Governor Signs Sweeping Changes to Washington Landlord-Tenant Laws

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On May 14, 2019, Governor Inslee signed SB 5600, a bill that dramatically alters the landscape of Washington residential landlord-tenant law.  The effective date of this legislation is July 27, 2019.  SB 5600 does not apply to commercial real estate. Residential landlords and property managers need to be well-versed in these changes, which are as follows:

  • The 3-day pay or vacate notice period will be increased to 14 days, and the notice must contain specific language on where to find legal or advocacy resources and interpreters, if necessary.
  • Landlords must first apply any payment received from a tenant to rent, rather than to utilities or other expenses the tenant may be behind on.
  • “Rent” is specifically defined to mean recurring and periodic charges identified in the rental agreement for use and occupancy of premises, including any charges for utilities, and expressly excludes nonrecurring charges for costs incurred due to late payment, damages, deposits, legal costs, or other fees such as attorneys’ fees.
  • Tenants may appeal an unlawful detainer by depositing any rent due, court costs, late fees of not more than $75.00 and any attorney’s fees awarded within 5 court days to be restored to their tenancy.
  • The court can award statutory costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees to the landlord, except when the tenant failed to appear or the total amount of rent awarded is equal to or less than two months of the tenant’s monthly rent or $1,200, whichever is greater
  • At a show cause hearing following entry of judgment for the landlord, the court may now take into account the following “equitable” factors to grant the tenant relief:
    • the tenant’s willful or intentional default or failure to pay rent;
    • payment history of the tenant;
    • ability of tenant to timely pay judgment;
    • whether nonpayment was caused by exigent circumstances beyond tenant’s   control and are not likely to recur;
    • if tenant is otherwise in substantial compliance with the lease;
    • hardship on the tenant if evicted; and
    • conduct related to other notices within the last six months.

I’m a landlord. How does this affect me?

Rental Agreements:  You may want to take a look at your rental agreement(s) to confirm that they are consistent with all of these new laws.

Pay or Vacate Notices:  After July 27, you will have to give 14-day Pay or Vacate Notices instead of the prior 3-day Pay or Vacate Notice, and the form of that notice must contain specific language.  10-day Comply or Vacate Notices are not affected.

Collecting Rent/Curing Defaults:  Many rental agreements will need to be amended to provide that back rent is paid first, as opposed to utilities, etc.

Equitable Factors:  Landlord-tenant law will no longer be binary because judges will have discretion to consider “human factors” such as hardship or sickness as part of their eviction decisions.  Landlords may want to think twice before evicting a tenant who has fallen on hard times, but who has the potential to recover.

Attorney’s Fees:  If you are evicting a tenant who is behind equal to or less than the greater of two months’ rent or $1200, or who doesn’t show at the hearing, you will not be able to recover your court costs and attorney’s fees.

Tenant Appeals/Re-Letting:  Consider the possibility that a tenant may appeal the unlawful detainer before re-letting the premises to someone else.

I’m a tenant. How does this affect me?

Pay or Vacate Notice:  Your landlord cannot issue a 3-day Pay or Vacate Notice after July 27, 2019.  3-day Pay or Vacate Notices will be replaced with a 14-day Notice.

Rent Payments:  Your landlord must apply any payments received first to rent.  They cannot prioritize utilities, etc., first.

Hardship/Equitable Factors:  If you have fallen on hard times, but have a legitimate chance to recover, or if you are unable to pay rent for reasons beyond your control, you may be able to work something out with your landlord, because an eviction is no longer guaranteed.

Attorneys’ Fees:  If you are two months behind in rent or $1200.00, whichever is greater, your landlord will not be able to recover their court costs and attorney’s fees.

Helsell Fetterman’s Real Estate and Land Use Practice Group is happy to assist you if you have any questions or if you need help complying with this new law.

About the Authors

Michael Spence

Mike Spence co-chairs the real estate practice group at Helsell Fetterman. A significant part of his practice involves advising buyers, sellers, property owners and brokers all aspects of real estate including waterfront property issues.

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