An eviction process in Washington is also known as an "unlawful detainer action." The eviction process can differ from county to county, but they more or less are the same:
- Send a clear written notice
- Fill out the forms
- Serve the documents
- Attend the trial
- Wait for judgment
This article details a summary for a landlord to refer to when evicting a tenant. Alternatively, a landlord can ask an attorney for legal advice and for more information on Washington eviction law and landlord-tenant rights. Attorney fees may vary.
Union tenant counselors may also be available for consultation, but they are not to be considered as attorneys. They can keep a landlord up to date on the court process and on basic information about how to take action against difficult tenants.
Evictions always begin with an eviction notice. This is a form that is filled out by the landlord. The notice must detail the tenant's violation and whether or not a tenant can fix the issue.
1. Failure to pay rent or non-payment of rent
The most common reason for eviction is the failure to make a timely rent payment. A landlord can evict a tenant for failing to pay the rent due.
Rent is considered late in Washington a day past its due. However, a grace period that gives more time to pay rent due may be available if indicated in the lease/rental agreement.
Late fees can also be charged on top of rent payments if the lease indicates it.
Before landlords can start with the eviction action for not paying rent, landlords must provide the tenant a form called a 14-Day Notice to Pay or Vacate. This notice to pay or vacate must inform the renters that they are required to move out of the property or pay the rent in 14 days in order to avoid eviction.
If tenants who are being evicted for failing to pay rent on time manage to pay all rental payments in full to the landlord before the 14 days are up, the entire eviction process stops and they can continue staying within the rental premises.
2. Violation of the lease/rental agreement
A lease agreement can vary between tenants. Landlords and tenants are required to uphold the terms of the lease agreement at all times.
The landlord can evict the tenant for a lease violation. The landlord must provide the tenant a 10-Day Notice to Comply, which gives the tenant 10 days to fix the issue.
Lease violations include:
- Damage to the rental unit
- Smoking in non-smoking areas
- Material health/safety violations
- Too many people are living inside the rental unit
- Housing a pet in a pet-free rental unit or rental premises, etc.
The landlord may continue filing for an eviction lawsuit if the tenant fails to resolve the issue and remains inside the rental unit after the given number of days.
However, there are some lease violations that are deemed “non-curable.” These non-curable violations require a 3-Day Notice to Quit. Tenants cannot fix the violation and are required to move out by the end of 3 days.
Non-curable lease violations include:
- Engaging in criminal activity
- Being a nuisance on the rental property
- Hosting an illegal or unlawful business
- Creating harmful waste
In the case of illegal activity, a landlord is not legally obligated to give tenants a written notice. A landlord may proceed directly to the next step in the eviction process.
Illegal activity includes:
- Physical assault that leads to an arrest
- Possession and/or firing of an illegal firearm
- Involvement in the creation, distribution, or consumption of a controlled substance
A landlord must not hesitate to contact the national domestic violence hotline if a situation escalates and goes out of control.
3. Non-renewal of lease after the end of the rental period
A Washington eviction process does not allow a landlord to evict tenants without good cause. As long as the tenant does not violate any rules, they can stay until their rental period ends.
However, tenants can be evicted if they stay in the property even a day after their written lease ends (and have not arranged for a renewal).
This type of notice usually only applies if the landlord wants to end the tenant's lease. The required notice time given to tenants is 20 days regardless of their tenancy type.
Should the tenant remain in the rental premises even after their notice period ends, the landlord may continue to file an eviction lawsuit in order to evict the tenant from the property.
Filing a Complaint
After the notice period has passed, landlords may start to file for an unlawful detainer action to begin an eviction lawsuit. Successful evictions rely on correct filings, so the landlord must file all the forms correctly.
1. Steps in filing
- Proceed to the Superior court the rental property belongs to
- Fill out the forms
- Pay the filing fees. Filing fees can go as high as $197, split into a payment plan. A common payment plan is once after filing, and the second after the tenant files an answer or a landlord requests an Order to Show Cause. More payment plans may be arranged at court.
