Rent and housing laws are governed at both the state and federal level. In addition, some counties and cities have specific rent laws that may pertain to individuals situated in those municipalities. Since landlord-tenant relationships tend to produce disputes, it is necessary to have a system of laws that settle those disputes. This includes a landlord’s rights and responsibilities as well as the tenant’s rights and responsibilities.
The following article will outline the pertinent federal and Washington State laws that govern landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities.
> Anti-Discrimination Laws
> Exceptions to Housing Discrimination in Washington
> Avoiding Ant-Discrimination Laws in the State of Washington
> Washington Rules and Regulations Regarding Landlord-Tenant Relations
> Washington Laws Regarding Security Deposits
> Washington Laws Related to Rent
> Implied Warranty of Habitability in Washington
> Washington Laws Regarding the Termination of a Lease or Tenancy
> Washington Regulations Concerning Notices of Entry
> Landlord Disclosures in the State of Washington
> Domestic Violence and Washington Laws
> Business Licenses
> State Resources and Other Helpful Information
Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws
The Civil Rights Act of 1968 lays the groundwork for discrimination laws in the United States. It is unlawful, according to federal law, to deny an individual housing based on their:
- Religion or creed,
- Nation of origin,
- Sex or gender,
- Familial status, or
Prohibited actions include:
- Discriminatory language in rental applications,
- Raising rent or increasing the security deposit based on the presence of children,
- Denying reasonable accommodations to an individual with a disability,
- Denying the application of an individual with a service animal based on a no-pets policy,
- Denying residential privileges based on a protected characteristic,
- Segregating tenants based on race.
The specific language for these laws is laid out in Title VI and VIII of the Civil Rights Act. Title VIII was passed in 1968 and is also known as the Fair Housing Act. In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act outlines specific restrictions when dealing with those who have disabilities.
Service Animals and a No-Pets Policy
For instance, a landlord may not reject a tenant who has a service animal on the basis of a no-pets policy. A landlord is expected to make reasonable accommodations for tenants who have disabilities and service animals are not considered pets. This prevents landlords from even charging security deposits for service animals. To do so is against the law.
On the other hand, the federal government does not consider emotional support animals to be pets. By definition, service animals fulfill a specific function. For instance, seeing-eye dogs help lead the blind from one place to another. Emotional support animals are meant to be companions. Companions are pets. Thus they can be excluded on the basis of a no-pets policy.
Restrictions on Discriminating Against Children
A landlord is prohibited from discriminating against a family that has children. This is covered by the “familial status” restriction in the Fair Housing Act. In addition, it is unlawful to segregate families with children or charge added security deposits for children.
Washington Anti-Discrimination Laws
In addition to the federal protections, the State of Washington extends federal anti-discrimination statutes to include:
- Sexual orientation,
- Gender identity,
- Marital status,
- And military veteran status.
These laws are governed and enforced by the Washington State Human Rights Commission as opposed to HUD, which enforces federal statutes.
Local City or County Anti-Discrimination Laws
Smaller municipalities within the State of Washington may offer further protection. For instance, it is common for Washington’s cities to offer protection to those using Section 8 Vouchers to pay their rent. Landlords, thus, may not discriminate on the basis of how a tenant chooses to pay rent and stating in a listing that Section 8 is excluded is illegal.
Landlords are advised to take the first qualified applicant when renting a unit in the State of Washington. Washington’s housing discrimination laws are stricter than most, but landlords are allowed to reject applicants on the basis of bad credit, criminal history, or prior evictions. By making your selection process as transparent as possible, you protect yourself from discrimination lawsuits.
When screening tenants, Washington requires landlords to provide rejected tenants with this form detailing the reason why their application was rejected. It is called an “adverse action form.”
The state laws governing landlord-tenant relations can be found in:
- Landlord/Tenant Regulations: Washington RCW §§ 59
- Tenancy & Termination: Washington RCW §§ 59.04
- Residential Landlord-Tenant Act: Washington RCW §§ 59.18
- Landlord Responsibilities: Washington RCW §§ 59.18.060
- Tenant Responsibilities: Washington RCW §§ 59.18.130
- Seattle Landlord/Tenant Laws: Seattle Landlord Tenant Laws SMC §§ 22.206.160
- Seattle Laws on Property Owner and Tenant Rights and Responsibilities
Washington has a number of specific laws regarding the collection of security deposits from tenants. A landlord has 21 days from the end date of the lease to return the tenant’s security deposit (RCW §§ 59.18.280). Landlords are required by law to deposit the tenant’s security deposit into an escrow account, but they are allowed to collect any interest on the money held in the account (RCW §§ 59.18.270).
Washington prohibits the collection of any security deposit amount if the landlord does not present the tenant with a signed move-in checklist detailing the condition of the property upon the date that the tenant takes control of the property. This should detail existing damages to the property as well as any furniture or appliances provided by the landlord to the tenant. The checklist needs to be signed and dated by both the landlord and the tenant (RCW §§ 59.18.260). In addition, the landlord must provide the tenant with a written receipt for the deposit and the name, address, and location where the security deposit is held.
