Before using this information, please read:
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.
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. There are three different types of rental agreements:
1) Month-to-month rental agreements do not contain specific time limits. The tenancy continues until one party or the other issues a notice to vacate or terminate tenancy of 20 days written notice given before the rent is due. (Seattle tenants have Just Cause Eviction Protection that requires landlords to give more notice in some cases and restricts terminations of tenancy to 18 “Just Cause” reasons.) Month-to-month tenancies can be verbal or written. Verbal rental agreements are legal in Washington State and are considered to be month-to-month tenancies. If your landlord takes any kind of deposit or nonrefundable fee from you, the rental agreement must be in writing and state the terms and conditions under which your money is refundable.
A landlord cannot change any aspect of a lease during the fixed-term period except by mutual agreement. Therefore, rent is fixed during the lease term. In month-to-month tenancies, however, landlords can change the rules of tenancy more easily. In fact, the landlord is only required to give tenants 30 days written notice to change a term of the tenancy, but must give 60 days written notice for any rent increase (RCW 59.18.140). The City of Seattle has a law where a tenant is entitled to 60 days prior written notice for an increase 10% or more in a 12-month period (SMC 7.24.030).
The Landlord-Tenant Act allows only four reasons for breaking a lease during the term. They are:
- RCW 59.18.200: A call to military service.
- RCW 59.18.090: As a response to a repair concern that the landlord isn’t taking action to fix within a specific timeframe. See Repairs for details and more information on utilizing this remedy.
- RCW 59.18.575: Protections for domestic violence survivors, stalking or sexual assault, or unlawful harassment by a landlord or landlord’s agent (see Landlord-Tenant Issues for Survivors of Domestic Violence for more information).
- RCW 59.18.352, RCW 59.18.354: A tenant is threatened by a neighbor with a deadly weapon resulting in an arrest, and landlord fails to file an eviction action; the tenant is threatened by the landlord with a deadly weapon resulting in arrest. For more information, see Roommates & Neighbors.
It is crucial that you read a lease very carefully before you sign it. It is a legally binding contract, and you can be held to any and all of the conditions of tenancy once you sign the document, as long as they do not conflict with any state or local laws.
As you start searching for housing, make a list of any questions you have. Don’t be afraid to ask to speak to other tenants or to ask about the neighborhood, the nearest shopping centers, bus lines, or any visible damages to the unit. You can also speak to other residents in the building to find out what they like and don’t like about living there. You can gather information about other tenants’ experiences in the apartment building by researching it at Apartment Ratings. See below for a detailed list of questions to ask a potential landlord.
Below are a series of questions you can ask the landlord before you sign a rental agreement:
If a lease contains a section or language that attempts to waive your rights defined in the Landlord-Tenant Act that particular section is considered unenforceable. The rest of the lease will still be valid. No rental agreement may forego your rights or remedies, require you to pay attorney’s fees that aren’t authorized by law, indemnify the landlord from costs they are responsible, or create a lien against the tenant’s property. Read the language of the law for a full list.
If a landlord deliberately includes this kind of language in the lease with the knowledge it is prohibited the tenant can seek up to a $500 penalty, damages, court cost and attorney fees.