When most people sign a lease in Washington state, they do so with the full intention of staying the full term of the lease and fulfilling their obligation, but sometimes, circumstances can come up that make it impossible to do so. There are good reasons and bad reasons to break a lease, but regardless of your reason, you could have to pay your landlord everything you owe for the term of the lease if you do not know where you stand. Here are a few things that you need to know if you need to break your lease in Washington state.
Breaking a Lease in Washington State
Circumstances in which you may need to break your lease include getting hired for a new job in a different city, getting married or needing to care for an elderly parent. Perhaps you have joined the military or your rental unit is unsafe. In some cases, Washington state law allows you to break a lease without penalty, but not always. What might seem like a good reason to you might not be enough to avoid the penalty.
How Can I Break My Lease Legally in Washington State?
Sometimes, the term of the lease states the fees or penalties for breaking it. In this case, the term of the lease will dictate the amount you will need to pay, if any, should you terminate your lease early for any reason. There are certain reasons when you may terminate a lease without penalty, but if your reason does not fall into one of these categories, your landlord can require you to pay rent equal to the amount they will lose for the remaining part of the lease. If your landlord must re-rent the property at a lower rate, you might have to make up the difference.
If you have a month-to-month lease, you must give notice at least 20 days before the lease expiration. For most longer leases, the notification period is at least 30 days. In most cases, buying a house, upgrading or downgrading, relocation, moving in with a partner or moving closer to a family member are not justifiable causes for breaking a lease, and you will probably have to pay the penalty.
How Can I Break My Lease Without Penalty in Washington State?
There are cases where you can break a lease without penalty under Washington state law. One of these is if you are starting active military duty. In this case, you must give your landlord at least 30 days' notice of your intent to leave. You can also legally terminate your lease if the housing has become unlivable. You must follow procedures, and it must be for something major like a lack of heat or other essentials like water.
You can terminate your lease if you are a victim of domestic violence or stalking, but you must report it to law enforcement for this to be allowed without penalty. You can also terminate your lease if your landlord harasses you or enters your property without proper notice. Even if you do not have a good reason for leaving, under Washington state law, your landlord still must make reasonable efforts to find a tenant and re-rent your unit rather than charging you for the difference in rent due.
The justifiable reasons for breaking a lease are clearly stated in Washington state. That does not mean that your case will not be considered justifiable, but you have to have proof to avoid penalties and fees. The best advice is to contact an attorney who specializes in landlord and renter agreements to see if your case has merit.
- Most landlords expect tenants to move eventually, but appreciate ample notice before that time. If you always pay your rent on time and are a generally reliable tenant, your landlord may be more willing to negotiate the terms of an early lease termination.
- According to the Revised Code of Washington, or RCW, month-to-month tenants must provide a minimum of 20 days notice prior to the end of the month of termination. Tenants under longer rental lease agreements, such as a year, are subject only to the terms of the agreement in terms of notice. The Revised Code of Washington does not support year leases, except to state that they must be in writing or print and not to exceed one year.
- Some lease agreements require a tenant to pay the rent in full for the remaining months of the contract, unless the tenant secures a new occupant for the rental unit. Other lease agreements may require a specific number of days of notice be given to the landlord or a flat early termination fee. Landlords are prohibited from reprisals or retaliatory actions against a tenant, and may not increase the obligations of the tenant or increase the rent required when the tenant acts in good faith, according to the RCW.
- The landlord has 14 days to either refund the deposit or send a detailed list of any deductions for repairs beyond normal wear and tear to the unit. In some states, landlords must refund the full security deposit if the tenant lives in the dwelling for more than 5 years, unless there is a significant amount of damage. Ensure the landlord has your new address before leaving the rental property.
Adam Luehrs is a writer during the day and a voracious reader at night. He focuses mostly on finance writing and has a passion for real estate, credit card deals, and investing.