Upon moving out, if the landlord intends to keep any of the security deposit to pay for damages to the property, the landlord must provide the tenant with an itemized list of specific damages (RCW §§ 59.18.280).
Lastly, failure to comply with the above-listed statutes can expose the landlord to civil liability. Not only could the tenant collect on the value of the security deposit, but they could also charge the landlord for court costs and attorney’s fees (RCW §§ 59.18.260).
Washington has no statutes governing when rent is due. It is assumed that the landlord and the tenant can come to an arrangement in the lease. If the landlord wants to increase the rent, he or she must provide the tenant 30-days notice on a month-to-month lease (RCW §§ 59.18.140). Washington has no statutes concerning leases with fixed end dates. Landlords are advised to put this information in the lease.
In addition, there are no statutes concerning late fees or grace periods. Landlords are again advised to outline their policies in the lease agreement. Landlords may charge a $40 fee for a bounced check (RCW §§ 62A.3-515).
Washington duties of the tenant can be found here.
The implied warranty of habitability states that a residential rental property must provide basic necessities to the tenant. This includes heat, running water, functioning plumbing, electricity, and garbage disposal. It also implies that the tenant’s property is kept safe from the elements. In the event that a landlord fails to provide these basic needs, the tenant can withhold rent until the problems are fixed. However, the tenant must also notify government authorities and is obligated to hold the rent in an escrow account (RCW §§ 59.18.115).
A tenant may alternatively elect to have the damage fixed themselves and deduct them from rent. The tenant must, however, provide the landlord with an estimate for fixing the damage and the cost must not exceed two months rent. The tenant must ensure that the individual repairing the damage is a licensed professional (RCW §§ 59.18.100). If the repairs do not require a licensed professional, the tenant can elect not to use one but the costs cannot exceed one month’s rent.
Official duties for landlords can be found here.
In the event that the lease has a fixed end date, neither the landlord nor the tenant need provide notice for terminating the agreement (RCW §§ 59.04.030). If the lease is month-to-month or any other periodic arrangement, either party may terminate the lease on 20-days notice. If the tenant is a member of the armed forces, they can terminate the lease in less than 20 days for the purposes of deployment or relocation (RCW §§ 59.18.200(1a-b)).
If a tenant neglects to pay rent, the landlord can issue a three-day notice to either pay or face eviction (RCW §§ 59.12.030(3)).
In addition, a landlord may issue a three-day notice in the event that the tenant is involved in illegal activity or is a nuisance to other tenants or neighbors (RCW §§ 59.12.030(5)) otherwise the tenant has 10 days to remedy or quit for a lease violation (RCW §§ 59.12.030(4)).
Landlords may not lock tenants out of the property (RCW §§ 59.18.290) nor shut off utilities to force tenants off the property (RCW §§ 59.18.300). Landlords may be liable to pay actual damages and $100 per day for punitive damages plus the court and attorney’s fees of the tenant.
Tenants are entitled to their privacy. Landlords should attempt to give tenants two days before entering the property (RCW §§ 59.18.150(6)). A landlord can enter the property without notice in the event of an emergency (RCW §§ 59.18.150(5)). The landlord must give the tenant one-day notice before showing the property (RCW §§ 59.18.150(6)).
The landlord must provide the tenant with his name and address or the individual who is responsible for the maintenance of the property (RCW §§ 59.18.060). In addition, every tenant is expected to be given a copy of the lease (RCW §§ 59.18.065). The lease is also required to contain an attachment regarding the presence of lead on the property.
In the event that a tenant is the victim of domestic violence, landlords are obligated to follow a specific set of contingencies. Those include:
- Allowing the tenant to terminate the lease to relocate (RCW §§ 59.18.575(1b));
- Allowing the tenant to change the locks (RCW §§ 59.18.575(4), 59.18.585).
In addition, landlords are prohibited from terminating a lease, failing to renew a lease, or refusing to enter into a lease agreement based on the tenant’s status as a domestic violence victim, sexual assault victim, or stalking victim (RCW §§ 59.18.580).
However, a landlord is entitled to ask for proof of status and the tenant must complete the form found here. The tenant may still be liable for rent under some conditions (RCW §§ 59.18.575(4), 59.18.585).
- Seattle Renter’s Guide
- Washington Guide to Tenant’s Rights
- MY LANDLORD LOCKED ME OUT!!!!
- Office of the Insurance Commissioner
- Guide to Homeowner’s Insurance
- Division of Consumer Services
- Tenant’s Union of Washington State & Seattle Branch
- Housing and Finance Commission
- Real Estate Commission
- Washington REALTORS
- Seattle Association of REALTORS
- Housing Law Help