Legal FAQs for Renters in Washington

This page has local legal information on residential (not commercial) renters’ issues. It is not legal advice, and you should check with your local legal aid and courts for current information.

This page was last updated on May 17th, 2024. It was reviewed by our volunteer attorney experts.

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Problem with your Landlord?

What if I need repairs to my rental home in Washington?

Tell your landlord about any repairs needed, particularly if they affect your health and safety.

You should call your landlord to make the repairs as soon as possible.

Emergency repairs could be for problems with:

  • Running water or hot water

  • Heat

  • Stove, refrigerator, or oven

  • Electricity

  • Bathroom use

  • Missing doors, locks, or windows

  • Pests

If your landlord doesn't make the repairs promptly, send them a written letter or email about the need for emergency repairs (and keep a copy of this communication).

Reach out for legal help for additional guidance.

What do I do if my landlord tries to evict me in Washington?

Contact a legal help organization to help defend yourself.

It is illegal for your landlord to evict you without first going to court and getting an eviction order. To remove you from your home, a landlord must take you to court by filing an eviction lawsuit, win the case, and getting an eviction order from the court.

Legal aid groups might be able to provide you with full representation, or other legal organizations can give you information or brief advice.

Find legal help to protect your rights.

Can I break my rental home lease in Washington?

You may be able to break your lease if you can come to an agreement with your landlord.

You can talk to your landlord to see if they will agree to let you leave early. If they agree, be sure to get the agreement in writing.

Also, you can review your lease. It may have a part that lets you end the lease early in times of financial difficulty. If your lease has this kind of part, you might be able to break the lease (in some cases penalty-free).

Find legal help to get advice for your situation.

Behind on Rent?

Can a landlord apply for their renter, to get rental assistance?

Most Rental Assistance programs let landlords apply.

Either a renter or a landlord can start the application.

The landlord will have to fill in as much information they have about the amount of money needed, and the eligibility for the program. The tenant may have to fill in the rest of the information.

Check with your local Rental Assistance program about the steps to follow to apply for rent relief.

Am I eligible for rent relief?

Local governments set the rules about who is eligible for rent relief. Most programs focus on people who have suffered COVID-19 hardships.

You can talk to your local Rental Assistance program to learn their eligibility rules.

You may have to show your household income, or if you are on other benefits programs like SNAP.

You may also have to show that you are at risk of homelessness or eviction if you don't get rental assistance.

Check with your local Rental Assistance program to see if you are eligible.

Does immigration status matter for rent relief?

Many local Rental Assistance programs are open to everyone, regardless of immigration status. Many programs do not even ask about immigration status.

Check with your local Rental Assistance program to make sure about eligibility rules and immigration.

Who can help me with rent that I owe?

If you are behind on rent, you can get help from your local Rental Assistance program. This is a government service to help people who owe rent or utility bills.

Especially if you are behind on rent because of COVID-19 hardships, your local Rental Assistance (or Rent Relief) program can help you.

Find your local Rental Assistance program at your Get Help page here.

Received a Warning Notice about Eviction?

My eviction notice says that I will be evicted unless I pay back-rent I owe in Washington state. What if I can't afford to pay it?

You still have time to reach out for rental assistance, and stop the eviction from moving forward. Be sure to let the local group know that you have received an eviction notice and what its deadline is. They may be able to help you pay the rent you owe, or work with your landlord to reduce the amount or put you on a payment plan. Find local financial help in Washington here.

What if the landlord has just told me, face-to-face or over the phone, that I need to leave my home in Washington state?

A verbal conversation doesn't count as an "eviction notice". To be legal, the notice must be written down and given to you in the correct way.

Reach out for legal help if your landlord is trying to make you leave without going through the court process. This is illegal and a lawyer may be able to help you protect yourself.

Find local legal help in Washington here.

Do I have to leave my home by the time of the eviction notice's expiration date in Washington state?

No, you do not have to leave (or 'vacate') your home by the date listed on the eviction notice.