It takes between 3-20 days before a landlord can file a complaint. This depends on the notice given to the tenant.
Serving the Tenant
The Summons and Complaint must be served to the tenant. The landlord must not serve this document themselves. The document should contain information such as the date and time of the court trial.
Washington law allows a sheriff, deputy, or anyone over the age of 18 who is uninvolved in the case to serve the document. It has to be delivered at least 2 days before the eviction hearing is scheduled.
1. How to serve documents to a tenant
The summons and its corresponding documents have to be served through one of the following methods:
- Personal Service: The Summons and Complaint is served on the tenant in person
- Substituted Service: If the tenant is unavailable and personal service cannot be conducted, a copy of the Summons and Complaint may be left at the tenant's place of residence or rental unit with someone who is of a “suitable age.”
- Mailing Service: The server mails the documents via first-class mail. When using this method of service, a copy is also left with someone else who lives in the same mailing address.
2. After serving the Summons and Complaint
In the state of Washington, people being evicted are required to file a written answer within 7-30 days from the date the Summons and Complaint was issued by the Superior court. The actual date varies depending on the court’s availability.
Once tenants file their answer, a hearing for evictions is scheduled by the Superior court. Should the tenants fail to file an answer, the judicial officer will issue judgment in favor of the landlord without scheduling an eviction hearing.
The Summons and Complaint must be served within a few days to a few weeks after issuance. Tenants have 7-30 days to file an answer.
Asking for Possession
1. Filing a Motion to Obtain Judgment and get a Judgment for Possession
A landlord has to provide a strong argument backed up by solid evidence against their tenant in order to win evictions. Should the tenant fail to show up to the hearing or fail to file an answer, the landlord will win by default.
2. Next procedure if the tenant disagreed and filed an answer
During the court hearing, the landlord has to support their claim with evidence and show it to the judge. This includes, but is not limited by the following:
- Copy of the deed and the lease/rental agreement
- Rent receipts
- Rent ledgers
- Bank statements
- Witness statements
- Photo and video documentation of the violations committed by the tenant
There is no definite timeframe for a hearing to be scheduled by the court.
There is no definite timeframe for an eviction hearing to be held. It could take a few days to a few weeks after the tenant filed their answer, depending on the Superior court’s availability.
1. After the landlord wins the case and gets a Writ of Restitution
Once the landlord wins the case and provided the tenant does not file for an appeal or reconsideration, the court will issue a Writ of Restitution upon the landlord's request.
The Writ of Restitution is a court order which informs the tenant that they must move out of their housing on the property or else they will be forcibly evicted.
2. Move out process
This final step in the eviction process is to move the tenant out of their housing on the property. Washington laws dictate that a tenant has 3-5 days to move out of the property depending on the reason for eviction.
If the tenant is being evicted for failure to pay timely rent, they have 5 days to move out upon posting of the Writ of Restitution. For all other reasons, the tenant has 3 days only to move out.
Should the tenant fail to move out on their own by the end of their moving out period, law enforcement officials may forcibly evict them from the property. A landlord cannot engage in a self-help eviction.
The Writ of Restitution is issued within a few hours to a few days of the landlord winning the case. The tenant has 3-5 days to move out of the property once the Writ is posted.
Washington Eviction Process Timeline
On average, it takes 1 month to 3 months for a complete eviction process in Washington.
1. How to keep good records
If the tenant disagrees with the eviction request and they reply to the court, it’s important that you keep extremely good records of everything so you can provide proof to the judge and win your case. This part can make or break your entire eviction request in the event of a dispute.
You can stay organized by:
- Keeping a physical paper trail - This gets VERY hard to search through, takes up a lot of storage space, and could get lost, damaged, stolen, or burnt in a fire.
- Scanning documents - Scan every document into your computer. A great scanner is the Brother ADS-1700W for under $200 or the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX1500 for $400.
- Backups - Store and backup every file using Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or any other option that is easily searchable and can be easily stored in a safe place.
