (RCW 59.18.240, RCW 59.18.250), it can be difficult to enforce these legal protections. Speak to an attorney for information and advice on the best strategy for dealing with your specific problem.

How long do I have to pursue a small claim suit against my landlord?

Generally, tenants have two to three years to file in Small Claims Court against their landlords. Lawsuits involving contract violations have a six year statute of limitations. See an attorney for more information. It’s a good idea to file the suit as soon as possible to avoid loss of information or documentation that would make the case stronger.

My landlord stopped paying the mortgage and utilities and our services have been cut. What can we do?

Contact your utility company and attempt to have a new account put in your name. This may be difficult as some jurisdictions do not let tenants do this; they only create accounts for property owners. Try to explain the circumstances to the utility company and ask for a policy waiver in that situation. If you do get the utilities put in our name, make sure to get a closing reading when you leave and shut off the utilities if possible. See Utility Shutoffs for more information.

I don’t need time to move, I want to move out as soon as possible but have an unexpired term lease. Can I just leave?

It is unlikely. If the property hasn’t been sold at the foreclosure sale your lease is still in full effect. It is also unlikely the landlord will let you off the lease. If the landlord is trying to sell the property before the sale the potential purchaser may not want renters in the building. In this scenario, the landlord may be more willing to negotiate you being let off the lease. Be sure to have a written mutual termination agreement with no penalties with the landlord.

If the property is sold at foreclosure, it is more likely the bank or new owner will want you to vacate sooner. Contact the current owners and negotiate a mutual termination or a cash for keys agreement.

Do I have to vacate the property if my unit has been foreclosed on?

Not necessarily. The new owner of the property after the foreclosure sale may not want you to vacate the unit. They may want to keep you on as a renter. In this case, they should contact you to provide you with the new address to send your rent money. If you are on a lease for a set period of time, under the federal law, the lease should also be continued as is to the new landlord, unless they wish to occupy the home as their primary residence (in this case, 90 days’ notice is required). No terms of the lease can be changed except by mutual agreement. The state law allows landlords to ask tenants to sign a new rental agreement if they are going to stay on in the unit. If the new property owner wants you to vacate, they are required to give you written notice to vacate.

There was a foreclosure notice posted on my door, but the landlord says there’s nothing to worry about. What should I do?

If you have seen or received notice of a pending foreclosure sale, it is very important that you pay attention to it, even if your landlord tells you not to worry about it, or reassures you that they’re “taking care of it.” It is a good idea to find out more information about the status of the property if you can. You can try researching or communicating with the trustee that sent the notice. If a Notice of Trustee Sale has been filed, you can also try doing a public records search in your county to see if they have more information. King County Recorder’s Office has an online Records Search. Tenants in foreclosed properties are still entitled to 60 or 90 days’ notice before they are required to vacate a unit.

Does it matter if I am on a lease when the property forecloses? Will my lease be honored by the new property owner?

If you are on a lease for a set period of time, under the federal law, the lease should also be passed as is to the new landlord, unless they wish to occupy the home as their primary residence in which case 90 days’ notice is required. No terms of the lease can be changed except by mutual agreement. The state law allows landlords to ask tenants to sign a new rental agreement if they are going to stay in the unit. Landlords utilizing the state law do not have to honor tenants’ leases, and may give tenants 60 days’ notice to vacate the unit.

How can I find out if the property I live in is in foreclosure?

You can try researching or communicating with the trustee that sent the notice. If a Notice of Sale has been filed, you can also try doing a public records search in your county to see if they have more information. The King County Recorder’s Office has an online Records Search.

Do I still have to pay rent if I find out my rental property is going into foreclosure?

Yes. Tenants must continue to pay rent and comply with all terms of the rental agreement or lease, even if the rental property is going into foreclosure. If your landlord is in default and undergoing foreclosure, it may seem unfair to have to continue paying rent to him or her. However tenants must continue to pay rent as long as the landlord is the legal owner of the property. If the property was lost to foreclosure, payments are owed to the new owner of the property, not the old landlord. Tenants who do not pay rent put themselves at risk of having an eviction lawsuit filed against them.

How much notice am I supposed to get to inform me that my landlord’s property is facing a foreclosure?

State law requires that the foreclosing party, such as the bank or trustee, must provide renters with at least 90 days’ written notice, and probably 120 days’ written notice, before the date of the foreclosure sale.

How much notice to terminate my tenancy am I entitled to after the foreclosure sale? 

Bona fide month-to-month tenants are entitled to 90 days’ written notice to vacate after the foreclosure sale under the federal law and 60 days’ written notice under state law. Under the federal law, tenants on fixed term leases should have that lease passed to the new landlord as is, unless the new landlord wishes to occupy the home as their primary residence, in which case the tenant is entitled to 90 days’ written notice.

What happens to my last month’s rent and deposit? Do I lose them if the house forecloses?

