Residential Eviction Process

Court action is required to evict any tenant who refuses to vacate. 

A landlord who has the right to possession is required to go through the eviction process to remove a tenant who wrongfully refuses to leave. A landlord must go through the eviction process even if the landlord just wants the property back, tenant is clearly in violation of the lease, the lease has expired, or there never was a written rental agreement.

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. The eviction process is also known as an unlawful detainer action.

In many Washington counties, residential tenants can get a volunteer attorney free of charge.

Eviction notices. An eviction usually begins with a notice (Notice to Pay Rent or Vacate, Notice to Comply or Vacate, and/or Notice to Terminate Tenancy).

Some local cities have additional requirements and additional language mandated for residential eviction notices. This is true for Seattle, Tacoma, and Federal Way. Be sure to use our location-specific eviction notice forms where indicated.

The landlord may serve these notices, but the notices must be served correctly. Our firm can draft and serve these notices, or forms are posted on our eviction forms page. Legally, the landlord or manager may serve these notices (but not the summons and complaint).

Summons and complaint. After the initial notice period, the landlord must sue for eviction. Unlawful detainer is the legal name for this type of lawsuit. The landlord must have a disinterested non-party serve a summons and complaint.  The tenant is to respond to the complaint by the deadline on the summons.

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.

Show Cause hearing. If the tenant responds to the complaint, the landlord must file a motion to set the case for a show cause hearing and give notice to the tenant.

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 serves the writ. The writ gives the tenant a deadline to vacate. If the tenant still does not vacate, the landlord must schedule a physical eviction with the sheriff.

This is a quick summary of the residential eviction process in Washington and is not a substitute for legal advice. For further advice about the residential eviction process consult with a landlord attorney.

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