Landlord Attorney Travis Scott Eller

A Washington landlord who wants a tenant out must go through the eviction process, also called an unlawful detainer action. There are no exceptions to the requirement to go through the eviction process.  The landlord must go through the eviction process even if the landlord only wants the property back. Self-help eviction is illegal in Washington. A landlord may not force a tenant out by changing locks, turning off utilities, or other strong-arm measures.

Residential tenants can get a free attorney in many Washington counties. Commercial tenants usually hire a private landlord-tenant attorney. Often when an eviction goes wrong for the landlord it is a procedural misstep that an experienced landlord-tenant attorney might have helped the landlord avoid.

Travis Eller regularly handles a volume of landlord-tenant cases. Mr. Eller gives lectures at landlord-tenant seminars attended by rental property owners, property managers, and other attorneys. The National Institute for Trial Advocacy has awarded Travis Eller its "Advocate" designation.  

Mr. Eller focuses much of  his practice on real property and landlord-tenant law. Mr. Eller handles residential evictions and commercial evictions, post-foreclosure evictions, as well as real property disputes and litigation. Mr. Eller practices landlord-tenant law in Seattle, Tacoma , Everett, Olympia, and all of King County,  Pierce County Snohomish County, and  Thurston County.  

The eviction process

Landlords must go through the eviction process in court for any tenant who refuses to move out of the rental property. A landlord must go through the eviction process even if the landlord  just wants the property back, the tenant is clearly in violation of the lease, or there never was a written agreement. An eviction court order is required to remove any tenant who refuses to leave. The eviction process is also known as an unlawful detainer action.

Both residential evictions and commercial evictions usually begin with an initial eviction notice–such as a notice to pay rent or vacatenotice to comply or vacate, or notice to terminate the tenancy.  You can download our free eviction notice forms. The eviction notice forms come with instructions.

The next step in the eviction process is serving a summons and complaint. These documents (unlike the initial eviction notice) cannot be served by the landlord. The next steps in the eviction process will depend on how the tenant responds.

For more details see our pages on the Residential Eviction Process or Commercial Eviction Process.

Procedural missteps can cause delay in the eviction process, or even cause the landlord to have to start the eviction over. Residential tenants in many Washington counties can get a free attorney who will review the case for procedural errors and substantive tenant defenses. Commercial tenants often retain private counsel. Hiring a landlord-tenant attorney with the knowledge and experience to guide your case through the eviction process can save time and money.

This same eviction process (an unlawful detainer action) is used to remove occupants after foreclosure. There are additional procedures for post-foreclosure evictions that must also be followed.

Some narrow circumstances occasionally require a different type of eviction lawsuit called an ejectment action. This may be necessary to evict a former employee, or a buyer in possession when a real estate sale fails to close.

If you are facing a landlord-tenant dispute you should consult with an landlord attorney familiar with current landlord-tenant law. Contact us for more information.

Recent Changes in Seattle Landlord-Tenant Law

Seattle first-in-time rule.

Seattle enacted  first-in-time rule ordinance in 2016 that requires landlords of residential rental properties to accept the first qualified applicant. Landlords are required to track when potential tenant inquires are received. The new law leaves no discretion to the landlord. The constitutionality of the first-in-time ordinance is being challenged in a lawsuit.

Seattle security deposit and move-in fees limitations.

Seattle ordinance limits security deposits move-in fees.   The law limits security deposits to the first full month’s rent.  Pet deposits are limited to 25% of the fist full month’s rent. Non-refundable fees are limited to a few specified items, and cannot exceed 10% of the first full month’s rent. Seattle residential landlords are required to accept a payment plan for all move-in costs.

Seattle voter registration information requirement.

Seattle law requires landlords to give voter registration information to tenants and prospective tenants. Failure to do so allows the tenant to terminate the rental agreement and/or sue the landlord. The landlord could face a claim for actual damages, attorney fees, and monetary penalties of up to $1,000.

Seattle rental property registration.

Seattle landlords of residential rental properties are required to register the rental property with the City of Seattle. Failure to do so may be a defense in an eviction case.

Recent Changes in Landlord-Tenant Law 

There have been many important changes in landlord-tenant law at the federal, Washington state, and local levels in the past few years. It is important for landlords to keep up to date on changes in landlord-tenant law. This is a quick summary of just some of the recent changes in landlord-tenant law.

Tenant criminal background checks.

Under federal HUD guidelines issued in 2016, landlords may face fair-housing liability if the landlord imposes a blanket rule regarding screening potential residential tenants for criminal history. Note that this is a federal guideline, so it applies even outside of Seattle. Landlords must now take into account the severity of the criminal activity, how recent the activity was, and the applicants conduct since. In Seattle, landlord cannot use criminal backgrounds checks at all.

Seattle has passed more stringent restrictions on tenant criminal background checks. Under the new City of Seattle Fair Housing ordinance landlords may not use criminal background checks when screening potential residential tenants, with only narrow exceptions.

Source of income.

Local laws in many places in Washington state limit landlords’ use of source of income in making rental decisions. Landlords in some local jurisdictions are prohibited from considering source of income, such as Section 8 vouchers. There are currently laws regarding source of income in Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, Seattle, Olympia, Tumwater, Vancouver, unincorporated King County, Renton, and Seattle.

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No. A landlord can never just change locks to evict a tenant. A landlord cannot just call the sheriff. Without a court order, the sheriff cannot  evict a tenant.

This is true even if the landlord is not interested in trying to collect money owed, there is no written rental agreement, there was a lease that has now expired, or any other reason. The landlord must always go through the eviction process in court if the tenant refuses to leave.

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