Seattle Landlord Tenant Law

Local laws impact residential landlord-tenant law more than ever. This more so in Seattle than anywhere.  Here is a short summary of some of the more important Seattle landlord-tenant laws.

Seattle first in time law.

Seattle residential landlords must log all rental applicants and offer the rental to the first qualified applicant. Landlords are required to provide all prospective tenants with notice of the landlord’s criteria and all information required to apply to rent the property. The landlord must offer the rental to the first qaulified applicant.

The prospective tenant has 48 hours to accept. If the prospective tenant declines or fails to respond, the landlord must offer the rental to the next qualified applicant in chronological order.

Seattle limits on criminal background cheks.

While tere are limits to use of criminal background checks in renting that apply outside of Seattle, in Seattle local law essenitally prohibits landlords from screening any rental applicant for criminal background. There are exceptions when the landlord shares a single family home or a property with an accessory dwelling unit (example: a mother-in-law unit).

Landlords may review sex offender registration, but this must be dislcosed in advance, the applicant must be informed that they may provide supplemental information, and use of the information is limited.

A landord:

  • may not use arrest records for any purpose, since an arrest is not proof of guilt;
  • may not use criminal convictions more than two years old without a “legitimate business reason”;
  • may not use an adult’s status as a registered sex offender without a “legitimate business reason”;
  • may not use an adult’s status as a registered sex offender if based on a conviction while the offender was a minor;
  • may not use a juvenile’s status as a registered sex offender for any reason.

All rental applications (including online rental applications) must contain the following language. This must be on the application, even if it is also on the screening criteria.

“The landlord is prohibited from requiring disclosure, asking about, rejecting an
applicant, or taking an adverse action based on any arrest record, conviction record, or
criminal history, except for registry information as described in subsections
14.09.025.A.3, 14.09.025.A.4, and 14.09.025.A.5, and subject to the exclusions and legal
requirements in Section 14.09.115.”

Seattle security deposit and move-in fees limitations.

Seattle ordinance limits security deposits and 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.

A landlord group challenged the law in court, arguing that the Seattle ordinance violates a state law banning rental caps, and that the law violates the Washington state constitution. A local judge in Seattle upheld the law.

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.

Just Cause Eviction.

In Seattle a tenant can be evicted only for certain enumerated reasons. Even month-to-month tenants cannot be evicted unless there is just cause.

Just cause to evict includes failure to comply with a notice to pay rent or vacate or a notice to comply or vacate.

A month-to-month tenancy may be terminated if the tenant is served with four or more notices to pay rent or vacate or three or more notices to comply or vacate in a twelve-month period. A Seattle residential landlord may terminate a month-to-month tenancy with ninety days notice if the landlord seeks to sell a single family residence, or if the owner or an immediate family member intends to occupy the premises. Notice to terminate tenancy to reduce the number of tenants to comply legal limitations on the number of occupants requires thirty days notice. Other enumerated just cause reasons require at least twenty-days notice.

Registration.

All Seattle residential landlords must register their rental properties with the City, and are subject to random inspection.

Relocation Assistance.

Several situations require relocation assistance under the Seattle Municipal Code. Relocation assistance is required if the landlord intends substantial rehabilitation of the property, a change of use, removal of use restrictions, or the landlord  consented to a number of occupants exceeding legal maximum.  Tenants may argue for relocation assistance in an eviction case (unlawful detainer action).

The Seattle Municipal Code affords eviction protection to tenants who qualify for relocation assistance. A landlord may not evict a tenant or reduce services or materially increase the obligations of a such a tenant.

There are certain exceptions to eviction protection. For example, eviction protection does not apply to tenants who do not pay the rent.

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