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To read the specific laws in the WA State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act, click on the RCW (Revised Code of Washington) links throughout the Tenant Services website.
Tenants Union Tenant Counselors are not attorneys, and this information should not be considered legal advice. Please read our full Tenant Union Disclaimer.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.