Renters in Washington have legal protection based on both federal and state law, whether they're living in Seattle, Vancouver or Snohomish County. That includes the right to not be discriminated against, the right to a livable home, and the right to be notified ahead of time if the landlord decides to alter the lease or evict.
Freedom from Discrimination
As a Washington tenant, you're protected against certain types of discrimination. Discrimination can include not only refusing to rent to you, but also treating you unfairly compared to other tenants. The Tenants Union of Washington State says discrimination is illegal if it's based on factors such as:
- National origin
- Marital and family status
- Sexual orientation
- Veteran or military status.
Some local governments add extra protection. Seattle, for example, bans discrimination based on political ideology.
A Livable Home
You have the right to a rental that's fit to live in. The Washington State Bar says these rights mandate that your landlord provide working appliances and utilities, as well as clean, safe common areas. If you notify the landlord of a needed repair in writing, you have a right to service within:
- 24 hours to restore or provide running water, heating or electricity.
- 72 hours to repair major plumbing problems or fix any broken appliances provided by the landlord.
- 10 days for other repairs.
If the landlord doesn't make the repairs on time, you have the right to pay for them yourself and deduct the cost from the rent. However you must follow state law exactly, or the landlord can sue or evict you for not paying the rent.
Right of Privacy
You have a right to privacy in your rental home. Your landlord can't demand access except for state-approved reasons, such as making inspections, performing repairs or showing the apartment to new tenants. Unless it's an emergency, you have the right to two days advance notice before landlord can enter even for these purposes.
If you have a long-term lease, your landlord can't increase the rent until the lease expires. With a short-term agreement, such as a monthly rental, you have a right to 30 days advance notice. The landlord can't increase your rent to punish you — for example because you filed a discrimination complaint against him.
The landlord also can't charge a late fee if your rent is past due unless the lease or agreement authorizes it.
If your landlord charges you a security deposit, he must give you a receipt, a written rental agreement, and a description of the condition of the rental. You both must sign the description. The landlord also must tell you where the money is being held. You're only entitled to interest on the deposit if you and the landlord both agree to this.
When you move out, you're entitled to get your deposit back, less deductions for unpaid rent and for repairing damage to the apartment. The landlord cannot use the deposit to fix normal wear and tear. You're entitled to get your money back within 14 days.
Leaving the Rental
If your lease ends, the landlord can ask you to move out regardless of whether you've otherwise met the lease terms. He also can ask you to move at the end of a monthly or weekly rental period. However you're entitled to 20 days advance notice in that situation.
A landlord also can order you out for cause. You have a right to a warning notice:
- If you haven't paid the rent, you get three days to catch up or move.
- If you break the lease, you have 10 days to fix the problem or go.
- For some causes -- physical assaults on other tenants or dealing drugs, for example -- the landlord can move to evict you without any notice.
If you decide to stay after the lease or the notice expires, your landlord can file an unlawful detainer suit to evict you. You have the right to receive a court summons and complaint telling you about the case and the court date, and the right to make a case in court why eviction would be wrong.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.