The prospect of resorting to a legal remedy to remove a tenant makes most landlords a bit queasy. In Washington, evicting a tenant that refuses to vacate of his own accord often proves a tedious and convoluted chore because statutes, their interpretation, and the general public sentiment tend to favor the tenant. No one wants to take responsibility for creating another homeless person or force a business to close its doors. However, landlords must pay bills and taxes on the properties just like everyone else, so eviction sometimes becomes necessary to enlist a paying tenant. This article and two others to follow describe the general process of eviction.
Statute gives the term “Unlawful Detainer” to the eviction process.
Eviction generally means to remove a tenant from a rental property owned by a landlord. Statute gives the name of “Unlawful Detainer” to the eviction process. The statute under RCW 59.12.030 defines the following as evict-able actions by a tenant:
- Holding over on an old lease,
- Continuing possession (occupancy) after notice requiring tenant to quit (“quit” is the legal term for vacating) premises,
- Continuing possession (occupancy) after default,
- Continuing possession (occupancy) after failing to perform a condition or covenant,
- Permitting waste or conducting unlawful business, failure to remove after three days’ notice, or
- Permitting gang-related activity as prohibited in RCW 59.18.130 (injures or endangers safety or health of people in at least two or more residences).
If a tenant meets any of these standards then you may take legal action to begin eviction. The first step in the eviction process requires you to draft and serve an eviction notice. Eviction notices require specific language and facts, as well as the excluding some information one might find themselves tempted to include.
Content of Eviction Notice
Depending on the severity of the breach, the desired outcome, and the total amount of fees and rents involved, you need to prepare and serve a Notice to Comply or Vacate. The following three options should fit the demands of most landlords.
1. Three Day Notice to Vacate.
Three day notices serve primarily as a vehicle to collect back rent and/or remove a tenant. A 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit must state:
- No more than the exact amount of rent owed (if more than one month, itemize the amount owed by each month);
- Choice of paying the rent or vacating;
- The correct address of the tenants being evicted;
- The name, address, and telephone number of the person accepting rent; and
- If allowed to pay rent in person, the usual days and hours the person receiving rent will be available. A landlord may need to describe the process of payment method.
A landlord may typically collect only rent when using a 3-Day Notice but in some jurisdictions a landlord can also collect late fees. Consult an attorney regarding the rules in your jurisdiction or use a 10-Day Notice to Comply or Vacate if when intending to seek collection of other charges.
If you want to collect back rent and/or remove a tenant as quickly as possible, use a 3-Day Notice.
The content of the 3-Day Notice may not contain non-rent items such as utilities, security deposits, or other costs. A landlord may not include older rent if a landlord accepted rent in the interim.
2. Ten Day Notice to Vacate.
Use ten day notices to remove tenants because they violated a term of the lease. A 10-Day Notice to Comply or Vacate must state:
- All late charges, NSF (non-sufficient funds) fees, and other charges;
- Any terms of the lease, rules and regulations, or statute not complied with including, but not limited to, no smoking provisions; unauthorized occupants or pets; and health, safety, and sanitation issues;
- What actions tenant must take to reach compliance;
- The correct address of the tenants being evicted; and
- The name, address, and telephone number of the person or company responsible for monitoring compliance with provisions of the lease, rules and regulations, and statutes.
If a tenant violates a term(s) of the lease, use a 10-Day Notice to remove the tenant bu you collect no rent.
Please note a landlord cannot collect rent with a 10-Day Notice to Comply or Vacate. In general, if a tenant violates multiple lease provisions, rules and regulations, or statutes, then a landlord should issue a separate 10-Day Notice for each violation.
3. Twenty Day Notice to Vacate.
Only tenants on a month to month lease may receive a 20-Day Notice to Vacate. A landlord seeking to remove a tenant on such a lease for any reason may use this vehicle.
A 20-Day Notice to Terminate Tenancy must state:
- The specific date of termination of tenancy;
- The correct address of the tenants being evicted; and
- The name, address, and telephone number of the person responsible or company managing the property.
A 20-Day Notice terminates a month-to-month periodic tenancy in most jurisdiction but the City of Seattle makes the landlord meet some requirements before allowing this type of action.
Use a 20-Day Notice to remove a tenant on a month to month lease.
A tenant may also use the 20-Day Notice. Any tenant who currently serves in the armed forces may terminate a rental agreement with less than twenty days’ notice if tenant receives reassignment or deployment orders that allow too little time for a twenty-day notice.
Courts and statute use the term “service” to describe the actual delivery of the notice to vacate to the tenant and a landlord must follow certain protocols and meet specific requirements for a proper service. A landlord may enlist a professional process server for a fee but he may serve the eviction notice himself too. Failure to provide proper service requires the landlord to reserve the eviction notice and start the Unlawful Detainer process over.
RCW 59.12.040 dictates that the landlord must serve notice:
- by delivery a copy personally to all adult occupants of the premises; or
- by leaving a copy with a person of suitable age and discretion (at least 18 years old) AND sending a copy of the notice via US regular mail; or
- if neither the tenant nor a person of suitable age and discretion is present, then the landlord (or his agent) may affix a copy of the notice in a conspicuous place on the premises AND mail a copy to each adult occupant.
Simply mailing the eviction notice fails to meet the requirements set out in the RCW and requires a landlord to begin anew the eviction process even if the tenant actually receives the notice. A landlord may not place the notice in the mailbox, a landlord must mail through the US Postal Service.
Simply mailing the Notice fails to comply with statute and requires a landlord to restart the eviction process.
A landlord may use US regular mail unless the lease terms require certified mail. If a landlord must mail the notice, then the rule requires one day added to the notice before the landlord can take further action. A landlord must send the mail from the same county as the residence. Therefore, a landlord must stringently comply with RCW 59.12.040.
Other Important Factors to Consider:
- Posting. The landlord or landlord’s agent must knock prior to posting the notice. The person posting the notice must make reasonable inquiry to whether anyone is currently in the residence. If no one answers the door, then the landlord or his/her agent may post the notice on the door. The posting must be obvious and anyone could read the notice. A landlord may not place the notice in an envelope or in a location that the tenant could fail to notice. Therefore, a landlord should post the notice on the front door and secure the notice to prevent it from failing off.
- Adult Occupants. The law requires every adult in the residence receive the eviction notice. If someone answers the door, a landlord or his/her agent must make sure the person who opened the door receives enough copies for everyone who resides at that location. A landlord must give exact copies of the same notice with all residents’ names on the notice to everyone as opposed to individually addressing each resident with separate notices. Although you should not include unauthorized residents on the notice, you should supply enough copies to account for unauthorized residents.
- Calculation of Time. For a notice to terminate tenancy (“20-day notice” discussed further below) note you must serve the notice at least twenty days before the end of the rental period. You cannot simply add twenty days from the current date. In Seattle, you must supply just cause even if the tenant signed a month-to-month lease.
- Check the Lease. The lease governs several different aspects of the eviction notice. You must comply with the lease. In some instances, the lease may allow for shorter periods than those contained in RCW 59.12, but the lease may also require longer periods.