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Termination of Tenancy

A termination of tenancy is different from an eviction. A termination is the landlord formally ending the rental agreement and asking the tenant to vacate the rental unit. A tenant can have their tenancy terminated and move out without being evicted. An eviction is the actual court process and lawsuit to have a tenant removed from the property if they fail to leave. An eviction lawsuit and a court order signed by a judge are required before a tenant can be removed from their home. In court an eviction is called an "unlawful detainer" action and the eviction court order is called a "writ of restitution" which is served on the county sheriff who is ordered to remove the tenant and their belongings and secure the unit for the landlord.

20-day notices are illegal in Washington State, with very few exceptions! Termination of tenancy is governed by RCW 59.18.650 for tenants in all parts of Washington. Tenants within the city limits of Seattle are additionally covered by Seattle’s Just Cause ordinance (SMC 22.205.210).

All month-to-month tenants in Washington are now protected under Just Cause eviction laws, which require a landlord to give a lawful reason for the termination. There are 16 enumerated causes named in the state law for which a landlord can terminate the tenancy and the notice must state which of the causes is the basis to terminate the contract. Tenants who live on a fixed term lease who's initial lease is longer than six months are exempt from the state Just Cause and can be served a no cause notice of non-renewal 60 days before the end of the lease term and must vacate or be evicted for no cause EXCEPT for tenants who live in Seattle, Federal Way, Kenmore and unincorporated King County where local ordinances give just cause protection to all tenants regardless of the type of rental contract they have.

If you receive a notice that gives a reason for your termination, but the information is not true (for example, it accuses you of things you have not done or claims your landlord intends to sell or remodel the property and you do not believe this to be true), you should seek legal help right away.

For more information:

Washington Law Help: Landlords must give “good” reason to end a tenancy or not renew a lease”.

Renting In Seattle: Seattle’s Just Cause Eviction Ordinance

Federal Way Good Cause Eviction Ordinance

King County Code (Just Cause protections for renters in Unicorporated King County, outside any city limits but within King County)

Washington Law Help: My landlord just gave me a 20-day notice

Landlords cannot terminate tenancies for reasons that are discriminatory or retaliatory. Retaliation is illegal in Washington State (RCW.59.240, RCW 59.18.250), as is discrimination on the basis of any protected class status, such as race, gender or disability. However, it can still be extremely difficult to win a retaliation or discrimination claim, and still may not be enough to stop an eviction lawsuit from proceeding. Be sure to get as much written documentation as possible. Discrimination laws are governed by fair housing laws in your area. For more information, talk to your local civil rights office. See Fair Housing Resources for more information.

Tenants Union Tenant Counselors are not attorneys, and this information should not be considered legal advice. Please read our full Tenant Union Disclaimer.