- PMS - Use a property management software to save everything from lease agreements, signed documents, violations, emails, notes, invoices, payments, reminders, maintenance requests, pictures, videos, and anything you can imagine. This is used best when you also scan every document into your software.
2. Evidence to show for not paying rent
If the tenant doesn’t pay rent, and they dispute that claim, it’s important that you show the judge the following:
- Your lease agreement - Showing the terms of the agreement, when rent is due, and any penalties for late payment could be useful for showing the court specifically what was violated.
- All payments - Showing all previous payments, how they were normally made (check, credit card, ACH, etc…), and what date they were normally paid on.
- Any payment returns - If their check bounced, their bank account had insufficient funds, or they did a chargeback dispute on their credit card, show this to the Judge. Also, show any fees your bank may have charged you, and any penalties you are owed according to your lease agreement.
- All messages - If you sent your tenant automated or manual payment reminders by text, email, letter, or mail, it’s important to show this. While it’s usually not needed, it’s still good to show that they were aware of the situation and were given time to cure and make payment. This is why it’s always best to have everything in writing instead of any phone calls or face-to-face meetings.
3. Evidence to show for lease violations
If you are evicting the tenant for lease violations, for example, noise complaints, unauthorized pets, or property damages, it’s important to show proof from any of the following methods:
- Security Cameras - If you have a surveillance system that can show them committing the crime or lease violation, it’s safe to say you will normally win this dispute.
- Video - If you didn’t catch them in the act, the next best thing is to record a video with your phone of any damages or the lease violation.
- Pictures - They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, a picture could be worth thousands of dollars! Even if you take a video, it’s important to show the Judge any pictures too as it’s usually easier to see by email or printed.
- Lease Terms - Once again, show the court which term they violated in their lease agreement. Don’t worry if you don’t have every single term spelled out in your rental agreement. If the violation is bad enough, it might not be needed to have it written. Just in case, it may be worthwhile to specify all of these terms in future agreements.
Can I force a tenant to move out in Washington?
No. Landlords can be sued for forceful evictions because it is against the law. Consequences can include paying actual damages, costs and fees, and up to $100 dollars per day the landlord shuts off utilities.
The tenant can only be removed from a rental unit after the landlord has successfully gone through with the eviction process. Even then, the only person authorized to remove the tenant is a sheriff or constable. Many states have made it illegal for a landlord to personally remove the tenant from the rental unit.
What is a self-help eviction?
Examples of illegal “self-help” evictions include changing the locks, taking the tenant’s belongings, removing the front door, or turning off the heat or electricity. Many states specify how much money a tenant can sue for if the landlord has tried to illegally evict the tenant through some sort of self-help measure. Washington state law also provides for tenant's court costs and attorneys' fees (if the tenant successfully sues the landlord) and/or give the tenant the right to stay in the rental unit.
What are the potential penalties for a self-help eviction?
According to Washington Civil Code, you may be liable for Tenant’s Court Costs & Attorneys’ Fees. The statute also gives the tenant the right to stay.
A tenant can sue you for actual damages plus violations. Tenants may ask for an injunction prohibiting any further violation during the court action.
What other laws should I be aware of?
A landlord must be aware of an update regarding COVID-19 Eviction Policies. Due to COVID-19, there may be an eviction moratorium as dictated by Governor Inslee. Gov. Inslee may have also made announcements regarding rent relief efforts (such as putting a hold on late fees) to help Washington tenants who are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Landlords must also check out information about laws on Security Deposits in accordance with Washington state law so that they understand how it can help them in case tenants are unable to make rent payments or repairs.
It will also be helpful to read up on more information on the Landlord-Tenant Act. It may be found within the revised code of Washington, which contains information on all the state laws. Revisions to the law may have been made in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Brik At Law: The Definitive Guide to Evicting a Tenant in Washington State
- eForms: Washington Eviction Notice Forms
- iProperty Management: Washington Eviction Process
- National Apartment Association: COVID-19 Information for Washington
- NOLO: Consequences of Illegal Evictions
- NOLO: Washington Security Deposit Limits and Deadlines