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).
Because rent control is illegal in Washington State (RCW 35.21.830) landlords can raise the rent as much as they want as long as they comply with the appropriate notice period and have not issued the notice to discriminate or retaliate against the tenant.
Rent increases go into effect in the first full month following the notice of the increase. For instance, if your rent is due on the first of the month, and your landlord gives 60 days written notice of a rent increase on the 15th of September, the new rent amount will not go into effect until December 1st. If your landlord gave you notice of a rent increase in the middle of the month, the rent increase will go into effect the first of the month following the 60-day notice period. A tenant paying a rent increase without 60 days notice generally indicates their agreement to accept the increase without the proper written notice.
If you have been given less than the required amount of notice, you can contest an improper rent increase. See our Sample Letter: Improper Rent Increase or Rule Change. However, a rent increase without proper notice may not be adequate defense against an eviction. Tenants who are not given proper notice may still decide to pay the rent increase (if they are able to) in order to avoid the possibility that the landlord files an eviction against them. If your landlord does not acknowledge their legal obligations to provide proper notice and instead serves you a 14-day pay or vacate notice, a tenant can pay the rent increase by writing “payment under protest” on their check. The tenant can then pursue the difference owed from the improper rent increase in Small Claims Court.
Some tenants will choose not to pay the increase at all and just pay their regular amount. The risk is that the tenant could end up in eviction court for nonpayment of rent after service of the 14-day pay or vacate notice, and may not necessarily win in court. This can be a risky choice, because whenever a landlord files an eviction lawsuit against a tenant, it creates a permanent record of eviction regardless if the tenant wins.
Tenants Union Tenant Counselors are not attorneys, and this information should not be considered legal advice. Please read our full Tenant Union Disclaimer.