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The City of Seattle offers renters some modest additional protections than in other parts of Washington State. These laws apply to all residential tenancies in the Seattle city limits. If you’re unsure whether your unit is located in the city limits of Seattle, you can look it up on the King County Parcel Viewer. The property report lists each address within a specific jurisdiction: City of Seattle, unincorporated King County, etc. Different laws in Seattle are regulated by different city departments: some are enforced by the Seattle Police Department, and some by the Department of Construction and Inspection, or SDCI. If you’d like more information on enforcement of landlord-tenant laws in the city of Seattle, SDCI can be reached at 206-684-5700.
The Just Cause Eviction Ordinance, or JCEO, was passed in Seattle as a result of the work of Seattle renters and the Tenants Union of Washington. JCEO requires that Seattle landlords have just cause reasons to terminate tenancy or evict month-to-month or other periodic tenants (tenants who pay rent weekly or twice a month). There are 18 total just causes listed in the ordinance, many more than there were in the past. Just causes for eviction include nonpayment of rent, noncompliance with lease terms, chronically late rent payments, and the intention of the landlord to occupy the unit themselves or rent the unit to an immediate family member. The notice required for each just cause reason varies. Outside of city limits, there is no just cause protection for tenants, and landlords can ask tenants not on a term lease to vacate with only 20 days written notice.
The landlord cannot use just cause termination in retaliation for a tenant asserting their rights under landlord-tenant law or calling in a complaint with code enforcement. Seattle tenants experiencing retaliation can contact the SDCI at 206-684-5700. This does not include tenants on leases, whose tenancy ends when the lease ends unless otherwise stated in the lease. Seek legal assistance as soon as possible if you are facing eviction in the City of Seattle. If you have defenses in an eviction lawsuit, you may be able to secure an attorney to represent you in court. Tenants in Seattle who are facing eviction can contact the Legal Action Center or the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project.
The most commonly used just cause reasons given to month-to-month tenants in Seattle are:
1) Failure to pay rent or comply with rules of the rental agreement. Tenants must respond within the time period. If they do not, the landlord has a just cause reason to initiate an eviction action. For more detailed information on eviction notices and the eviction process, see Eviction.
2) Rent is consistently paid late. The JCEO states that the owner has just cause to evict a tenant if the tenant receives four or more 14-day notices to pay rent or vacate in a 12-month period. If the landlord is relying on this just cause to terminate tenancy, they must issue the tenant a 20-day termination notice prior to beginning the eviction process.
3) The tenant regularly does not comply with the rules of the rental agreement. The landlord has just cause to evict a tenant who receives three or more 10-day notices in a 12-month period. It is very important for tenants to respond in writing to all 10-day notices they receive from the landlord and provide as much documentation as possible that they are in compliance with the rules of their tenancy. The landlord cannot serve these notices in a retaliatory manner. If the landlord is relying on this just cause to terminate tenancy, they must issue the tenant a 20-day termination notice prior to beginning the eviction process. For more information on the eviction process and your rights against retaliation, see Eviction.
4) The landlord intends to occupy the unit themselves or rent it to an immediate family member. In order to use this just cause reason, there must not be another comparable unit available in the building. Immediate family is considered a domestic partner, spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling or child. If the landlord uses this just cause reason to end the tenancy, the tenant is entitled to 20 days written notice before the day that rent is due. The landlord or landlord’s family member must occupy the unit for at least 60 consecutive days during the 90 day period after the tenant moves out. If the landlord or their family member does not occupy the unit for those 60 consecutive days, the tenant may file a complaint with the SDCI and may pursue the landlord for damages up to $2000 in Small Claims Court or other appropriate court.
5) The owner decides to sell a single family dwelling unit. Seattle tenants living in single family dwelling units that are being put up for sale are entitled to 60 days written notice before the end of a rental period. Single family dwelling units are houses designed to hold a single family, not apartment buildings, duplexes, or triplexes. Within the 30 days after the tenant leaves, the landlord must take action to list and show the unit. The landlord must continue to try to sell the unit for 90 days after they first listed and showed the unit. If the landlord does not go through with these steps as described in the JCEO, the tenant may file a complaint with the SDCI and may pursue the landlord for damages up to $2000 in Small Claims Court or other appropriate court. If you’re a month-to-month Seattle tenant living in a non-single family dwelling unit, the sale of the property is not considered a just cause reason for termination. In an apartment or condo sale, the tenancy will be transferred to the new owner. For more information, contact the SDCI.
Read the SMC 22.206.160 (C) for the complete list of just cause reasons. The SDCI is responsible for regulating and enforcing the JCEO in Seattle. If a notice is issued to a tenant improperly, the SDCI has the authority to rescind the notice. The SDCI can be reached by phone at 206-684-5700.
Tenants Union Tenant Counselors are not attorneys, and this information should not be considered legal advice. Please read our full Tenant Union Disclaimer.