Landlord Tenant

Erin Bradley McAleer represents landlords in evicting troublesome tenants, obtaining a judgments, and pursing collection against collectible tenants. As a courtesy to all landlords we offer a complimentary consultation and review of your screening process, as well as a detailed review of your forms and letters used to interact and conduct business with your tenants. Even minor mistakes in the wording of standardized forms, or minor mistakes in the procedure used can delay getting a bad tenant removed. Don’t be taken hostage by a bad tenant. Call now for a free confidential consultation.

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.

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. 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 relent 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. 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 set off) 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.

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).

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.

Common Defenses Raised by Tenants

Service

Notices must be served in strict compliance with statutory methods. Actual notice need not be proven; but, actual notice will not save defective service. For example, appeals courts have dismissed cases in which husband and wife tenants un-disputedly each saw and had in their respective hands a notice to pay rent or vacate, but only one copy was served, rather than two copies. Email does not count. Mailing is sometimes required, but alone is never sufficient. The lease terms may impose additional requirements.

Form and Content

The standard for compliance is substantial compliance, a lower standard than for the manner of service. Nevertheless, the form and content of the notice is important and a defective notice could lead to dismissal.

Summons and Complaint

Service of the summons and complaint is as in any civil action. Service of process must be by a disinterested third party. There are many other rules and nuances, but as in any civil action without proper service the case will not be heard, no matter the merits of the underlying case.

The summons must be the mandatory summons prescribed by statute. The law is changed from time to time. Some attorneys, pro se landlords, and form kits do not keep up. This will cause a dismissal of the case. There is no complaint form, but there are some form and content requirements. Failure to abide by these may result in dismissal and possibly liability under fair debt collection practices law.

Habitability

The landlord must keep the premises habitable at all times. Also, the landlord will as a matter of contract law be expected to keep the premises in as good a condition as required by the lease. The tenant may be entitled to offset in rent, and perhaps not owe any rent.

Foreclosure

Both state and federal law has changed the process of eviction after foreclosure.

Tenants.

Tenants have a right to 60 days notice after the foreclosure sale (a/k/a deed of trust sale or auction). Under federal law the tenants may be entitled to 90 days notice, or to finish the term of an unexpired lease.

Owners.

Owners in possession have new notice rights. If you are an owner in possession facing eviction after foreclosure, do not agree to any settlement, accept any money (typically $1,000), until you get legal advice.

Free Forms for Landlords

 

Further Information

This is a very short summary of some common issues and defenses in eviction actions ( unlawful detainer actions) in Washington. It is no substitute for legal advice. For more information, or to schedule a free confidential consultation please call us at (360) 334-6277.

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