A landlord must follow exacting procedures to terminate a tenancy. A landlord must give at least 20 days’ written notice before the end of the month to end a periodic tenancy. If the tenant violates their obligations under a lease such as not paying rent, the landlord may end the lease through eviction proceedings. The responsibilities of each party as well as the procedures for ending the tenancy will vary depending type of tenancy and the terms of a lease agreement.
A tenant who breaks a lease and moves without proper notice may be responsible for the rent for the balance of the term while the landlord has to make reasonable efforts to relet the premises in order to mitigate damages.
An action by a landlord to evict a tenant from leased premises is called an “unlawful detainer” action. Some local housing codes such as Seattle city define “just cause” for an eviction and outline procedures that must be followed in addition to those of the Washington Residential Landlord-Tenant Act
Strict rules and procedures govern unlawful detainer actions. Generally, the legal eviction process for non-payment or insufficient payment of rent begins by serving notice of a pay or vacate notice to a tenant demanding that they pay the rent in arrears or vacate the premises within the time allowed by law or the terms of a lease agreement. If the tenant fails to pay or vacate within the time allowed, the landlord may then file a lawsuit to obtain a writ of restitution directing a sheriff to physically evict the tenant and obtain a monetary judgment for unpaid rent and other damages allowed by the lease agreement or by Washington law. If the tenant challenges the basis for the eviction, they are entitled to a court hearing (usually within 30 days).
In an eviction based on nonpayment of rent, a tenant may assert a claim for money owed the tenant by the landlord. The tenant’s claim (sometimes known as an equitable defense or setoff) must be related to the tenancy, such as the tenant’s payment of a bill that was the landlord’s responsibility under the lease agreement.
If the tenant loses the court hearing or defaults, the sheriff would then be ordered to physically evict a tenant and remove the property in the unit via the writ of restitution. Only the sheriff can physically evict a tenant. A landlord may not resort to self-help. In an eviction action, the successful party is entitled to costs and attorney fees.
If either the landlord or the tenant wish to end the lease because of violations of the rental agreement by the other, such action must comport with the terms of the lease agreement as well as landlord-tenant laws.
Contact us to ensure that your eviction complies with the law, otherwise you may face undue delays and have unwanted liabilities in the form of damages for an illegal eviction.
The Washington Residential Landlord-tenant Act can be found online at: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=59.18
This PDF has a summary of the respective rights and responsibilities of residential landlords and tenants: http://housing.asuw.org/resources/pdf/WashLandlordTenantAct.pdf