5 Tenants' Rights in Washington State

An Overview of Federal, State and Local Laws

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Tenants' Rights in Washington. Andresr/E+/Getty Images

Tenants in Washington state are protected under the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), which is the compilation of all permanent laws now in force. Learn five rights of tenants in Washington. 

1. The Right to Fair Housing in Washington

All Washington tenants have the right to be treated equally in housing matters. These rights are protected by the Federal Fair Housing Act, the Statewide Fair Housing Act and several local fair housing laws.

Federal Fair Housing Act:
Under this nationwide act, the following groups of people are protected from discrimination

Washington State Fair Housing Law:
Under Washington’s own Fair Housing Act, the following four additional classes of people are protected,

  • Gender Identity
  • Marital Status
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Veteran/Military Status

City of Seattle Fair Housing Law: 
In Seattle, the seven original classes are protected by the Federal Fair Housing Act, plus these seven additional classes

  • Age
  • Gender Identity
  • Marital Status
  • Political Ideology
  • Section 8
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Veteran/Military Status

City of Tacoma Fair Housing Law: 
Six additional classes of people are protected in the city of Tacoma, Washington . These classes include

  • Age
  • Ancestry
  • Gender Identity
  • Marital Status
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Veteran/Military Status

King County Fair Housing Law:
Tenants in King County, Washington are protected by the Federal Fair Housing Act, but also by King County’s own Fair Housing Law.

Here are the seven additional classes this law protects:

  • Age
  • Ancestry
  • Gender Identity
  • Marital Status
  • Section 8
  • Sexual Orientation 
  • Use of a Service Animal

Examples of Housing Discrimination:

  • Changing the lease terms for a tenant because of their race, religion, gender etc.
  • Falsely stating that a unit is rented.
  • Refusing to rent to a member of a certain class.
  • Advertising a vacancy stating only certain classes can apply or excluding certain classes.
  • Only enforcing a rental property rule for certain tenants.
  • Refusing to allow a disabled tenant to make reasonable accommodations to the property. 
  • Trying to evict a tenant because they have made a fair housing complaint.
  • Trying to evict a tenant once you learn they are a member of a certain religion.
  • Increasing a tenant’s rent after learning they are a member of a certain class.

2. Washington Tenants’ Right to the Security Deposit

§§ 59.18.260 thru 59.18.285.

A second right that is protected under Washington’s landlord tenant law, is a tenant’s right to the security deposit. These rules include the two things a landlord must do before collecting a security deposit from a tenant, how much the landlord can collect as a deposit and the time-frame after tenant move-out during which a landlord must return the security deposit. 

Amount of Security Deposit: 
Washington law does not set a maximum or minimum amount a landlord can charge as a security deposit. It is up to the tenant renting the apartment to decide if they feel the amount the landlord is charging is fair.

 

Before Collecting a Deposit:
Landlords in Washington are only allowed to collect a security deposit if they do two things first.

  1. Lease Agreement- Washington landlords must have a written lease agreement with any tenant they want to collect a security deposit from. There must be a section in this lease that includes the legal reasons a landlord can take deductions from the deposit.
  2. Checklist of Unit Conditions- A landlord must also provide a tenant with a checklist of the conditions of the rental unit prior to the tenant’s move in. Both the landlord and tenant must sign and date this checklist. 

Holding Deposit During Tenancy:
In Washington, landlords must place the tenant’s deposit with a third party This could be in a trust account, in a bank or savings account or with a third party escrow agent.

The landlord is entitled to the interest unless the landlord and tenant agree to other terms.

Written Notice After Collecting Deposit:
Washington tenants have the right to be notified by their landlords after the landlord collects and stores the tenant’s deposit. This written notice must include how much the tenant paid as a security deposit, as well as the name and address where the deposit is being held.

Returning the Deposit: 
In Washington, tenants have the right to the return of their deposit shortly after they move-out of the rental unit. Their landlords must return their deposit within 14 days of the day they move out of the rental property. If the landlord has kept any part of the deposit for legal reasons, such as unpaid rent or damage to the unit, the landlord must also include a written statement which lists what deductions have been taken and the amount of each deduction.

See Also: Washington's Security Deposit Law

3. Washington Tenant’s Right to Notice Before Landlord Entry

§ 59.18.150

Washington’s Revised Code protects a tenant's right to privacy in their rental unit. This is done by limiting the times when a landlord can enter a tenant’s rental unit.

Legal Reasons a Landlord Can Enter a Rental:

  • For Property Inspections.
  • To Make Necessary Repairs.
  • To Make Repairs Requested by the Tenant.
  • To Make Improvements.
  • To Supply Necessary Services.
  • To Show the Property to Prospective Tenants.
  • To Show the Property to Prospective Buyers.
  • To Show the Property to Contractors.
  • To Show the Property to a Mortgage Lender.