RCW 59.18.270 states that the old landlord must refund the deposit back to the tenant, or transfer the deposit to the new owner of the property. If the old owner fails to do so, they can be liable to the tenant for twice the amount of the deposit, court or arbitration costs, and attorney’s fees.

Who do I pay rent to after the foreclosure date? What if no one contacts me after the foreclosure sale?

The new property owner should contact you to tell you where to pay your rent. It’s possible that new property owner may not communicate with you at all about your tenancy after the foreclosure sale. If they don’t communicate with you, it may be difficult to even figure out who the new property owner is. Even though RCW 59.18.060 requires that the tenant shall be immediately notified in writing of any changes to the landlord either by personal service, or conspicuously posted and sent first class mail, landlords don’t always do this. If you receive no contact from the new property owner, and cannot locate them, it is essential that you save your rent money. The new owner has the right to collect that money from you, even if they do not immediately contact you to tell you where to send the rent.

The foreclosure date of the “Notice of Trustee Sale” has passed, but my old landlord is still telling me to pay rent to them. They are threatening to evict me if I don’t pay. What should I do?

A tenant does not owe rent to a landlord who lost their property at a foreclosure sale because they are no longer the actual owners of the property. A landlord cannot legally evict someone from a property they don’t own. The tenant may owe rent to the new owner of the property..

If you have been paying rent to a landlord past the date of the foreclosure sale that landlord owes you that money back. You may have to take them to Small Claims court if they do not return the money.

I have been paying my rent to my old landlord, but it turns out they lost the property in foreclosure some time ago. Now the new owner is asking me for back rent. I paid the old landlord that money already; do I have to pay again to the new landlord?

Probably. The old landlord illegally collected that rent money from you, but it may be difficult to have it refunded in time if you have to go to small claims court to get it back. In the meantime, the new landlord could begin an eviction action against you for non-payment of rent.

Be sure to always keep good documentation of your rental payments by keeping receipts. You can call the new owner to explain the situation and provide copies of the rent receipts, and ask them to collect from the old landlord. They are not required to do this, but a tenant can still make a request.

The foreclosure sale has passed and the new owner gave me a 60-day notice to vacate, but I need more time to move. Aren’t I entitled to 90-days’ notice to vacate under the federal law?

Maybe, if you are a bona fide tenant, you are entitled to receive a 90-day notice under the federal law. If you are not a bona fide tenant, state law grants 60-days’ notice to vacate the property. Use the sample letters and copies of the law on this website to inform the new owner of your right to receive 90-days’ notice. If the owner does not recognize your rights contact legal assistance using our Legal Assistance Guide.

My landlord sold the house to someone else before the foreclosure sale. I live outside Seattle and have a month-to-month rental agreement, and the new owner gave me a 20-day notice. Am I still entitled to a 90 or 60 day notice to vacate?

No. It is not uncommon for the landlord to do a “short-sale” of the home to a purchaser prior to losing the property outright at the foreclosure sale. This is essentially no different than if the landlord was selling the property in a regular real estate transaction whereby your tenancy and rental agreement is transferred to the new purchaser. The federal and state laws requiring extended notice only apply if the property is lost through a foreclosure sale (also known as an “auction.”). If the foreclosure sale does not take place and the property is sold to someone else you would be entitled to 20-days written notice to terminate your tenancy prior to your rental period under RCW 59.18.200. If you live in Seattle the Just Cause Eviction Ordinance (JCEO) would protect you from a “no cause” termination.

Does the Just Cause Eviction Ordinance apply to me if I live in Seattle? Will JCEO keep me from being evicted after a foreclosure?

Tenants living in Seattle may still be protected under the Just Cause Eviction Ordinance. If you pay rent to the new property owner and they accept it, it could be considered that you established a month-to-month tenancy, and are protected under JCEO. The purchase of property at foreclosure sale is not explicitly listed as on the of the Just Cause reasons in the ordinance. The state and federal laws still apply in Seattle, but the new property owner may also have to comply with JCEO as well. Seek immediate legal advice at our Legal Assistance Guide if you are a Seattle tenant living in a property facing foreclosure.

How do I know that the person asking for rent from me is the real owner of the house?

If the new landlord does get ahold of you and asks for rent money, it’s a good idea to ask for some form of documentation from the new landlord to ensure that they are indeed the new owner of the property. You can ask the new landlord to provide a copy of the Trustee’s Deed as proof of ownership. You can then contact the County Auditor to ensure that the Trustee’s Deed is legitimate. You can look up the contact information for the County Auditors at Washington Land Records and Deed Directory. A local title insurance company may also be useful in helping you obtain this information.

I am a Section 8 voucher tenant. What additional protections do I have?

The federal law also offers protection for Section 8 (Housing Choice) Voucher holders who are living in properties facing foreclosure. The new owner is required to honor the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) contract with the housing authority to maintain the voucher. For more information, see the Washington Law Help publication I am a Tenant Living in a Foreclosed Property. What are My Rights?, a Sample Letter from Section 8 Tenant to New Owners of Foreclosed Property.

