02 Nov When Should A Washington Landlord/Tenant Dispute Enter Litigation?
Disputes between landlords and tenants are common and complicated. The dangers are high stakes for both sides, and it’s rare for either side to admit fault at their own volition. This leads to many disputes being resolved without litigation, which can be mutually beneficial. The problem arises when either both sides are afraid to seek legal counsel or one side is too eager to seek litigation.
If you are involved in a dispute and are wondering whether your case would benefit from going to litigation, we’ve decided to look at common disputes and see where you should think about taking the next step.
Failure to make repairs
As a tenant, it is extremely likely that you’ll eventually be in a situation in which there’s a repair that needs to be done that the landlord hasn’t dealt with. Luckily there are laws to protect tenants in this situation. After a tenant has delivered written notice to the landlord or rent collector that the repair needs to be done, the landlord has at most ten days to begin fixing the problem. Some cases require the landlord to take action more promptly:
- If the issue is denying the tenant access to a large appliance such as a refrigerator, oven, range, or major plumbing fixture, the landlord has 72 hours.
- If the issue is actively putting residents in danger, removing access to hot or cold water, heat, or electricity, the landlord has only 24 hours.
You should seek legal assistance or mediation if your landlord fails to follow these laws and fails to make major repairs promptly. If the conditions have made the property uninhabitable or the landlord is particularly retaliatory, the tenant should be prepared to find alternative accommodations.
Rent Increase/Forced Eviction
Rent control is illegal in Washington State, so landlords are legally allowed to increase the rent as much as they want. The law that renters should remember is that they are entitled to a minimum of 60 days notice before a rent increase is implemented and that the increase cannot become effective before the completion of the rental term.
As for pay or vacate notices (forced eviction after failure to pay rent), recent updates to Washington law increased the time period between delivery of the notice and when the tenant is required to move out from three days to 14 days. Landlords are not legally allowed to lock renters out or shut-off utilities to force evictions, or evict a tenant in retaliation to them asserting their rights.
Terms of eviction regarding simple termination of rental agreements give tenants a minimum of 20 days written notice prior to the end of their rental agreement. Similarly, a tenant who moves out without giving proper notice is still responsible for the full amount of rent for the remainder of their rental agreement term.
If you’re being forcibly evicted from your residence without receiving proper notice, you should seek legal action.
Refusing to Return a Deposit
After moving out, a tenant is owed either the return of their deposit or a written explanation as to why they did not receive any or all of their original deposit within 21 days. If the landlord fails to provide this within 21 days, the tenant is owed the full amount for the deposit, regardless of any claims by the landlord.
If the court rules in the tenants favor in a withheld deposit case, they may award the tenant up to double the amount of the deposit.
Abuse of Right of Access
Landlords are allowed to visit and enter their property to inspect the premises, make repairs, or show the property to potential tenants. This right has its limitations, and tenants have their rights. The landlord must give at least two days notice and must have the tenant’s consent before entering, and must limit their visits to necessity and reasonable times.
If your landlord is using their right of access to harass you or are entering your premises without your consent, you should seek legal counsel.
Failure to maintain the property
While landlords are responsible for making large repairs, tenants should be keeping the premises clean and in good condition. This means that they are responsible for regular cleaning and not breaking the property. Should the renter be responsible for breaking something they are responsible for paying to repair it. If a renter doesn’t repair minor fixes such as mildew in the shower or doesn’t keep the house clean, the issues can grow. This makes it a liability for the landlord.
Similarly, if a major issue goes unreported the landlord may never know and are not responsible.
If a tenant continually fails to report damages and does not maintain the premises, the landlord has cause for eviction. If the damage is severe, the landlord may even be able to file a claim.
Failure to pay rent
When a tenant refuses to pay rent, the landlord is losing large amounts of money. However, this doesn’t mean the landlord is allowed to evict them without due process. Pay or vacate notices must be given 14 days before they are required to move out. If they refuse to leave after their term has expired, you need to seek legal action to have them forcibly evicted.
Sometimes tenants leave without notice or properly moving out. This is inconvenient and expensive, as the landlord is then responsible for clearing their property out of the premises and the following procedure before putting the property up for rent again. This is cause for legal action, as they have broken the rental agreement by failing to provide proper notice prior to leaving.
The Best Way to Avoid Liability in Landlord/Tenant Litigation
From the real estate lawyers at Templeton Horton Weibel & Broughton PLLC, the best way to protect yourself is by ensuring you never sign a lease agreement you haven’t read or agreed to. Leases are serious, as are rental agreements, and it’s important to ensure there aren’t any clauses that could cause you to be at fault, whether you’re a tenant or a landlord.
Our lawyers are experienced in drafting, reviewing, and negotiating such agreements, as well as defending both landlords and tenants when litigation is necessary. Remember that you have rights that deserve protection and that you can contact us anytime you feel like you have a case.