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Also in Eviction & Termination
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.
Landlord Illegal Acts
- Self-help evictions are illegal (RCW 59.18.290). The removal of a tenant from a rental property cannot be done by the landlord without a court order. Evictions must be ordered by the court and must be served by a county sheriff, who will also oversee the removal of the tenant from the property if they have not already vacated. Tenants who are being illegally removed from a property can call the police.
- Lockouts are illegal (RCW 59.18.290). Landlords cannot restrict tenants from access to the unit by changing the locks, even if the tenant is in the midst of an unlawful detainer lawsuit or has a writ of restitution issued against them. If illegally locked out, the tenant has a right to regain access to the unit, but must pay for the cost of any damages they do to the unit in order to regain access. Tenants who are being illegally removed from a property can call the police.
- Utility shutoffs are illegal (RCW 59.18.300). The intentional shutoff of a tenant’s utility services, except for short periods of time in order to fix problems, is illegal in Washington State. The tenant may recover up to $100 a day or portion of day they are without utilities and actual damages in Small Claims Court.
- Taking or keeping tenant property in lieu of rental payments is illegal (RCW 59.18.230). It is not legal for a landlord to take a tenant’s property to cover the cost of rent or other money owed. The tenant can write a letter to the landlord demanding the return of the property. If it is not returned, they can sue for the value of the property retained, actual damages, and if the landlord intentionally refused to return the property, up to $500 a day for every day they are without their property, up to a total of $5000.
- Terminations of tenancy and rent increases that are retaliatory or discriminatory are illegal (RCW.59.240, RCW 59.18.250). Retaliation against tenants who assert their rights under landlord-tenant law is prohibited under the landlord-tenant act. A court may find that the landlord illegally retaliated against the tenant if the landlord took a negative action against the tenant within 90 days after the tenant has asserted their rights under landlord-tenant law. For example, it may be considered retaliation for a landlord to serve a notice for nonpayment of rent when the tenant is fully paid up in rent in response to a tenant who asks for a repair to be made. However, it can still be extremely difficult to prove and may not be enough to stop an eviction lawsuit from proceeding. Be sure to get as much written documentation as possible. Retaliation can be raised as a defense in your written answer as well, and can be raised verbally in court as well.
Likewise, terminations motivated by discrimination are illegal as well and can be raised as a defense to an eviction lawsuit. Discrimination can be very difficult to prove and may not stop an eviction action from moving forward. Discrimination laws are governed by fair housing laws in your area. For more information, talk to your local civil rights organization. See Fair Housing Resources for more details.