Where do I file a discrimination complaint against my landlord?

Enforcement of fair housing laws is handled by a number of different agencies, depending upon the location of the housing. The Washington State Human Rights Commission has jurisdiction over rental housing in the entire state of Washington. Properties located within unincorporated King County can make discrimination complaints to the King County Office of Civil Rights. Tenants living within the cities of Seattle, Bellevue or Tacoma may make fair housing complaints to the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, City of Bellevue Development Services Department, or the City of Tacoma Human Rights & Human Services Department.
Complaints can be filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and whichever state or local fair housing agency that has jurisdiction over the rental property.

Can I get a lawyer to represent me in Small Claims Court? Can my landlord bring a lawyer?

Neither plaintiff nor defendant may bring an attorney into court with them unless the Judge allows it; all parties in Small Claims Court represent themselves. However, you may consult an attorney to get legal advice to help prepare you for court.

The previous tenant didn’t pay the utility bill. Am I responsible for the bill?

No. You are only responsible for the utility use during the term of your tenancy. If you have a lease you can use that as documentation that you are not responsible for the previous tenant’s bill. The lease will state your term of tenancy.

My utility bill is three times as much as my neighbor who lives in the same size unit. Is this legal?

It depends on if you are both using the same amount of utilities, which can vary depending on how many people live in the same unit, or even personal habits of an individual tenant’s use of gas, water or electricity, etc. However, assuming there is no substantive difference in usage, this can be an indication of a faulty pipe, wiring, or insulation. It may also be an indication of a faulty meter. For a faulty meter you can call the utility company to come out and inspect the meter. If the company finds no fault with the meter, ask for documentation. Using the Repair Process, you can include this documentation to the landlord and request they correct the defective utility issue. Use previous utility bills to document the discrepancy in amounts if possible.

I make payments directly to the utility company, but my landlord often uses my utilities. Does the landlord owe me for the use of my utilities?

Possibly. The Landlord-Tenant Act is silent on this issue, so you should look to the language of your lease if it states the landlord can do so. If the lease doesn’t spell this out, and the landlord is using the utilities for purposes that do not benefit you, then in some situations you may be able to seek compensation. For example, if your lease agreement states that you will maintain the lawn and yard, it may be reasonable for the landlord to turn on the sprinklers to do so. However, if the landlord was renovating a property they owned next door and used your electricity to power their tools; this might not be an appropriate use of your utilities.

If the landlord improperly used your utilities use previous utility bills to document the discrepancy in amounts if possible. You can request a rent credit or payment from the landlord for the difference you are owed. The law does not clearly state your rights in this situation, so you must negotiate with your landlord. Have any agreement signed and in writing. If the landlord refuses to compensate you can go to Small Claims Court, but always consult an attorney before taking action.

Can the landlord charge for utilities retroactively?

Look to your rental agreement to see what utilities the landlord requires you to pay and what late fees, if any, you are responsible for. The contract dictates what the landlord is allowed to charge you for utilities.

If I am late making a utility payment, can the landlord charge me a late fee or serve me with a 10-day notice to comply or vacate if the bill is in my name?

Yes. Keeping current on utility bills is a condition of your tenancy. If you do not pay utility bills, the landlord may charge late fees or serve you with a 10-day notice to comply or vacate, even if the utility bill is in your name. Look to your rental agreement to see if the landlord can charge you late fees on utility payments.

Do rental units in Washington State have to be sub-metered (have one meter per individual rental unit)?

No. There is no requirement for landlords to sub-meter individual units. Seattle tenants are protected under the Third Party Billing Ordinance that requires landlords to provide information on how they calculate tenants’ bills.

Are phone and cable service considered utilities?

No. Other services in a rental unit, such as phone service or cable, are considered amenities and the sole responsibility of the renter to set up and maintain independent of the rental agreement and landlord.

Does my landlord have to put in extra insulation and double paned windows to keep my utility costs down?

Generally no, but the landlord does have to make sure your unit is habitable by ensuring that it has adequate heat and maintain the property in compliance with local building codes. State law also requires that the unit be reasonably weather-tight under RCW 59.18.060.

What can I do if I do not believe I owe the money the collection agency is trying to collect from me?

If you do not believe that you owe the debt, or some part of it, send them a letter disputing the debt within 30 days. Communicate in writing with the collection agency regarding any and all problems you find with the collection charge. The collection agency must temporarily stop collection and verify that you do indeed owe the debt as charged before they can proceed with collection. They must send that proof to you in writing before they proceed with collection. The Washington Law Help document Debtors’ Rights: Dealing with Collection Agencies contains a sample letter.

How much interest can collection agencies charge?

Collection agencies can collect 12% interest annually on debts.

