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Best Practices and Tips for Tenants

1) Document All Communications with Your Landlord in Writing

It is best practice to document all communications you do with your landlord. Keeping good documentation can save you from a lot of trouble during and after your tenancy. Washington landlord tenant laws require tenants to request repairs in writing. For example, If your landlord attempts to deduct from your deposit on items you tried to get repaired, you have proof showing that the repair was never your responsibility should your landlord fail to fix it. Another good example is documenting when you pay rent in case the rent box is broken in to, or if your landlord claims they never received payment. Tenants can send their checks to their landlord via certified mail, or deliver the check personally with a reliable third party witness.

2) Do Not Withhold Rent if the Landlord is Not Making Repairs

It is not a good idea to withhold rent from the landlord even if repairs are not being addressed. Tenants don’t have access to their legal repair remedies, such as “repair and deduct”, if they are not current in rent. Tenants also make themselves vulnerable to evictions if they don’t pay rent. Call our hotline if you wish to speak to tenant counselors about other strategies you can employ if a landlord isn’t addressing a repair issue.

3) Document the Condition of Your Unit When You Move In and Move Out

Thoroughly documenting the condition of your unit at move in and move out can help you defend against wrongful damage charges. In order to legally collect a deposit, landlords need to provide tenants with a move in checklist. Fill out the checklist thoroughly to document preexisting damages at move in. The checklist must be signed by both landlord and tenant. While landlords are not required to do a move out walkthrough, request one before you move out. This may give you a better understanding about what the landlord may charge you.

4) Eviction Always Requires a Court Process

Evictions require a specific and often lengthy court process. Even if you’ve failed to pay rent, a landlord cannot take actions outside of the court system that would intimidate you to vacate. Examples of illegal landlord actions: removing a tenant’s belongings without their consent, shutting of utilities, and changing the locks. It is best practice to call the police if the landlord attempts to exercise these actions without a court order.

5) Protect Yourself by Verifying When You Move Out of a Unit

Month to month renters are required to give their landlord 20 days’ notice to terminate their tenancy. For example, the landlord must receive written notice by the 10th of the month if you want to vacate on the 30th of the month (assuming the month has 30 days in it). It is best practice to give notice earlier and to also send your 20 day notice to your landlord via certified mail. If you are not out by the agreed upon date, your landlord can charge you for the entire following month’s rent including other fees specified in the lease.

6) Landlords Can Only Enforce Rules Written in the Lease

Landlords cannot legally enforce any terms other than the ones written in your lease. The landlord cannot legally change the rules of tenancy while you’re on a lease for a specified term. Terms and conditions of the lease can only be changed by mutual agreement of landlord and tenant. Once your tenancy becomes month-to-month, your landlord can change the rules (including a rent increase) by giving you 30 days’ written notice (RCW 59.18.140).

Read the lease carefully before you sign. The landlord can enforce any and all reasonable terms written in the contract as long as they don’t contradict any state or local laws. No lease provision can waive the rights listed in RCW 59.18.230. The landlord will try to create lease terms favorable to their own interests. Understand the terms of the lease before you sign the contract. See Rental Agreements for details.

7) There is No Rent Control in Washington State

Once your lease term has ended, there are virtually no restrictions on how much your landlord can raise your rent. All rent increases require 30 days’ written notice. See Rental Agreements for more information. However, Seattle tenants are entitled to 60 days’ written notice of an increase in rent or housing costs if it is above 10% in a 12-month period (SMC 7.24). See Seattle Laws for details.

8) All Seattle Tenants Have Just Cause Eviction Protection

Seattle landlords must have a Just Cause reason to evict you from a property (SMC 22.206). Just Cause evictions include nonpayment of rent, noncompliance with lease terms, chronically late rent payments, and the landlord wishing to occupy the unit themselves. There are 18 total just causes. The notice required for each Just Cause reason varies from 20-90 days. For a list of all Just Cause reasons and notice timeframes, see Just Cause Eviction Protection. Outside of city limits, landlords can ask tenants not protected by term leases to vacate with only 20 days’ written notice.

9) Survivors of Domestic Violence Have Additional Protections Under the Law

Survivors of domestic violence cannot be discriminated against because of their status. Survivors also have the right to legally break their lease to escape an abuser, but must follow the proper legal process. In addition, landlords cannot refuse to rent to you because of your status as a domestic violence survivor. For more information, see Landlord Tenant Issues for Survivors of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and/or Stalking from Washington Law Help.

10) Prioritize Paying Rent above Other Expenses

Housing loss makes it virtually impossible to maintain stability in other areas of life. Don’t take any chances with your housing. Document every payment and communication with your landlord to protect yourself against housing loss.

11) Tell Your Story to Improve Tenants’ Rights in Your Community!

Your elected officials need to know how renters are being impacted by rental laws in Seattle and Washington State. You can contact the Seattle Mayor and City Council to tell them your story and improvements you’d like to see for renters. You can also call the Washington State Legislative Hotline at 1.800.562.6000 and tell them your story. You can leave a message for your state Senator, two Representatives and the Governor there. Also, you can find email addresses and information about upcoming bills and ordinances that impact renters at the Tenants Union, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection and Washington State Legislature websites.

Please also see Tenant Action for ways to get involved at the Tenants Union and build power for tenants in your community.

Tenants Union Tenant Counselors are not attorneys, and this information should not be considered legal advice. Please read our full Tenant Union Disclaimer.