The Eviction Process in Washington: Rules for Landlords and Property Managers

An overview of Washington eviction rules, forms, and procedures.

A landlord can evict a tenant in Washington for any number of reasons, most commonly for not paying rent or for violating the lease or rental agreement. The first step in any eviction is to terminate the lease or rental agreement. Typically, the landlord can do this by giving the tenant notice. The type of notice needed will be determined by the reason for the eviction.

This article will explain the rules and procedures a landlord must follow when evicting a tenant in Washington.

Notice for Termination With Cause

To evict a tenant, a landlord must first terminate the tenancy. To terminate a tenancy early, the landlord must have cause, or a legal reason. Not paying rent, violating the lease or rental agreement, or committing an illegal act are all cause for eviction. When terminating a tenancy early for one of these reasons, the landlord must first give the tenant notice. The type of notice will vary depending on the cause for eviction.

  • Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit: If the tenant fails to pay rent when it is due, then the landlord can give the tenant a three-day notice to pay rent or quit. This notice must inform the tenant that the tenant has three days to either pay rent or move out of the rental unit. If the tenant does not do this, then the landlord can terminate the tenancy and file an eviction lawsuit at the end of the three days (see  Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 59.12.030(3)).
  • Ten-Day Notice to Cure or Quit: If the tenant violates the lease or rental agreement, then the landlord can give the tenant a ten-day notice to cure or quit. This notice must inform the tenant that the tenant has ten days to remedy the violation or move out of the rental unit. If the tenant does not do this, then the landlord can terminate the tenancy and file an eviction lawsuit at the end of the ten days (see  Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 59.12.030(4)).
  • Unconditional Quit Notice: If the tenant does serious damage to the rental unit, commits an illegal act on the premises, or causes a nuisance on the premises of the rental unit, then the landlord can give the tenant a three-day unconditional quit notice. This notice must inform the tenant that the tenant has three days to move out of the rental unit, with no opportunity to remedy the bad behavior. If the tenant does not move out of the rental unit by the end of the three days, then the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit against the tenant (see  Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 59.12.030(5)).

Notice for Termination Without Cause

If a landlord does not have cause to evict a tenant, then the landlord must wait until the end of the tenancy before expecting the tenant to move. In some cases, the landlord may still need to give the tenant written notice to move.

Month-to-Month Tenancy

If a tenant has a month-to-month tenancy and the landlord wants to end the tenancy, then the landlord must give the tenant a written 20-day notice. This notice must inform the tenant that the tenancy will end in 20 days, and the tenant has that long to move out of the rental unit. If the tenant does not move out of the rental unit by the end of the 20 days, then the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit against the tenant (see  Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 59.18.200).Washington Notice Requirements to Terminate a Month-to-Month Tenancy  has more information.

Fixed-Term Lease

If a tenant has a fixed-term lease, such as for six months or one year, and the landlord wants to end the tenancy at the end of the term, then the landlord does not need to do anything except wait. There is no need for the landlord to give the tenant notice, unless the lease or rental agreement specifically requires it. Otherwise, the landlord can expect the tenant to move by the end of the term.

Tenant Eviction Defenses

Even if the landlord has a valid legal cause to evict a tenant, the tenant may still choose to fight the eviction. The tenant could have a valid defense, including the landlord discriminating against the tenant or the landlord failing to maintain the premises. By fighting the eviction, the tenant could delay the eviction and remain in the rental unit longer.  Tenant Defenses to Evictions in Washington  has more information.

Removal of the Tenant

A landlord can only legally remove a tenant from a rental unit by winning an eviction lawsuit. Even then, a law enforcement officer is the only person actually authorized to remove the tenant. Washington law has made it illegal for a landlord to attempt to remove a tenant through force, or otherwise, from a rental unit.  Illegal Eviction Procedures in Washington  has more information on illegal evictions.

The landlord may find that the tenant has left personal property at the rental unit after the tenant moved out. What the landlord does with the personal property depends upon its value.

If the personal property is worth more than $250, then the landlord must notify the tenant in writing that the landlord will either sell or dispose of the property in 30 days. The tenant will then have 30 days to claim the property. If the tenant does not claim the property in 30 days, then the landlord can proceed to either sell or dispose of it.

If the personal property is worth $250 or less, then the landlord must provide the tenant with a seven-day notice. This notice must inform the tenant that the tenant has seven days to claim the property or the landlord will sell it or dispose of it.

In both situations, the landlord can charge the tenant the cost of storage (see  Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 59.18.312).

Rationale for the Rules

Landlords must carefully follow all the rules and procedures required by Washington law when evicting a tenant; otherwise, the eviction may not be valid. Although these rules and procedures may seem burdensome to the landlord, they are there for a reason. Evictions often occur very quickly, and the end result is serious: the tenant has lost a place to live. The rules help ensure the eviction is justified and that the tenant has enough time to find a new home.

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