What can I do if information on my credit report is being used against me in tenant screening?

If the landlord denied your tenancy in part or entirety because of your credit report, they must notify you in writing that they did so and provide you with the name, address and phone number of the credit reporting agency that provided that information to them. In turn, that credit reporting agency must provide you with a free copy of your credit report. Typically, in order to obtain the free report you must make the request within 30 days. For more information, see the Federal Trade Commission’s A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The FTC also has a guide to cleaning up your credit called Credit Repair: How to Help Yourself.

Can I contest information that is on my credit report?

If there are errors on your credit report because of identity theft or other reasons, you may be able to petition the credit reporting agencies to have the information corrected or removed. You can put a request in writing regarding the error to both the credit reporting agency and the entity that provided them the information. Include copies of any documentation you can gather to support your claim, and send your correspondence certified mail, return receipt. Be sure and keep copies of all your letters. The credit reporting agency usually has 30 days to investigate your complaint. Even if your complaint is not resolved following the investigation, you can request that a copy of your dispute be included in your file and accompany all future copies of your report when they are requested. See more information and a sample dispute letter at the FTC’s How to Dispute Credit Report Errors.

How long do I have to file a discrimination complaint?

Tenants have one year from the date of the incident of discrimination to file a fair housing complaint against the landlord.

Will collection agencies accept partial payments?

It is up to the discretion of the collection agency. You can try to negotiate a partial payment or payment plan with the collection agency, but it is within their rights to demand full payment of the debt you owe. If an agreement or payment plan in negotiated, be sure to get it in writing and keep it as documentation.

Can collection agencies charge me late fees?

It depends. Consult the original written rental agreement to see if you agreed to pay for collections costs. If so, you can be held responsible for paying any reasonable charges that result from the collections action against you, including attorneys’ fees and court costs. Almost all collection agencies will charge you interest, typically 12% per year, on debts they are attempting to collect. Interest can be charged regardless of whether you agreed to it in your lease or other contract.

What can I do if the collection agency violates my rights under state or federal law?

You may be able to pursue a lawsuit against the collection agency for unfair debt collection practices. The success of your suit depends on the strength of your documentation. You have one year following the dates of the illegal actions to file in court against them. You can also file a complaint against the collection agency with the Federal Trade Commission or the Washington State Attorney General.

What is third party billing?

Third party billing is when the landlord has a utility service in their name and passes the charge on to the tenants in a unit or complex. It only applies to properties with three or more units. The landlord is billed for utility usage based on the entire building’s charges or master meter, and then divides the bill up and sends it to individual units. Tenants are charged based on the divided total bill, rather than their individual utility usage. Third party billing is legal in Washington State, and unregulated outside the city limits of Seattle. Seattle renters have additional legal protections under the Third Party Billing Ordinance. See Seattle Utility Billing for more information.

How long will a debt from collections stay on my credit?

Collections debts will be reflected on your credit report for 7 years from the last activity on the original account, regardless of whether or not you pay off the entire debt. Typically the last activity will be the last time a payment was made or when the original debt incurred. If the debt is a judgment (has gone through a court proceeding), then it can be reported for longer.

Can I bring in a service animal even if my building has a no pet policy?

It is a reasonable accommodation to allow residents to live with service animals that meet their disability-related needs. Service animals are not pets. A person with a disability uses a service animal as an aid, similar to the use of a cane, crutches or wheelchair. Fair housing laws require that service animals be permitted in all units despite “no pets” rules.

Is an emotional support animal still covered under service animal laws?

Emotional support or companion animals are animals that provide support for persons with mental and emotional disabilities, and do so without any particular training. Companion animals are considered to be service or assistance animals, and tenants with disabilities have the right to request reasonable accommodation for them. See Assistance and Service Animals for Tenants Who are Persons with Disabilities for more information.

Do I have to put utilities in my name when I move into a unit?

Look to your written rental agreement to find out what has been agreed upon regarding utility billing in your rental unit. Some landlords require tenants to put utilities in the tenant’s name, while other landlords prefer to keep the utilities in their own name and then send separate bills to the tenant. Seattle Public Utility water/sewer/garbage accounts must be kept in the landlord’s name. See Seattle Utility Billing for more information.

Do I have to pay for the cost of a modification to my unit that is necessary because of my disability?

Generally, reasonable modifications to the unit must be approved by the landlord but paid for by the tenant. The tenant must also agree to return the unit to the condition it was in before the modification, minus normal wear and tear, unless the modification would not interfere with the next tenant’s use and enjoyment of the unit. For example, a closet rod that is lowered as a modification must be raised upon move out, but a door that is widened can remain.

What is a reasonable modification?

A “reasonable modification” is a physical change made to a resident’s living space or to the common areas of a community, which is necessary to enable a resident with a disability to have full enjoyment of the housing. Examples of reasonable modifications include adding bathroom grab bars, lowering closet rods, and the installation of a ramp. Housing providers may not require people with disabilities to pay extra fees or deposits as a condition of receiving a reasonable accommodation or modification.

