Washington Landlord-Tenant Law
The landlord-tenant relationship is never just a private business deal. Washington’s state and municipal laws play an important role in the relationship. When simple misunderstandings happen between landlords and tenants, these laws serve as the foundation for fair and legal resolutions.
Whether you’re a landlord or a tenant, you should typically be able to deal with legal issues without going to court. Some landlord-tenant disputes will leave you with no other option. Both parties need to know the basics of renting out a place, how to collect or pay security deposits, about fair housing laws, etc. This overview of key Washington landlord-tenant laws will help guide you.
The lease agreement is the foundation of the landlord-tenant relationship. It is a legally binding contract detailing the responsibilities both the landlord and the tenant promise to uphold. In addition to specifics like amenities, renovations and other apartment features, the lease includes legal details like:
- The length of the leasing term (weeks, months or years).
- Repair policy and procedures.
- The rent rate and payment schedule.
- The security deposit amount and what it covers.
- Roommate and guest policies.
- Grounds for lease termination and eviction.
Washington Fair Housing Laws
Washington prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants based on characteristics that are protected by the state’s fair housing laws. Specific actions like charging a discounted rental rate may be considered discriminatory if the landlord does these things because of a tenant’s:
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
- National origin
- Familial status
- Marital status
- Military status
Most landlords in Washington charge new tenants a security deposit as a part of their lease agreement. The deposit is stored in a trust account and is used by the landlord to pay for unpaid rent and repairs to rental property damages beyond normal wear and tear upon the lease’s termination.
Landlords may charge any amount for the security deposit under state law. However, municipalities and local governments may set limits. Typically, a security deposit amounts to one month’s rent. No part of the deposit may be deemed non-refundable. Non-refundable fees like cleaning services must be charged separately.
Within 21 days after the lease’s termination, the landlord must provide the tenant with a written notice itemizing any claimed charges and return the remaining balance of the deposit to the tenant. If no notice or refund of the balance is delivered within that time, the landlord must return the full deposit.
Property Repair and Maintenance Responsibilities
Both landlords and tenants assume responsibilities to maintain the rental property within specific health and safety codes and repair any damages. The lease agreement typically assigns different responsibilities to each party. Noncompliance with the lease’s terms by either party could result in the lease’s termination, eviction, deductions from the security deposit or, possibly, a lawsuit.
Under Washington’s landlord-tenant laws, each party is responsible for a base set of repair and maintenance obligations. Landlords are required to:
- Maintain the structural soundness of the rental property, including maintenance and repairs to walls, the roof, and other vital components.
- Provide access to utilities like hot and cold water, heating and electricity.
- Abide by local and state safety and health codes.
- Maintain the safety and cleanliness of common areas.
- Provide a reasonable pest control program.
- Maintain and repair furnished appliances.
- Provide adequate locks for doors.
Tenants are required to:
- Keep their rental property sanitary and clean.
- Reasonably prevent damage to the property.
- Restore the property to a condition similar to that of when they moved in—barring normal wear and tear—at the end of their tenancy.
- Properly dispose of any garbage on the property.
- Use appliances and fixtures as intended.
Getting Legal Help from a Washington Attorney
While many landlord-tenant conflicts can be resolved without going to court, the laws involved in these conflicts are complex. The Washington State Bar Association published a guide for tenants and landlords that contains more information about landlord and tenant rights. If you find you are in need of legal counsel or advice, you should consider hiring a landlord-tenant lawyer to represent your interests.