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Landlord-Tenant Frequently Asked Questions

What is the City of Tacoma's Landlord-Tenant Program?

 

As part of the City's commitment to helping residents have access to stable housing options the City of Tacoma offers a Landlord-Tenant Program.

 

The program is focused on improving the quality of life for the residents of Tacoma by equipping landlords and tenants with the tools needed to sustain safe, healthy, equitable and crime free communities.

 

The primary function of the Landlord-Tenant Program is to assist in providing information and referrals to both landlords and tenants to resolve disputes that arise under the Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RCW 59.18).  This service is free and available to both property owners and tenants within the Tacoma City limits.

 

The Landlord-Tenant Program offers services in the following areas:

 

  • Information and Referral
    • Rent
    • Deposits
    • Repairs/Maintenance Issues
  • Building Code Violations
    • Landlord-Tenant Inspection
  • Training/Education

How do I file a landlord-tenant complaint?

 

The Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA, RCW 59.18) does not have an enforcement component.  There is not a government entity designated to enforce the RLTA.  However, there are civil remedies available to both landlords and tenants who feel like they have been harmed in a rental transaction.  If you believe your rights have been violated you should seek legal advice.

 

How can the Landlord-Tenant Program assist me?

 

The primary function of the Landlord-Tenant Program is to provide information and referrals to both landlords and tenants to resolve disputes that arise under the Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA, RCW 59.18).  This service is free and available to both property owners and tenants within the Tacoma City limits.

 

The Landlord-Tenant Program will also assist tenants who believe they have habitability issues.

 

If you would like assistance and reside within the Tacoma City limits, please complete this intake form (Intake Form)

 

How long does a landlord have to make repairs to a rental unit?

 

After a tenant has provide the landlord written notice of needed repair(s), the landlord has the following timeframes to begin repairs:

 

    1.  Not more than twenty-four (24) hours, where the defective condition deprives the tenant of hot or cold water, heat, or electricity, or is imminently hazardous to life;

 

    2.  Not more than seventy-two (72) hours, where the defective condition deprives the tenant of the use of a refrigerator, range and over, or a major plumbing fixture supplied by the landlord; and

 

    3.  Not more than ten (10) days in all other cases.

 

Please note these are timeframes to begin the repairs, and complete them in a timely manner.

 

For more detailed information on this process and the remedies available to you please visit: (here

 

Does the City of Tacoma conduct code enforcement inspections of rental property?

 

Rental property is considered private property; therefore the City of Tacoma cannot come onto the property to inspect without the owner's permission or by a tenant using the inspection remedy as outlined in RCW 59.18.115.

 

A tenant who has followed all the steps under RCW 59.18.115 can request an inspection by Landlord-Tenant Code Compliance Inspection and the landlord cannot refuse entry.

 

If you are a tenant and have completed all required steps (link) you can request an inspection by completing this form (link).

 

How much notice must a landlord give to enter a rental unit?

 

2-Day Written Notice:

 

According to RCW 59.18.150 the landlord must give you at least two days' written notice first.  The notice must state:

  • the date(s) of entry
  • either the exact time of entry OR a period of time during which the entry will happen, including the earliest and latest possible times
  • a phone number for you to call to object to the entry date/time or to ask to reschedule

The landlord must enter at a reasonable time of day.  Example:  9am is reasonable; 9pm is probably not reasonable.

 

1-Day Written Notice:

 

The landlord only has to give one day's notice to enter to show the unit to existing or possible new tenants.

 

A tenant cannot unreasonably refuse the landlord's entry to the unit to repair, improve or service the unit.  In the case of an emergency or abandonment, the landlord can enter the unit without notice.

 

Can a landlord just change the locks on a rental property without going through the eviction process?

 

No.

 

According to RCW 59.18.290, no matter what, even if behind in rent, the landlord cannot:

  • lock a tenant out of the unit;
  • change locks;
  • add new locks; or
  • keep tenant from entering the unit in any way.

Can a landlord turn off utilities to a rental unit?


No.

 

Per RCW 59.18.300, a landlord can only shut off utilities to make repairs.  S/he cannot shut off utilities:

  • because rent is owed
  • to try to force a tenant to move out

It is illegal for the landlord to purposely not pay the utility bills in order to get the service turned off.  A tenant can sue the landlord if s/he shuts off utilities.  If the tenant wins, the judge can award up to $100 for each day they were without utilities, in addition to any actual damages incurred because of the shutoff.