What is reasonable accommodation?

A “reasonable accommodation” is a change made to a policy, program or service that allows a person with a disability to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use areas. For example, reasonable accommodations may include providing rental forms in large print, providing a reserved accessible parking space near a tenant’s unit, allowing a resident to have a service animal in a building with a no pet policy, or permitting a resident who has developed mobility limitations to move to the ground floor of their building.

How do I make a reasonable accommodation request?

In order to get a reasonable accommodation or modification approved, tenants must first make a request to the landlord. The request does not have to be in writing, but whenever possible it is best practice to send all communication with the landlord in writing, certified mail return receipt and regular first class mail, and keep a copy. A request for reasonable accommodation or modification cannot be refused only because the tenant did not send it in writing. The request should describe the accommodation or modification, and explain the disability-related need for the requested action. Requests may be made any time during the tenancy, including in the application process and eviction process. The landlord has an obligation to respond to the request promptly.

Do landlords have to accept my Section 8 voucher?

It depends on where the rental unit is located. In the city of Seattle, unincorporated King County, Bellevue, Redmond, it is illegal for landlords to discriminate against someone because of their status as a Section 8 voucher holder. Landlords in these areas cannot legally decide not to rent to someone just because they use a Section 8 voucher to pay their rent. Landlords in these areas must offer one-year leases for Section 8 voucher tenants, and cannot charge Section 8 tenants a rental rate that exceeds the rate charged to a non-Section 8 tenant. Rents and utility costs must be reasonably affordable to Section 8 voucher tenants, unless the units are considered “luxury” units. See Section 8 Voucher Discrimination for more information.

Do I have to pay a pet deposit for my service animal?

Landlords cannot charge tenants extra fees, deposits or cleaning charges for having service animals. Tenants with service animals are still required to follow all pet-related rules and guidelines, and must observe leash laws, waste disposal laws, and noise policies.

What can I do if my landlord is the perpetrator?

If your landlord or apartment manager is the perpetrator or abuser, you have the right to break your lease and vacate the unit without having to pay rent remaining on the lease. You must obtain a valid protection order or report from a qualified third party and deliver it within 7 days of vacating the unit. You can deliver it by mail, fax, or personal delivery from a friend or relative. This record of report must not contain the name of the abuser, but if the landlord requests the name, and the abuser was an employee of the landlord, the qualified third party must supply it to them. See RCW 59.18.575, or Washington Law Help’s Landlord-Tenant Issues for Survivors of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and/or Stalking.

What is considered domestic violence?

Domestic violence is often not easy to understand or to define. The Landlord-Tenant Act defines domestic violence as a pattern of abusive behavior (physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, or psychological) used by someone to control an intimate partner. It is physical harm, injury or assault, or the fear of imminent physical harm, injury or assault, between family or household members, past or current intimate partners, or people who have a child together (RCW 26.50.101). See Definitions for more information.

Are there any protections in the law to stop them from shutting off utility service in units with renters who are elderly, disabled, or parents of small children?

There are currently no protections in state law against utility shut offs for renters with disabilities or small children. It’s possible that Individual utility providers provide some such protection. Contact your utility provider directly to find out more information. They may be willing to delay shut offs for tenants who have good payment histories. In addition, low-income tenants have some protections against shutoffs of heat during the winter months. See the Washington Law Help publication Public Utilities for more information.

Do I need to give my landlord notice before I leave because of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, or unlawful harassment?

Tenants must notify the landlord that they will be moving out within 90 days of the specific domestic violence incident. The 90-day time frame specifically refers to the date of the incident of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or unlawful harassment and not the date the order for protection was granted, nor the date the incident was reported.

If I break my lease because of domestic violence, am I entitled to my deposit back?

Tenants who break their lease because of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or unlawful harassment will be entitled to an accounting for their deposit within 14 days and a refund of the deposit, minus any damages to the unit beyond normal wear and tear (survivors can sometimes be held responsible for damages caused to the unit as a result of the incident of domestic violence, but may be able to access Victims of Crime Financial Benefits to pay these costs. The perpetrator of the domestic violence may also be liable for these damages). For more information, see Deposits.

I broke my lease due to domestic violence and followed the legal process, but my landlord sent me a bill for damages to the unit my abuser caused. What can I do?

Under RCW 59.18.575 a survivor of domestic violence cannot be charged for damages caused by the abuser. Write a letter to the landlord disputing the charges and include a copy of the law. If the landlord sends you to collections, send the same dispute letter and laws to the collection agency. See Collection Agencies for more information.

I do not have a protection order filed yet but I have a domestic violence advocate. Does the law consider them a qualified third party if they write a letter to help break my lease to flee my abuser?

