What is a rental agreement?
A rental agreement (called a “lease” in this pamphlet) is a binding written or oral contract between parties to establish or modify the terms, conditions and rules for a party’s use and occupancy of a residential premises. A properly written lease will eliminate most problems commonly arising between a landlord and a tenant, benefitting both parties
Does my landlord have to provide me with a copy of the rental agreement I sign?
Yes. The landlord must provide a copy of the rental agreement to each tenant that signs it. The tenant may request one free replacement copy during the tenancy.
Am I still covered under the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act even though I don’t have a written rental agreement?
Verbal tenancies are legal in Washington State and are considered valid month-to-month agreements.
Who isn’t covered as a tenant under the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act?
Types of tenancies that are not covered by Landlord-Tenant Act are commercial leases or manufactured home owners who rent space in a manufactured home park. RCW 59.18.040 outlines the other living arrangements exempt from coverage under the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act: people in medical, religious, educational, recreational or correctional institutions; people in contracts to purchase their homes; people staying in hotels or motels; migrant workers whose housing is provided by their employers; and people whose residence depends upon their employment.
Are there any restrictions on how much my landlord can raise the rent?
No. Rent control is illegal in Washington State, as stated in RCW 35.21.830. However, Seattle tenants are entitled to 60 days’ notice before rent increases of 10% or more in a 12-month period per SMC 7.24.030. And tenants living outside of Seattle are entitled to a written notice of a rent increase 30 days before the end of the rental period. In addition, rent increases cannot be discriminatory or retaliatory.
I signed a lease before I saw the apartment, and now I don’t want to move in. What can I do?
Always look at the actual unit you’re going to be renting before agreeing to sign a lease. You may be able to negotiate with your landlord to be removed from the lease if the unit isn’t right for you. If you break your lease and move, you may still be held liable for the monetary penalties written into the law and/or your lease. If the unit you’re renting has repair problems, your landlord has the obligation to fix them. See Repairs for more information.
They showed me a “model unit” and then I saw the actual unit I’m renting, and it’s a total disaster zone! What can I do? Can I sue them for false advertising?
Always look at the actual unit you’re going to be renting before agreeing to sign a rental agreement. If the unit you’re renting has repair problems, your landlord has the obligation to fix them.
I just signed a lease and then changed my mind about living there. Is there a grace period in Washington State that allows me to back out of a contract within 24 hours of signing it?
There is no grace period in Washington State. Once you sign a lease you are committed to fulfilling its terms unless the landlord agrees to release you from it. If they do agree to release you from your rental agreement, be sure to get it in writing and signed by your landlord.
Some tenants will try to find a replacement renter to move into the unit and sign a new lease with the landlord. That would entail having your landlord screen the other person and having them sign a new lease, which would require the landlord’s consent.
Is the landlord allowed to make any rules they want?
The landlord cannot enforce any rules of a rental agreement that infringe on or wave your rights as a tenant under any federal, state or local law. RCW 59.18.230 lays out tenants’ rights in regards to rental agreements. You cannot sign away your rights under the law. For example, if a rental contract requires that the tenants be responsible for all repairs needed in the unit, regardless of whether or not they caused the damages, that specific provision of the contract is not enforceable. The rest of the contract, however, is still valid and enforceable. In addition, RCW 59.18.140 states that tenants must conform to all reasonable rules and restrictions placed by the landlord. You may be able to argue that certain rules are unreasonable, and thus unenforceable.
Does rent have to be due on the first of the month?
While traditionally due on the first of the month, rent can be due any day of the month. The day that rent is due will be determined in your rental agreement or in a verbal contract with your landlord. Sometimes landlords will agree to accept partial payments in increments throughout the month, or to accept payments weekly. It is a good idea to solidify these kinds of agreements in writing with your landlord.
Is the landlord required to prorate my move in or move out dates?
There is no law that requires landlords to prorate rent when a tenant moves in or vacates a unit. Often, landlords will prorate tenants’ first days or weeks in the unit in order to collect full rent on the first of the following month. Landlords are not legally obligated to prorate the rent when you vacate, even if you don’t stay through the end of the month. If you are vacating in the middle of the month, you may be able to negotiate with your landlord to prorate your rent based on your move out date. Under RCW 59.18.200, state law requires you to give 20 days’ notice to vacate in writing if your lease does not end at its term. Be sure to do so or the landlord may charge you the following month.
<h3Can the landlord enforce rules of tenancy that violate my rights under the law?
RCW 59.18.230 states that tenants cannot sign away their rights under the law. The landlord cannot legally enforce any terms of the lease that violate any state or local laws. For instance, the landlord is still responsible for making all repairs for defective conditions that are not caused by the tenant, or guests of the tenant, even if the tenant signs a lease stating that they agree to make all repairs necessary during their tenancy. The inclusion of a clause that violates other tenant protection laws does not make the entire lease invalid. However, those clauses that do conflict with state law are not enforceable.
I have a two-year lease. Is this valid?
Two-year leases are only valid if they are notarized. If the lease is not notarized, it becomes a month-to-month tenancy.
I broke my lease and moved out. Can my landlord charge me for the remainder of the rent due under the lease?
RCW 59.18.310 states that the landlord can continue to charge you rent until the unit is re-rented, and that they can charge you for advertising costs. If they end up having to rent the unit at less than what your lease required you to pay, they can collect the difference for the full term of the lease. They have to make a reasonable effort to re-rent the unit after you vacate.