Amount of Notice Before Entry:
Under Washington law, landlords must provide the tenant with 48 hours’ written notice before entering a tenant’s apartment. The notice must state the time and date when the landlord wishes to enter the apartment. In addition, a phone number must be included in the notice in case the tenant needs to reschedule.

Washington Landlord Right to Enter Without Notice:
A Washington landlord does not have to provide notice to enter a tenant’s apartment under the following two conditions.

  • An Emergency
  • The Tenant Has Abandoned the Unit

Landlord or Tenant Violates Right of Entry:
If either party violates Washington’s laws on entering a rental unit, he or she could be subject to a one hundred dollar fine for each violation, plus reasonable court costs and attorney’s fees.

Fire Official Search:
Washington tenants are not allowed to deny fire officials the right to search their rental units if the official believes there is a fire code violation in the unit. If the tenant does not respond to a fire official’s request to enter the tenant’s unit within five day,s or flat out refuses to allow the official to gain access to the tenant’s property, the official can obtain a search warrant from the court to gain access to the property.

After obtaining a search warrant, the property inspection must take place between 8 A.M. and 7 P.M on a weekday. The property owner or a tenant over the age of 18 must be present. The fire official is not allowed to forcibly enter the unit unless the violation presents an immediate threat to the health and safety of the tenants or surrounding neighbors or the tenant has previously denied access with a search warrant.

A tenant could be held in contempt of court if the tenant refuses to allow inspection of their unit. They could also face a civil penalty.

4. Washington Tenants’ Rights After Landlord Retaliation
§§ 59.18.240 59.18.250

If a tenant is following all other terms of the lease agreement and not violating any additional Washington landlord tenant laws, the landlord cannot take any retaliatory actions against the tenant if the tenant performs any of the following actions:

  • Files a complaint with a government agency about a property violation that affects the health or safety of the tenant.
  • Has exercised his or her legal rights.

Landlord Acts That Could Be Considered Retaliation:

  • Filing to Evict the Tenant
  • Raising the Tenant’s Rent
  • Cutting Off or Reducing Services to the Tenant
  • Giving the Tenant Additional Obligations

Timeline for Landlord’s Action to Be Considered Retaliation:
If a landlord commits any of the above acts within 90 days of a tenant complaining to a government agency about a violation at the property, or within 90 days of the government agency inspecting the property, the act will be considered an act of retaliation unless the landlord can prove otherwise.

Exceptions to Retaliation:

  • If a tenant is behind on rent or has otherwise breached their lease, a landlord filing for an eviction will not be considered retaliation.
  • The tenant complained to the government agency after receiving a notice of rent increase or other legally allowed landlord act.
  • A rent increase was due to an increase in the market value of the property.
  • Repairs cannot be made while tenant is living in the property.

5. Rights for Victims of Domestic Violence

§§ 59.18.575; 59.18.580
Washington’s landlord tenant law protects tenants who have been victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, harassment or stalking.

Written Notice:
The tenant must provide the landlord with written notice that he or she has been a victim of one of these crimes.

Proof of Domestic Violence:
Either of the following can serve as proof that the tenant has been a victim of domestic violence.

  • A copy of a court order of protection.
  • A written record of a report the tenant has made to a third party agency qualified or certified in handling these issues about an act of domestic violence, sexual assault, harassment or stalking.

Tenant Right to Terminate Lease:
After providing written notice and proof of their domestic violence claim, the tenant can terminate their lease early without penalty.

Timeline to Terminate Lease:
The tenant must request to terminate the lease within 90 days of the act of domestic violence.

Additional Requirements:

  • The tenant is entitled to the return of their security deposit, minus any allowable deductions, unless the lease agreement specifically states the landlord can keep the security deposit due to early termination.
  • The tenant is responsible for paying all rent due for the month in which they terminate the lease.

Terminating Lease Prior to Filing Report:
A Washington tenant may be allowed to terminate a lease prior to filing a domestic violence report if he or she provides the landlord with a copy of a court order or other qualified agency report within seven days of moving out of the rental unit.

Changing Locks:
Washington tenants who have been victims of domestic violence have the right to change their locks or add additional locks to their rental unit. They must follow these rules:

  • The tenant must provide written notice to the landlord that the tenant has changed or added locks within seven days of doing so. The tenant must also include a copy of the order of protection or qualified agency report.
  • The tenant’s lease agreement will terminate within 90 days of this notice unless the tenant notifies the landlord that he or she does not want to terminate the rental agreement. This has to be done within 60 days of changing the locks.
  • The tenant must provide the landlord with a copy of a key to the new locks.
  • The tenant is not allowed to change the locks on any common areas. 

Landlords Cannot Discriminate:
Washington landlords cannot evict a tenant, refuse to rent to a tenant or refuse to renew a tenant’s lease agreement based solely on their status as a victim of domestic violence.