Know Your Rights

Eviction & Termination FAQ

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Do I have to move out with­in four­teen days if my land­lord serves me a 14-day pay or vacate notice?

No, though some tenants may choose to vacate during the 14-day timeframe. Your landlord cannot evict you from your unit without going through a court process. It is illegal for your landlord to lock you out of your unit, remove your belongings or shut off your utilities, even if you are behind in rent. Eviction in Washington State is called “unlawful detainer.” The unlawful detainer process generally takes about a month from start to finish. Some tenants choose to leave within the 14-day timeline because vacating may allow them to avoid the eviction lawsuit. The landlord may still be able to file a lawsuit against them or send them to collections in an attempt to recover money they owe.

The 14-day notice does give the tenants the option to vacate within the fourteen day timeframe. Vacating within the fourteen day timeframe is the only way, besides paying the amount stated in the notice, to best guarantee that the landlord will not file the eviction lawsuit against you. Once the lawsuit is filed, the eviction will be permanently in the public record, and could be used against you in the future by prospective landlords if you don't get an Order of Limited Dissemination. If you do decide to vacate the unit within fourteen days, it is a good idea to document that you have vacated in writing to your landlord.

Sometimes tenants facing an eviction for non-payment of rent that they know they will not be able to stop will decide to move out within the fourteen days in order to avoid having the eviction on their record. In this case, the landlord can still collect the rent and late fees, but cannot proceed with the eviction process. Speak to an attorney regarding your situation and possible options for responding to the threat of eviction. For legal resources, see “Legal Assistance Guide”.

What is unlaw­ful detainer”?

Unlawful detainer is defined in Washington State law in RCW 59.12.030. Eviction is an unlawful detainer action to remove a tenant from a property who stays in the unit past their legal right to.

How long does it take to evict a ten­ant in Wash­ing­ton State?

Generally around one month (from the time rent is due until the time the sheriff will come out and enforce the writ), though the timeframe can vary greatly depending upon the circumstances. See Eviction Timeline for a sample eviction process.

How must my land­lord serve me a 14- or 10-day notice?

According to RCW 59.12.040, the eviction notice must be given to the tenant personally. The landlord may also leave it with another person of suitable age and discretion within the household, or post it on the door, provided it is also sent in the mail. Your landlord may personally deliver the notice to you. It does not have to be delivered by the sheriff or notarized in order to be valid.

Does the law enti­tle me to a cer­tain num­ber of days grace peri­od after the day my rent is due?

No. However, most rental agreements indicate a due date for the rent, usually the first of the month, and some indicate a grace period before the rent is to be considered late, usually three to five days later. The landlord-tenant act in Washington State does not specifically entitle tenants to a grace period of any kind.

If the last day from a ter­mi­na­tion notice (10-day, 14-day, etc) falls on a hol­i­day or week­end, is it count­ed in the notice period?

If the last day lands on a holiday then you do not count it and instead it falls on the next day. However, weekends are counted like any other day. Make sure it is a holiday recognized by the court (not “Boxing Day.”)

Are there any resources to help me move?

It can be very difficult to find assistance moving into and out of rental units. Few agencies offer this type of assistance. Call “Washington State 2-1-1’: at 206-461-3200 or 800-621-4636 or 2-1-1 from a landline to see if there is any help in your area.

Can I nego­ti­ate with the land­lord to stop an eviction?

Tenants can negotiate directly with their landlord to stop the eviction at any point, though it is generally more productive for tenants the earlier in the process it happens. It is very important that any agreement you come to with your landlord must be in writing, signed and dated by both parties.

Can I with­hold rent because the land­lord owes me mon­ey or hasn’t made nec­es­sary repairs?

The law does not allow tenants to withhold rent money in order to gain compensation from the landlord for unmade repairs or other complaints. Not paying your rent in full on the due date will leave you vulnerable to eviction, and once the eviction goes onto your record, it will stay there permanently and can be used against you in the future, even if you end up winning in court. Unmade repairs may factor in to your defenses against an eviction lawsuit, but may not be enough to stop the eviction entirely and does not justify withholding rent without the landlord’s consent except in certain circumstances. If your landlord does agree to reduce rent for any reason, be sure to get written documentation of the agreement that is signed and dated by both you and the landlord.

Can late fees be charged on a 14-day notice?

If late fees are authorized in the lease agreement, you will be responsible to pay them. However, late fees should not be included on a 14-day notice.

What if my LL refus­es to accept my rent with­in the 14 days?

Get as thorough documentation as possible to establish that you attempted to pay rent in full within the fourteen day timeframe. Keeping documentation of all your rent payments is crucial to protect yourself against wrongful eviction. Pay your rent by personal check whenever possible. If you can’t pay by personal check, you can use a money order. You can try and prove the amount paid by photocopying the money order after you fill it out but before you separate it from the stub. Your landlord should provide you with a receipt. You can also ask a third party witness to come with you who can attest that the rent was delivered and received.

What can I do if my land­lord locks me out of the unit?

RCW 59.18.290 states that lock outs are illegal. Landlords cannot restrict tenants from access to the unit by changing the locks, even if the tenant is in the midst of an unlawful detainer lawsuit or has a writ of restitution issued against them. If illegally locked out, the tenant has a right to regain access to the unit, but must pay for the cost of any damages they do to the unit in order to regain access. Tenants who are being illegally removed from a property can call the police.