Residential Eviction Process


Eviction notices. An eviction usually begins with a notice–either a three-day for rent, a ten-day to comply, or a twenty-day notice terminating a month-to-month tenancy. The landlord may serve these notices, but the notices must be served correctly. Emailing eviction notices does not count. Mailing eviction notices by itself does not count, even if sent certified–although mailing is sometimes required in combination with other methods of serving eviction notices.  Detailed instructions on serving eviction notices can be found on our eviction forms page.

Evicting at the end of a lease does not require a notice–so long as the tenancy has not gone month-to-month. Nevertheless, The landlord must still go through the eviction process in court. Likewise with the “20-day” notice. At the end of the notice period the landlord is still required to go through the same eviction process in court if the tenant does not vacate.

Summons and complaint. After the initial notice period, or after the end of the lease term, the landlord must sue for eviction. Unlawful detainer is the legal name for this type of lawsuit. The landlord must have a disinterested person serve a summons and complaint. These pleadings must be served by a third party, not the landlord. Also, these documents must be put into the hands of a tenant, and not just posted and mailed–at least in the absence of a court order.

Default. If the tenant fails to vacate and also fails to answer the complaint before the deadline on the summons, the landlord may file a motion for default, without notice to the tenant. A landlord attorney can calculate the correct due date to put on the summons, and file a motion for default with supporting documents. The landlord is not entitled to default if the tenant responds to the complaint.

Show Cause hearing. If the tenant responds to the complaint, the landlord must file a motion setting the case for a show cause hearing and give notice to the tenant. In many Washington counties the tenant gets a free attorney at the hearing. Free attorneys for residential tenants facing eviction are currently available in King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Thurston counties.

Writ of restitution. Either by default or at a hearing, the landlord is seeking a court order to issue a writ of restitution. The sheriff then serves this document. Once the writ is served, the tenant has three business days to vacate. If the tenant still does not vacate, the landlord must schedule a physical eviction with the sheriff.

Judgment. Depending on how the eviction plays out, the landlord might be granted a judgment for money owed. In some scenarios–such as when a tenant vacates before the writ is issued–the landlord will not obtain a judgment in the eviction process, and would have to pursue that  in a separate action. If the landlord obtains a judgment for money owed, collection efforts such as garnishments are a separate process.

This is a quick summary of the residential eviction process in Washington. For further advice about the residential eviction process consult with a landlord attorney.