 

Does the landlord have to give a reason to terminate tenancy?

 

For a month-to-month agreement:  The landlord does not need a reason for asking a tenant to move.  A written notice to terminate tenancy must be served at least 20 days before the end of the rental period.  RCW 59.18.200(1)(a).  Example:  The rental period ends June 30th.  Rent would be due July 1st.  The landlord must serve the written notice to move out before June 9th.

 

For leases (for example 6, 9, or 12-month):  Usually a landlord cannot ask a tenant to move during their lease without a reason.  Check the lease for exceptions.

 

If you live in federally-subsidized housing:  You have additional rights.  For more information:  Public Housing Evictions; HUD Housing Evictions.  Call CLEAR at 1-888-201-1014 or visit www.washingtonlawhelp.org for more help.

 

When do deposits need to be refunded?

 

A landlord has fourteen days to return the deposit OR provide an itemized statement stating why s/he is keeping all/part of the deposit.  If a tenant needs assistance with getting their security deposit back, review publication called Can I Get My Security Deposit Back?  It is online at www.washingtonlawhelp.org or call CLEAR at 1-888-201-2014.

 

Can a landlord retaliate against a tenant for exercising their rights under the Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act?


No.

 

According to RCW 59.18.240 the landlord cannot take "retaliatory actions" against a tenant for exercising their rights.  If a tenant believes their landlord is retaliating against them illegally, talk to a lawyer.

 

Examples of retaliation:

 

Tenant reported a big hole in their roof to the City.  The City notifies the landlord that they are going to inspect the unit.  The landlord then raises the rent.

 

Tenant properly notifies the landlord that they are deducting costs for repairs from rent.  After the landlord gets this notice, s/he has the heat shut off.  The heat is unrelated to the repairs requested.

 

If the landlord does take an adverse action against a tenant within 90 days of them exercising their rights, it may count as "retaliation" and may be illegal.  A tenant should talk to a lawyer if they think the landlord may be illegally retaliating against them.  A tenant can sue the landlord if s/he retaliates against you for reporting him or for deducting a repair from your rent.

 

When is a rental unit considered "abandoned"?

 

According to RCW 59.18.310 a tenant is considered to have abandoned a dwelling only if:

 

  • owe rent

AND

  • have told the landlord, in words, actions or writing, that they are moving out.

If both of these are true, the landlord can enter the unit to remove the abandoned property.  The landlord must store all the property in a reasonably safe place.  S/he must then mail a notice saying where and when s/he will sell your property.

 

If the landlord does not have a new address, s/he should mail it to the rental address so the post office can forward it.

 

How is the eviction process started?

 

In order to begin the eviction process, a landlord must first give a written notice to terminate tenancy to your tenant.

 

The types of notices you can serve include:

  • 3-day pay or vacate
  • 3-day for waste, nuisance, or illegal activity
  • 10-day comply or vacate notice
  • 20-day notice to terminate tenancy

If at the expiration of the notice, the issue on the notice has been corrected or the tenant has not moved out, the landlord has the right to start the Unlawful Detainer (eviction) Process as described in RCW 59.12.

 

The eviction process is very detailed one and of not done correctly, it can cost additional time and resources.  Most landlords find it beneficial to hire legal counsel to do the process.  However, if a landlord would like to do the eviction themselves, it is suggested they purchase the Self Eviction Packet from the Pierce County Law Library.

 

What is "waste, nuisance or illegal activity" on rental property, and what can be done?

 

A tenant is not allowed to:

  • permanently damage or destroy the landlord's property
  • use the property for certain illegal activity including illegal drug-related activity
  • engage in gang-related activity
  • interfere with other tenants' use of the property

If a tenant does any of these things, a landlord can serve a 3-day notice to vacate.  The tenant must move out within three days after receiving the notice.  There is no option to correct the problem and stay.

 

If the tenant does not move within the three days, the landlord has the right to start the unlawful detainer process.  It is suggested a landlord seek legal advice prior to serving a 3-day notice to vacate for waste, nuisance or illegal activity.  If you do not have an attorney you can contact Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association Lawyer Referral at: 253-383-3432.

 

If a landlord believes that their tenant is committing illegal activity on the rental property, they can contact the Tacoma Police Department Community Liaison Officer (CLO) for their area to discuss their concerns.  The CLO will be able to provide the landlord with information related to the rental property such as calls for service or complaints from neighbors.  If you do not know who your CLO is please refer to (CLO) and locate the sector your property is in.