Eviction Upheld on Appeal

A Seattle residential eviction with a complicated procedural history was recently upheld on appeal.[1]  The lease expired and the tenancy continued month-to-month.  After a parking dispute between the tenants and a neighbor, the landlord served a notice terminating the tenancy indicating that a member of the landlord’s immediate family intended to reside in the rental property. The tenants did not vacate, forcing the landlord to bring an eviction action.

In Seattle residential tenancies just cause is legally required to evict a tenant, even if the tenant is month-to-month.  The landlord is required to state the just cause eviction grounds in an eviction notice. One example of just cause to evict is that the landlord or a member of the landlord’s immediate family intends to reside in the rental unit.

At a show cause hearing the tenant argued retaliatory eviction. The court commissioner at the hearing set the case for trial. The landlords moved to revise the commissioner’s ruling, arguing that there was no triable issue and the landlords were entitled to possession without a trial. A judge agreed and entered an order striking the trial date and issuing a writ of restitution.

The tenants appealed, arguing that the landlords did not properly serve the notice to terminate the tenancy, and that the notice did not state sufficient grounds to evict under the Seattle just cause eviction ordinance.

Posting and mailing eviction notices is allowed only if no one can be “found” for personal service.  The tenants argued that the landlord could not properly serve the notice to terminate tenancy by posting and mailing because they were home at the time the notice was served, and therefore could have been “found” for personal service.

The landlord’s declaration of service indicated that he “attempted to deliver a copy of said Notice into the hands of the defendants but was unable to do so.” The Court of Appeals held that this was enough to show that the tenants could not be “found” within meaning of the statute for the purposes of personal service—whether they were home or not at the time of service. The Court reasoned that to hold otherwise “would allow a tenant to refuse to answer the door and completely avoid service.”

The tenants also argued that the notice did not sufficiently provide the reason for the termination and facts supporting that reason.[2]  The tenant argued that to support the eviction grounds the landlord is required to give specific information—such the name of the person or people moving in, when they are moving in, and why they are moving to the premises. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, ruling that plain language of the Seattle ordinance did not require such specificity and that the tenants’ subjective disbelief of the landlords’ stated intent does not create a triable issue.

The landlords did prevail after a long litigation saga. While most evictions are not so complicated, it may be wise for a landlord to have an attorney guide them through the process.

By Seattle landlord attorney Travis Scott Eller

[1] Faciszewski v. Brown, ____ Wn.App. ____ (Feb. 1, 2016 No.72611-1-1).

[2] SMC 22.206.160(C)(3).