Significant Changes in Washington’s Landlord-Tenant Laws (2019)
Posted Friday, May 17, 2019 by Christopher L. Thayer
Washington Governor Jay Inslee has recently signed Senate Bill 5600, which makes significant changes to the existing Residential Landlord Tenant Act (“RLTA”) in Washington as codified in RCW 59.18. The changes will impact the rights for both landlords and tenants. Landlords will need to adopt new forms and adjust certain practices. This new act goes into effect July 27, 2019.
It is important to note this revised law only applies to residential tenancies, and not commercial tenancies. Commercial landlord tenant eviction proceedings are governed by RCW 59.12, which remains unchanged.
This article is intended to summarize the changes in the law only. The full text of the new law can be found here: http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2019-20/Pdf/Bills/Senate%20Passed%20Legislature/5600-S.PL.pdf#page=1
14 Day Notice now required for failure to pay rent
Under the prior law, evictions based on tenant’s failure to pay rent were initiated by first providing a 3-day pay or vacate notice. This short timeframe was in place to expedite the landlord’s ability to regain possession of the premises where the tenant was not paying rent. Starting July 27, 2019, landlords will need to provide defaulting tenants with a 14-day pay or vacate notice. The language required for the new notice is spelled out in the statute and the Washington Attorney General will post sample forms on its website.
Application of payments
Landlords will now be required to apply payment by tenant to any rent owing, before applying it towards any fees (including attorney’s fees), damages, costs, or other charges. Previously, landlords were free to apply the payment however the landlord wanted to.
Stay of Writ of Restitution
Those who are familiar with landlord tenant law and evictions will know that a “writ of restitution” is the document authorized by the clerk of the court, which authorizes the eviction of the tenant. Under the new law, where a landlord obtains a judgment authorizing the eviction of a tenant for nonpayment of rent, the tenant may apply at any time prior to the actual eviction to stay the execution of the writ of restitution “upon good cause shown”. The burden of proof is on the tenant. Any stay of the writ of restitution shall not exceed 90 days. The statute requires the judge to consider the following factors in deciding whether to grant a stay of the writ:
• Tenant’s willful or intentional default or intentional failure to pay rent;
• Whether nonpayment of rent was caused by exigent circumstances that were beyond tenant’s control and are not likely to recur;
• The tenant’s ability to timely pay the judgment;
• Whether the tenant is otherwise in substantial compliance with the rental agreement;
• Hardship on the tenant if evicted;
• Conduct related to other notices served within the last six months.
Note also that a tenant who has received 3 or more notices to pay or vacate in the preceding 12 month period is not entitled to seek a stay of a writ of restitution which has been issued for failure to pay rent.
If a stay is granted, the court may impose a payment plan for the tenant, which must be paid in 90 days or less.
New Eviction Summons
The law completely revamps the form and language included in an eviction summons.
Award of Landlord’s attorney fees against tenants limited
If a landlord has received a judgment authorizing eviction of a tenant, the court may order the award of reasonable attorneys’ fees to the landlord; however no such award of attorneys’ fees is authorize where (a) the judgment is entered by default (i.e., tenant failed to appear); or (b) the total amount of rent awarded is equal to or less than 2 months of lease payments or $1,200, whichever is greater.
Under certain circumstances the landlord and/or tenant may apply to receive mitigation funds from the landlord mitigation program established under RCW 43.51.605(1)(c). Application for such funds is initiated by filling out a form provided by the Washington Attorney General’s office.
The revisions to the RLTA will significantly impact the landlord tenant relationship and the proceedings required to initiate an eviction. For questions about the revisions to the Act or how, as a landlord, to ensure compliance with the Act, please contact managing member, Chris Thayer at (206) 805-1494 or CThayer@PivotalLawGroup.com