Some tenants will try to find a replacement renter to take over their lease. That would entail having your landlord screen the other person and having them sign a new lease. This would have to be with the landlord’s consent.
What if the landlord isn’t making a reasonable effort to re-rent my unit after I’ve broken my lease and moved out?
With documentation, you may be able to negotiate with the landlord to avoid paying a portion of repayment if you can establish that the landlord isn’t making a reasonable effort to re-rent the unit after you’ve vacated. You may be able to recover some of the rent money you pay in small claims court after the fact, or to directly negotiate with the landlord to get the rent charges reduced or eliminated. Some landlords will work with tenants to get assistance finding new renters.
If I moved out without giving proper notice, can the landlord both keep my entire deposit and charge me for the following month’s rent?
Generally, the landlord cannot require you to forfeit your entire security deposit. The rental agreement cannot include a provision that automatically forfeits a security deposit for a violation of the rental agreement. (Keep in mind that a lease that ends at its term, such as a one-year lease, does not require either party to give notice.) Many times a lease will state the tenant waives a refund of their deposit if they fail to give the proper 20-day termination notice when they vacate the unit. This language may be an illegal waiver of your rights under the landlord tenant act. Under RCW59.18.230(2), the law prohibits a lease to include language that could waive those rights.
If a tenant is on a lease and terminates early or without proper notice, the tenant will likely be liable for the rent for the remainder of the rental period or until the unit is re-rented, whichever comes first. The landlord has a duty to make a good faith effort to re-rent the unit, but beyond that, there are no specific requirements for the effort the landlord must put into re-renting the unit.
Can my landlord charge me a termination fee for breaking my lease?
It depends on what’s written in the lease. It is not uncommon to see termination fees included in rental agreements. However, RCW 59.18.310 allows the landlord to mitigate the damages caused when the tenant broke their lease. They can continue to charge the tenant rent until the unit is re-rented, as described above, or they may decide to deduct the lost rent from the tenant’s deposit. The law does not allow landlords to charge tenants penalties above and beyond the mitigation of damages for loss of rent due to a tenant’s breaking the lease.
What happens to my lease if the ownership of the property changes?
The lease, as well as your security deposit and all other money held by the landlord, should be passed to the new landlord. RCW 59.18.060 requires that the tenant shall be immediately notified in writing of any changes to the landlord either by personal service, or conspicuously posted and sent first class mail. No terms of the lease can be changed except by mutual agreement, and the lease must be honored through the entire term unless the property is foreclosed on during the lease term, and the new purchaser wishes to occupy the home as their primary residence. RCW 59.18.270dictates the terms of the deposit changeover.
Do I have to sign a lease addendum if my landlord requires it?
Tenants do not have to agree to changes to any aspect of a fixed-term lease unless they want to. The landlord can take no valid legal action against you if you do not agree to sign a lease addendum. However, the landlord could decide not to renew your lease at the end of its term if you do not sign. It’s a good idea to seek legal assistance regarding lease addendums if you are unsure.
Do I have to move out at the end of my lease?
Look to the specific terms of the rental agreement to find out whether it automatically reverts to a month-to-month tenancy. Many leases automatically roll over into a month-to-month tenancy but must say so in the lease language. If the lease does not have specific month-to-month language then RCW 59.18.220 states that the tenancy ends at the end of the lease term. If your lease states that your tenancy ends, you are required to vacate at the end of the lease period. You may ask to stay longer by communicating with your landlord in writing or asking to sign a new lease. If the landlord accepts the rent for the following month after the term of your original lease ends, then you have established a month-to-month tenancy.
If my lease is ending, do I still have to give 20 days’ notice?
It is still a good idea to give your landlord 20 days’ notice even if your lease is ending. You must give 20 days’ notice if your lease automatically becomes a month-to-month tenancy following the fixed-term period.
What can I do if my landlord doesn’t give me 30 or 60 days’ written notice of a rent increase?
If your landlord gave you notice of a rent increase in the middle of the month, the rent increase will go into effect the first of the month following the 30- or 60-day notice period. A tenant paying a rent increase without 30-days’ notice may indicate to the landlord their agreement to accept the increase without the proper written notice.
A tenant can send the landlord a letter informing them of the improper notice and a copy of the law. If your landlord does not acknowledge their legal obligations to provide proper notice and instead serves you a 3-Day Pay or Vacate Notice, a tenant can pay the rent increase by writing on their check “payment under protest.” The tenant can then pursue the difference owed from the improper rent increase in small claims court.
Some tenants will choose not to pay the increase at all and just pay their regular amount. The risk is that the tenant could end up in eviction court for nonpayment of rent after service of the 3-Day Pay or Vacate Notice, and may not necessarily win in court. This can be a risky choice, because whenever a landlord files an eviction lawsuit against a tenant, it creates a permanent record of eviction regardless if the tenant wins.
What is a sublease?
A sublease is a rental agreement (fixed-term or month-to-month) between tenants. For example, a tenant who has a lease with the owner to rent a house may decide they want to rent out rooms to another tenant. A contract is drawn up between the original tenant and the new one, and the new tenant pays their rent to the original tenant instead of the landlord. Most rental agreements prohibit subleases. The original tenant is responsible to the landlord for any damages caused by the subletor.