Tenants needing to break their lease for these reasons must provide the landlord with either a valid order of protection or a report from a qualified third party regarding the incident. “Qualified third party” can include law enforcement, health care professionals, state court employees, mental health professionals, clergy members, or domestic violence/crime prevention advocates. See a sample form and more information at Landlord-Tenant Issues for Survivors of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and/or Stalking

What are some resources and shelters for domestic violence survivors?

You can call Washington State Domestic Violence Hotline: 1.800.562.6025 or the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence for more information and resources.

What is the landlord required to repair?

Landlords are responsible to make all repairs in the unit except in cases where tenants or invitees of the tenant cause the damage. Tenants may also be liable for repairs that are the result of unreported issues in the apartment if those issues cause further damage in the unit. State law outlines landlords’ obligations to keep your unit safe and livable. Landlords must also maintain their units to comply with all local codes that govern housing quality. Landlords must also provide adequate heat and hot water, provide adequate locks, maintain all structural components in reasonably good repair, and more. Read RCW 59.18.060 for a complete list of landlord duties.

What repairs can my landlord hold me responsible for?

RCW 59.18.130 outlines a tenant’s responsibilities under landlord-tenant law. Tenants must keep their units clean and sanitary, dispose of garbage from inside their units, properly use the facilities and appliances supplied by the landlord, maintain smoke detectors batteries and more. Tenants also must not damage the property or allow guests to damage the property. Tenants can be held responsible for damages caused by them or visitors invited to the property. A tenant cannot be legally charged for damages caused by the landlord’s negligence or for damage resulting from normal wear and tear in the unit. See our Deposits webpage for more details.

How much can my landlord charge to fix items that I damage in the unit?

There are no specific legal standards pertaining to the cost of repairing damages. Tenants may have the opportunity to make the repairs themselves, with permission from the landlord, and depending on the type and extent of the damage as well as the terms of the lease. The tenant may also be able to negotiate with the landlord to have the repairs made. Generally speaking, a landlord can charge for the cost of materials, the cost of hiring a contractor, or the fair cost of labor comparable to regional rates if the landlord made the repair themselves.
When you vacate a unit, it is always a best practice to thoroughly document the unit before you move out. Otherwise tenants leave themselves open to be charged exorbitant fees or charged for damages that they were not responsible for. Protect yourself with documentation!

Can I withhold rent to force the landlord to make repairs?

No. Tenants must be current in rent in order to access the repair remedies written into the law. Even if the repairs are extremely severe, withholding rent can leave renters vulnerable to eviction.

My landlord began to make a repair within the legal timeframe, but they have still not fixed the problem after a considerable amount of time. Can I still break my lease even though they started repairs?

RCW 59.18.090 states the tenant does have the right to break the lease after the appropriate timeframe expires starting from when the landlord received a written repair request and the repair still goes on uncompleted within a reasonable time. However, there are some risks associated with this remedy, and it is a good idea to consult with an attorney before taking any action. Reasonable is not defined in the Landlord-Tenant Act. If possible, document the landlord’s attempt to repair if it is inadequate to fix the problem. Tenants may have a stronger case to break the lease based on the severity of the need for repair. For example, having no hot water or heat may have a different standard of reasonableness than replacing a cabinet.

I can’t live in my unit because a pipe burst causing a flood. Is my landlord required to put me up in a motel or move me to another unit?

While state law does not specifically require landlords to move tenants to another unit or pay for motel stays, tenants have the right to ask these things of the landlord and negotiate to get them. Tenants can argue that they don’t have the obligation to pay rent for a unit during a time that they’re not able to live there or get full use of the unit. If the landlord disagrees and still asks for full rent, tenants still need to pay rent, but they can document financial and other damages caused because of the flooding (for instance, having to pay for a motel room, driving costs, or other financial damages). You can negotiate with your landlord for these things or take them to Small Claims Court to sue for compensation after the fact. Remember to always put it in writing! See Steps to Request a Repair for tools you can use to negotiate with your landlord.

My apartment flooded due to a faulty plumbing and all my belongings were damaged. Is the landlord responsible to pay for the cost?

State law does not specifically require this, but tenants have an argument that the landlord can be held liable for property damage. If the tenant has documentation that they had previously communicated with the landlord about the problem and the landlord took no action to fix it, the argument would be stronger. If the tenant has not communicated with the landlord about the problem, then the tenant can argue that the landlord should have known about the problem. Other tenants in the building may have had similar problems and would be willing to testify or provide written statements. Communicating with other tenants is invaluable. This is another reason why it is helpful for tenants to hold on to copies of all of their repair requests. Landlords cannot be held liable for property damage resulting from a repair problem unless they knew or should have known about the problem. It is also a good idea for renters to get renters’ insurance that will cover the cost of any property damages.

I can’t live in my unit because the mold is impacting my health. Can I legally break my lease because of this?

