Washington landlords must follow specific rules and procedures when evicting a tenant (see the article How Evictions Work: What Renters Need to Know, on this site). The state forbids landlords from taking the law into their own hands. Examples of illegal “self-help” evictions include changing the locks, removing the front door, or turning off the heat or electricity—all of which may be the basis for a tenant suing a landlord. A court in Washington may award a tenant actual damages for a landlord violation of state eviction laws. For utility shut-offs only, a court in Washington may award a tenant actual damages and up to $100 per day of no utility service. In addition, a court may award costs and fees to the prevailing party.
If you decide to sue your landlord for an illegal eviction, check Washington law (you’ll find Washington rules prohibiting self-help evictions at Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 59.18.300). See the Laws and Legal Research section of this site for advice on finding and reading statutes.
It’s also a good idea to get advice from a local tenants’ rights group in Washington. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website includes information on tenant advocates for each state. See http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/rental_assistance/tenantrights for details.
Finally, consider consulting an experienced tenants’ lawyer. See the article Tips on Hiring and Working With Lawyers on this site for advice.
For a wide range of other articles of interest to tenants, see the Renters’ and Tenants’ Rights section on this site.