After properly serving a tenant the proper Notice to Vacate (3-Day, 10-Day, or 20-Day), and allowing the prescribed time to elapse, a landlord may begin eviction proceedings in court if the tenant fails to vacate.  The process begins with two documents (pleadings) and one hearing.  After you draft and file a Summons and Complaint, you then schedule and hold a Show Cause hearing.


Like many pleadings, the Summons requires some detailed information as well as instructions to the opposing party.  The service of the Summons must also comply with state and local rules.

The Summons must contain the following information:

  • Names of the parties to the proceeding;
  • Attorney or attorneys if any;
  • Court in which the action is brought;
  • Nature of the action in concise terms;
  • Relief sought;
  • Return deadline for a response;
  • Deadline date for the defendant to appear and answer or the   relief sought would be taken against him;
  • Street address for service of the Notice of Appearance or   Answer; and
  • If available, a facsimile number for the plaintiff or plaintiff’s   attorney, if represented.

The Summons and Complaint must be served by a personal service and may not be anyone that is a party to the case.

A landlord must serve the summons by personal service.  The person serving the tenant may not be a party to the action.  RCW 5.18.365(3) provides a template for the Eviction Summons.  The landlord must provide a response date with no less than six days and no more than twelve days from the date of service.


Just like the Summons, the Complaint must adhere to certain rules, contain particular information, and requires service on the parties according to state and local rules.

The Complaint must include the following information:

  • Names of the parties to the proceeding;
  • Attorney or attorneys if any;
  • Court in which the same is brought;
  • Nature of the action;
  • Language bestowing jurisdiction on the court where you file;
  • Location of the property in question;
  • Factual summary (must include facts sufficient to show tenant committed an unlawful detainer);
  • Plaintiff’s Cause of Action;
  • Prayer for Relief;
  • Signature and date; and
  • Contact information for the party or attorney filing the complaint.

Filing fees are required.  In Pierce County Superior Court the fees to open a case are usually $200.00-$300.00.

Courts prefer attached exhibits such as the lease, the notice of eviction, and any other correspondence or documents that help the judge render his decision.

Upon filing the Complaint and Summons, the most courts generate a case schedule and assign the case to a judge.  In Washington, when the agent engaged to serves the Summons and Complaint, he must include a copy of the case schedule.  Check your local rules to avoid incomplete or improper service because you omitted a document.


Anytime after filing the Summons and Complaint (often the day of the filing), you or your attorney may appear before a judge ex parte to request an Order to Show Cause.  This Motion requests that the judge set a hearing date for the tenant to appear before the court and explain why the court should not issue a Writ of Restitution to return the property to the landlord.  Judges usually set the date for this hearing approximately two weeks (14 days) from the appearance requesting the Order to Show Cause in front of the ex parte judge.

At the Show Cause hearing the tenant must appear to explain why the court should not give the landlord the requested relief.

If the judge issues the Order setting the hearing, the landlord must serve the signed Order (signed by the ex parte judge) with copies of the Summons and Complaint, even if the Summons and Complaint underwent previous service.  The service agent must personally serve the tenant at least seven (7) days prior to the hearing.

Show Cause Motions carry the advantage of essentially setting a court date should the tenant fail to vacate and it acts as a surrogate trial.  However, if the tenant fails to answer, even though the landlord receives the relief sought in the Complaint, the motion comes with additional costs.


  • Serve an Unfiled Summons and Complaint. Rather than opening a new case and incurring the expense, one could serve an unfiled Summons and Complaint to the tenant.  This allows the tenant one last opportunity to negotiate a time to vacate the property and work out a payment plan for any rent due and owing as well as save the potential embarrassment by making his failure a matter of public record, which negatively impacts the client’s rental history.
  • Wait to File Motion to Show Cause. After opening the case and serving the Summons and Complaint, the tenant must respond (Answer). If he fails to file and Answers within the time prescribed on the Summons, then the tenant defaults.  At that point, the landlord may appear before the ex parte Judge for a Default Judgment.  The Default Judgment entitles the landlord to the relief requested in the Complaint.  Judges generally disfavor Default Judgments and the tenant may argue one of the defenses allotted in CR 60 Relief from Judgment or Order when the sheriff attempts to evict the tenant.  These objections usually suggest improper service and require the tenant to file a Motion to Vacate.


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