Other than a requirement to provide written information (RCW 59.18.060), there are no state laws governing landlords’ responsibilities regarding mold removal. State law does give residential tenants the right to vacate their units and move if the landlord is not making necessary repairs. It will depend on whether the landlord attempts to fix the problem causing the mold to grow. The mold itself may not be cause enough to break the lease, but if the landlord fails to fix the leaky pipe causing the moisture that created the mold growth, then the tenant can follow the repair process to eventually break the lease. Thorough documentation is vital if you’d like to use this legal remedy, and there are some risks associated with this course of action. See Repair Process above and Tenants’ Repair Remedies for details. Disabled tenants may also make reasonable accommodation requests to make the unit livable or to be allowed to vacate. To learn more about protections for disabled tenants and how to make a reasonable accommodation request, see Fair Housing & Disability Laws.

What if I follow the repairs procedure and the landlord still isn’t fixing my unit?

If you’ve tried all the resources available to you and exhausted your legal remedies, you may consider seeking legal help and assistance. See the Legal Assistance Guide for more information.

Can I ask the landlord to put in better carpeting or refurbish the countertops?

In general, landlord-tenant laws do not cover cosmetic upgrades to units. You may be able to negotiate with your landlord to request upgrades to the property. It is important that you not make any changes to the unit, even if you believe they will improve the property, without getting written permission from your landlord to do so. Keep in mind that any changes you make to the unit, even ones you consider improvements, could be considered damages by the landlord when you move out of the unit. If there is a repair problem with the carpeting or countertops to the extent that they are not useable, a tenant can ask the landlord to make the repairs through the Steps to Request a Repair above.

Are there legal standards for how often a landlord has to replace the carpet or repaint the walls?

Washington State law does not set out any specific timeframes for landlords to replace carpet or repaint the walls. If there is a repair problem with the carpeting or walls to the extent that there is significant damage, a tenant can ask the landlord to make the repairs through the Steps to Request a Repair above.

My landlord says that they don’t have to make repairs in my unit because my rent is so cheap. Is this legal?

All tenants deserve to live in safe and decent housing, regardless of how much rent they pay. The legal standards to make repairs are the same for all residential tenants.

I signed a lease stating that I have to make all the repairs in my unit, and that I have to accept the unit “as is.” Can my landlord hold me to this?

RCW 59.18.230 states that tenants cannot sign away their rights under the law. The landlord is still responsible for making all repairs for defective conditions that are not caused by the tenant or guests of the tenant. If the lease provision waives a duty that is defined under the law as the landlord’s responsibility, that section is legally unenforceable. For example, if a tenant moves into a unit with no working heat, even if the lease says the tenant is responsible for repairs, state law still requires the landlord to maintain appropriate heating for the unit.

My toilet clogs regularly. We had to call a plumber out, and my landlord is charging me the cost of the repair, saying that I use too much toilet paper. Is this legal?

In this situation, the landlord is arguing that the tenant is responsible for the damages that require a costly repair. Unless the tenant has damaged the toilet by flushing things that cause clogs, the tenant has an argument that they were using the facility within normal use and that they are not responsible for the cost of the repair. The tenant can provide documentation in the form of prior repair requests or a report from the plumber clarifying the nature of the plumbing problem. If the move-in checklist indicates that the toilet was working fine when you moved in, it may be difficult to prove that the problems with the toilet were not caused by the tenant.

I injured myself because the landlord didn’t make repairs on my unit. Can I hold my landlord liable for the costs of my medical bills?

You may be able to take your landlord to court to sue for the costs of your medical bills. It is important to have documentation of the repair problems and your landlord’s negligence in fixing them. Seek legal advice from an attorney for a specific situation. Tenants have often found it helpful to consult with an attorney regarding health problems that result from mold.

Does the landlord have to take a copy of my credit report if I provide one?

Currently, a prospective landlord may choose to take a copy of a credit report if the tenant provides one from one of the three major credit reporting agencies, but the law does not require them to do so. The Tenants Union is working with our partners to pass legislation that would lower application costs by requiring landlords to accept credit reports from tenants if they can be verified with the credit reporting agency.

TU Campaign The TU is currently working to improve tenants’ rights with screening companies and landlords in the screening process. See Fair Tenant Screening Act for more information.

What if something on my credit report is incorrect or was placed there illegally?

You can petition credit reporting agencies to have any errors removed from your record. This can be a difficult process. For detailed information, see the Federal Trade Commission’s How to Dispute Credit Report Errors.

Can the landlord screen someone I want to move into my house with me?

Yes. If you want to move an additional tenant in mid-tenancy, the landlord has the right to put them through the screening process and charge them the application fee.

I have a family member or partner who lives elsewhere, but will be staying over regularly in my unit. What are my rights?

Review the guest policy in your rental agreement. Often rental agreements limit the specific number of days, consecutive or total, a guest can stay in the unit without being screened and added to the contract. The landlord may ask that a frequent visitor be screened and have their name added to the rental agreement if they exceed the number of days allowed for visitors.

