Landlord-Tenant Disputes Subject to Mandatory Arbitration

A tenant and her landlords disputed certain conditions in the property. The landlords believed the tenant was allowing damage to the property by improperly leaving windows open.


When the tenant requested certain repairs, the landlords while in the property making the unrelated repairs nailed a window shut and disabled another window so that it could only be opened a few inches. Eventually, the landlords brought an eviction against the tenant. The tenant made counterclaims.


The tenant moved out while the eviction was pending. The trial court moved the case to the Mandatory Arbitration calendar. The landlords’ attorney withdrew, and the landlords did not appear for the arbitration hearing. Perhaps the landlords were satisfied with having the property back, and did not want to incur costs and invest time in pursuing the matter. Whatever the reasons, by failing to appear for the hearing, the landlords had a judgment entered against them. The landlords appealed, arguing that an eviction cannot be placed into Mandatory Arbitration.


Evictions are filed in Superior Court. Civil cases in Superior Court that involve only monetary disputes below a statutorily-capped amount are subject to a rule requiring arbitration.  However, arbitrators cannot hear certain types of cases, including evictions (a.k.a. “unlawful detainer actions”).[1]


In this case the tenant vacated while the case was pending. Once possession is no longer an issue, the trial court may convert the eviction to a civil action. The trial court did that in this case, and because the landlords’ claims and the tenant’s counterclaims were below the statutory limit, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court in placing the matter in Mandatory Arbitration. The judgment against the landlords was upheld.[2]


Assumptions can be dangerous things. Although it is not possible to say with certainty, it seems likely that once they had their property back the landlords in this case assumed the dispute was over and they no longer needed legal advice.


If are in a dispute over landlord-tenant matters it is usually best to seek advice from an attorney.


[1] RCW 59.18.320(1)(b)(ii).

[2] Barr v. Young, ____ Wn.App. ____ (No. 32432-0-III April 14, 2015).

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