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Eviction Essentials

This guide is intended to give an overview of the eviction process and provide some context for renters as to how evictions can play out in Washington courts. The eviction process is known as an “unlawful detainer action,” and the law gives the landlord the right to initiate a court process to remove tenants from a rental unit. It is crucial that all tenants facing eviction speak directly with an attorney about their situation for advice, assistance and, possibly, representation. For more information and resources, see Legal Assistance Guide.

Here are some key things to know about evictions in Washington State:

  • Your landlord cannot evict you from your unit without going through a court process (RCW 59.18.290, RCW 59.18.300). 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 2-3 weeks from start to finish.
  • Read, save and respond to all notices from you landlord. Read all paperwork you receive from your landlord carefully. There are very specific deadlines and requirements in the eviction process. Missing deadlines or information can cause you to lose the eviction lawsuit automatically. Most evictions start with a 3-or 10-day notice. You must seek legal assistance and respond to these notices as soon as possible.
  • Having documentation is crucial in the eviction process. It is very important to keep all notices you receive from your landlord and to respond in writing to notices your landlord sends you. Seek the assistance of an attorney to respond to any eviction action or threat of termination being made against you. For more information on how to get legal assistance, see Legal Assistance Guide. You can also find information in Eviction and Your Defense.
  • Eviction filings go on your record permanently. Once the landlord files the unlawful detainer lawsuit against you with the court, you will have the eviction on your record permanently, even if you are wrongly evicted or you win in court. Even having a defense against the eviction will not necessarily stop the eviction process from moving forward. In all evictions, renters facing termination have a few key choices to make. Eviction court is not a friendly place for tenants. The vast majority of tenants lose in eviction court, so do what you can to solve the problem before your landlord takes steps to serve you with an eviction notice. Having an eviction on your record can greatly impact your ability to find quality rental housing in the future. Sometimes, however, evictions are unavoidable. For more information on how to manage evictions on your record, see Housing Search. While eviction court judges will often not consider many of the extenuating circumstances that caused you to be late in your rent, there are some legitimate defenses that can impact the outcome of an eviction lawsuit. Speak to an attorney for information and advice on your situation.
  • Month to month Seattle tenants have Just Cause eviction protection. When you are a month to month tenant in Seattle, your landlord must have a just cause reason to evict you from a property, according to SMC 22.206. Just Cause evictions include nonpayment of rent, noncompliance with lease terms, chronically late rent payments, and the landlord intending to occupy the unit themselves. There are 18 total ‘Just Causes’. The notice required for each just cause reason varies, but Seattle landlords cannot terminate tenancy for reasons that are not on that list. For a list of all Just Cause reasons and notice timeframes, see Seattle Laws and Seattle Just Cause Information. Outside of city limits, landlords can ask tenants not protected by term leases to vacate with only 20 days written notice.
  • The law does not allow tenants to withhold rent because of unmade repairs, complaints against the landlord, or money the landlord owes them (RCW 59.18.080). The law does not allow tenants to withhold rent money in order to gain compensation from the landlord for unmade repairs, with few exceptions. 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 they may not be enough to stop the eviction entirely and do not ever justify withholding rent without the landlord’s written 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. The repair and deduct process does allow tenants to withhold rent because of unmade repairs, but a specific and detailed process must be followed. Legal help is recommended for anyone wishing to utilize repair and deduct. There also may be rare circumstances in which a judge authorizes a court order for a tenant to withhold their rent. See Repairs for more information.

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