I’m concerned that my former landlord will misrepresent my rental history to a new potential landlord and give me a bad reference. What can I do?

If you are concerned that a former landlord may misrepresent or lie about your qualifications as a tenant, you can give the new landlord an explanation of the situation, or bring additional references. There are no laws in the Landlord-Tenant Act that restrict what information a landlord gives about you as a part of the screening process. You may decide to bring references from other former landlords or employers and other character references. In situations like this, many tenants wonder if there is a way to sue their landlord for defamation (slander or libel). It may be possible to bring a private action against them in court, but it can be very difficult to secure an attorney for a lawsuit like this. For more information on how to best utilize legal services to solve housing problems, see the tenant Legal Assistance Guide.

If I won in eviction court, or was evicted illegally, can the eviction be used against me in the screening process?

Yes, even if you were evicted illegally, or won in eviction court, it will still show up in your record as an eviction and may be used against you in the screening process. You can go to the courthouse and print out the court’s judgment that stated that you prevailed, or other documentation that the action was brought against you illegally. The new landlord may be willing to consider the extenuating circumstances.

TU Campaign The TU is currently working to improve tenants’ rights with screening companies and landlords in the screening process. See Fair Tenant Screening Act for more information.

Can the landlord ask me my social security number or bank account numbers on the rental application?

Yes. As long as landlords are not collecting information in a discriminatory manner, there are no laws restricting what information is asked of you on a rental application. You may ask why the landlord wants the information and what they are going to do with it. They must have a legitimate business reason for requesting the information. It is at a landlord’s discretion to choose not to offer a unit to you if you do not provide the information requested, but sometimes landlords will be flexible if you have concerns.

IRS regulations specify that projects financed through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program are not required to collect social security numbers from potential residents. However, LIHTC projects still ask for social security numbers on applications and use them to determine applicants’ financial eligibility and suitability as tenants. Equivalent identification would be a Work Visa, Alien Registration Receipt Card, Temporary Resident Card, IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), or Employment Authorization Card. Failure on the part of applicants to provide social security numbers or equivalent identification could hinder or delay an LIHTC property’s ability to review their applications for housing.

Does my landlord have to provide me with a copy of the rental agreement I sign?

Yes. The landlord must provide a copy of the rental agreement to each tenant that signs it. The tenant may request one free replacement copy during the tenancy.

Am I still covered under the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act even though I don’t have a written rental agreement?

Verbal tenancies are legal in Washington State and are considered valid month-to-month agreements.

Who isn’t covered as a tenant under the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act?

Types of tenancies that are not covered by Landlord-Tenant Act are commercial leases or manufactured home owners who rent space in a manufactured home park. RCW 59.18.040 outlines the other living arrangements exempt from coverage under the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act: people in medical, religious, educational, recreational or correctional institutions; people in contracts to purchase their homes; people staying in hotels or motels; migrant workers whose housing is provided by their employers; and people whose residence depends upon their employment.

Are there any restrictions on how much my landlord can raise the rent?

No. Rent control is illegal in Washington State, as stated in RCW 35.21.830. However, Seattle tenants are entitled to 60 days’ notice before rent increases of 10% or more in a 12-month period per SMC 7.24.030. And tenants living outside of Seattle are entitled to a written notice of a rent increase 30 days before the end of the rental period. In addition, rent increases cannot be discriminatory or retaliatory.

I signed a lease before I saw the apartment, and now I don’t want to move in. What can I do?

Always look at the actual unit you’re going to be renting before agreeing to sign a lease. You may be able to negotiate with your landlord to be removed from the lease if the unit isn’t right for you. If you break your lease and move, you may still be held liable for the monetary penalties written into the law and/or your lease. If the unit you’re renting has repair problems, your landlord has the obligation to fix them. See Repairs for more information.

They showed me a “model unit” and then I saw the actual unit I’m renting, and it’s a total disaster zone! What can I do? Can I sue them for false advertising?

Always look at the actual unit you’re going to be renting before agreeing to sign a rental agreement. If the unit you’re renting has repair problems, your landlord has the obligation to fix them. See Repairs for more details. It may be possible for you to file a lawsuit against your landlord for false advertising, but legal assistance for this kind of lawsuit can be difficult to come by. See Legal Assistance Guide for more information.

I just signed a lease and then changed my mind about living there. Is there a grace period in Washington State that allows me to back out of a contract within 24 hours of signing it?

There is no grace period in Washington State. Once you sign a lease you are committed to fulfilling its terms unless the landlord agrees to release you from it. If they do agree to release you from your rental agreement, be sure to get it in writing and signed by your landlord.

Some tenants will try to find a replacement renter to move into the unit and sign a new lease with the landlord. That would entail having your landlord screen the other person and having them sign a new lease, which would require the landlord’s consent.