You do not have to leave your home until you have been brought to court, and a judge has ordered that your landlord can make you leave. Remaining in the home after the time in the notice expires raises the chances that a landlord will file an eviction in court to remove you.

After the date on the eviction notice passes, then your landlord may file an eviction lawsuit in court against you. You will be able to go to court and present defenses to protect yourself.

Find local legal help in Washington here.

How long do I have after I receive an eviction notice to pay back the rent to stop the eviction in Washington state?

If the eviction is for nonpayment of rent then you have a minimum of 14 days between your landlord giving you a notice and them filing a lawsuit against you in court to evict you. Other notices have shorter time frames, for things like violating the lease or causing a nuisance.

*The city of Seattle allows you to pay overdue rent in installments.

The notice should tell you how many days the landlord is giving you. If they are giving you less than 14 days, then you may be able to challenge it as illegal.

Reach out for legal help if you think the notice isn't giving you the required time to make your payment.

Find local legal help in Washington here.

My landlord gave me a notice to "pay or quit" my rental home in Washington state. What should I do?

You do not have to leave your home yet. Landlords can not physically remove you, touch your personal property, change the locks, or cut off your utilities.

In Washington, your landlord must give you an official notice that they may bring you to court to evict you for not paying your rent (or other reasons). The notice should give you time to either pay your rent or prepare defenses against eviction.

This official notice must follow some rules to be valid. If it doesn't follow these rules, then you can challenge it and stop an eviction.

These are the Washington requirements for an eviction notice:

  1. The notice must be written down.

  2. It has to be signed and dated by the owner/landlord.

  3. It must explain why you may be evicted -- whether it is for non-payment of rent, a lease violation, or other reason.

  4. It has to say exactly how much rent you owe, as well as the address you can pay it at or mail it to.

  5. The notice must have the dates the overdue rent is for.

  6. It has to say that this rent must be fully paid within 14 days of receiving this notice or you must move out.

Reach out for legal help if you think the notice isn't correct, or if you need assistance in defending yourself against the eviction.

Find local legal help in Washington here.

Facing an Eviction Lawsuit?

My landlord has filed an eviction lawsuit against me in court in Washington state. What should I do?

You should make sure that the landlord properly 'served' you with the lawsuit. If they didn't give it to you in the correct way, you can challenge the eviction lawsuit. In Washington, a landlord must follow certain rules to let you know about the lawsuit:

  1. Only certain people can give you the lawsuit's Summons and Complaint. The landlord can not give you these papers - it has to be a person not involved in the case, like the sheriff, his deputy, or any competent person over 18.
  2. The notice has to be given to you personally, or left with a member of your household that is of age.
  3. The landlord has to try this 3 times over 2 days, and if they can’t reach you, they can post the notice on your door or mail it to you.

You should also reach out to local lawyers who can help you prepare for your court hearing so you can protect yourself against the eviction. Find local legal help in Washington here.

Can I settle my eviction case without going to court in Washington?

You can come to an agreement with your landlord, but you should still go to court to make sure your case is closed.

You can work with your landlord to work out an agreement before the date of the court hearing. This might be a payment plan or other agreement on what needs to happen for you to stay in your home.

Be sure to get this agreement in writing, so that you can prove it exists and that your landlord follows through on it.

Also, you should still go to court for your hearing date, to make sure the court knows about the agreement and closes the lawsuit. If you do not go to court, the lawsuit might still continue and the judge might rule that the landlord can remove you. Go to court yourself to make sure this doesn't happen.

You can reach out for legal help to get assistance in negotiating an agreement with your landlord, and making sure this agreement is being followed.

Find local legal help in Washington here.

Do I have to do anything after I get an eviction Summons and Complaint in Washington state?

In Washington, you are required to respond to the eviction lawsuit, if you want to avoid the eviction.

You will have 20 days after you receive the Summons and Complaint to get a written response back to the court. If you do not submit this response by the 20th day, you may lose your case and the judge may give the landlord permission to remove you from your home.

