How to evict a tenant for not paying rent in Washington

1.    Issue a three-day notice to pay rent or vacate.

Once a tenant defaults in paying rent, the landlord may serve the tenant with a three-day notice to pay rent or vacate. The notice must be (1) personally delivered to the tenant, or (2) posted on the premises and mailed to the tenant. The notice should specify the amount of rent that is in default and instruct the tenant that he/she has three days to either pay or vacate the premises.

2.    Present an order to show cause.

If the tenant does not pay the amount in default after the three-day notice period expires, the landlord can seek a writ of restitution that authorizes the county sheriff to enter the property and recover it for the landlord. To obtain the writ, the landlord needs to present a judge an order directing the tenant to show cause why the writ of restitution should not be issued and setting a court date when the tenant can appear to contest the eviction. The court date must be at least seven and no more than thirty days from the date the tenant is served with the legal papers.

3.    File an eviction complaint and summons.

While the writ of restitution will allow the landlord to recover the property, an eviction complaint may allow the landlord to receive a judgment for unpaid rent, fees, and other costs due under the lease agreement. The complaint should identify the parties, the bases for jurisdiction and venue (usually the tenant's breach of the lease agreement by failing to pay rent), and a request for any relief the landlord seeks. There will be a filing fee due upon filing an eviction complaint. The summons notifies the tenant that an action has been filed against him/her, and informs the tenant of the deadline to answer the complaint and contest the action. A form summons is set forth in RCW 59.18.365.

4.    Issue an optional registry notice.

In actions under the Residential Landlord Tenant Act for nonpayment of rent, the landlord can serve a notice on the tenant requiring the tenant to pay all rents due into the court registry or, alternatively, submit a sworn statement explaining why the rent is not owed. If the tenant does not comply within the specified time, a writ of restitution can be immediately obtained. The notice is described in RCW 59.18.375.

5.    Serve the tenant.

The summons, complaint, order to show cause, and registry notice must all be served on the tenant according to the rules for serving civil process. The county sheriff can serve the paperwork for a fee, or the landlord can hire a process server. Although professional assistance is not required, it is advisable because mistakes in service can delay the eviction process considerably.

6.    Attend the court hearing.

At the date scheduled for hearing on the order to show cause, the landlord should appear with any documentary evidence (written leases, records of payment, photographs of property, etc.) and be prepared to explain to the judge the reason for eviction. If the tenant does not answer or appear, the judge may issue the writ of restitution and/or enter a default judgment for past-due rent, damages, and any other charges to which the landlord is entitled. If the tenant appears and answers, the judge will decide whether the tenant has presented any legal defense that requires a trial on the merits. Be aware that under RCW 59.18.080, The tenant must be current on the rent to obtain remedies against the landlord — in other words, with limited exceptions, the tenant cannot claim that the landlord is in violation of any duties as a justification for withholding rent.

7.    Remove the tenant's property.

Once the judge issues a writ of restitution, the county sheriff must serve it on the tenant. The tenant then has three days to voluntarily vacate the premises. If the tenant does not leave, the landlord should contact the sheriff to schedule a move-out no later than ten days after the writ is served on the tenant. While the sheriff will enter the property and remain to protect the peace, it is the landlord's responsibility to remove any tenant property. If the tenant requests in writing within three days of receiving the writ that the landlord store the property, the landlord must hold it in a reasonably safe manner until the tenant pays the costs of moving and storing it. Property so held can be sold by the landlord thirty days after giving written notice of the sale to the tenant. If the tenant does not request storage, the landlord may move the property to the nearest public property — usually a sidewalk or curb. It is a good idea to cover the property with a tarp to comply with local regulations.

Various issues can arise at every point of the eviction process, and there are different strategies for getting rid of a problem tenant. It is highly advisable to seek an attorney's assistance to obtain comprehensive and tailored advice, and to help prepare all necessary papers to ensure the eviction proceeds smoothly. Contact Burkhart and Burkhart today.

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