Reach out to legal help to learn what your rights and defenses are in your eviction case. These organizations can help you deal with this lawsuit.

Find local legal help in Washington here.

Emergency Protections during COVID

Do I still have to pay rent in Washington during COVID-19?

Yes, Washington renters still need to pay rent during the emergency. Landlords cannot charge late fees for unpaid rent, that renters missed between February 29, 2020 and July 31, 2021. Also check with your local city or county government to see if they give renters any additional protections if they are struggling to pay rent during the emergency. If you cannot pay rent, take steps to protect yourself:

  • Apply for Rent Relief: If you need financial assistance for housing costs like rent or utility bills, you may be able to get help.
  • Ask your landlord for a reasonable Rent Repayment Plan: The Governor's order requires a landlord to offer renters a reasonable payment plan if they cannot afford their rent. This must be specific to each individual renter. (link) Get help here for drafting and mailing a letter to your landlord. You can also use this letter-writing tool here.
  • Get written records of all communication: Keep copies of any letter or email you send, and any responses from the landlord. Keep receipts for any payments you make. If you make a payment plan or rent agreement, make sure to get it in writing.
  • Keep proof of COVID-19's impact on you: Collect documents about your COVID-19-related employment problems, health care issues, or other issues that affect your ability to pay rent. This includes letters from your employer, doctor, insurance provider, child care provider, schools, etc. (link)
What do the protections mean for Washington renters?

Washington's protections mean that after June 30, 2021:

  1. Your landlord can give you a notice telling you to move out.

  2. Your landlord can file an eviction claim in court against you.

  3. Hearings on eviction are going forward, and the court may hear an existing eviction case that had been filed against you.

  4. Courts can issue orders and writs for eviction.

  5. Law enforcement can enforce an eviction order against you, to remove you from your home.

Do Washington renters have special protections against eviction during COVID-19?

Washington's statewide eviction moratorium for renters has expired.

Landlords may now sue tenants in court to try to evict them.

Earlier Protections

Earlier, Washington Governor Jay Inslee had issued an eviction moratorium.pdf?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery) that prohibited landlords from evicting most renters through June 30, 2021.

The order had prohibited late fees or raising the rent during this period. It also requires landlords to offer reasonable repayment plans when non-payment was due to COVID-19 related hardship. Exceptions to this moratorium include when the landlord can show eviction was necessary due to health or safety concerns or if the landlord seeks to sell or personally occupy the property.

Washington renters also had some later protections, that have expired:

  1. If you owed rent from Feb. 29, 2020 through July 31, 2021, your landlord could not evict you until there is an operational rental assistance program and eviction resolution program in place in your county.

  2. Landlords could not sue you for your unpaid rent or other charges until you both have the opportunity to go through an eviction resolution pilot program.

Are eviction cases still proceeding through Washington courts?

Eviction cases are proceeding again in Washington courts.

Check with the Washington State Courts to find updates on your local court's proceedings.

Can my utilities be shut off during COVID-19 in Washington?

Now that the emergency period ended, renters in Washington may have their utilities shut off if they do not make timely payments.

During the emergency, Washington renters were protected from utility shutoffs if they could not pay their utility bills.

Governor Inslee ordered.pdf?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery) all energy, landline telephone, and water utility providers to continue services for residents during the emergency period. No customer should have home utilities shut off during the emergency, based on an inability to pay.

The utility companies were also not allowed to charge late fees for unpaid bills during the emergency period.

If you need financial assistance for utility costs, you may be able to get help.

Landlords are never allowed to shut off a renter's utilities in an attempt to force the renter out. This is illegal. Reach out to a lawyer for help if this happens to you.

Can my landlord evict me during COVID-19 in Washington?

Washington renters can be evicted from their homes since the statewide moratorium expired on June 30, 2021.

If you receive a notice to quit from your landlord, or an eviction lawsuit, reach out for legal help.

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