Navigating Washington Stateʼs Landlord-Tenant Laws

Navigating Washington Stateʼs Landlord-Tenant Laws

Every state has its own set of rules and regulations regarding the renting property business, and Washington is no exception. To rent out property in Washington state, you need to have a good understanding of landlord-tenant laws. These laws are designed to establish a good relationship between landlords and tenants based on fairness and balance, thus protecting both parties' rights and responsibilities. 

This article will provide an overview of Washington State tenant laws, highlight some key points, and offer practical advice.

Understanding Lease Terms 

Statewide Lease Requirements 

There is the option to offer fixed-term leases or month-to-month rental agreements in Washington state. The fixed-term leases should be continuously renewed if they do not convert to a month-to-month tenancy. Regarding renewals, if the initial lease term is between 6 to 12 months, the following must be at least 6 months long. If the initial lease is longer than 12 months, the following term can be of any length. RCW 59.18.650 states landlords need a just cause to terminate the lease for month-to-month tenancies. 

Local Jurisdiction Variations 

Within Washington State, different cities under local jurisdictions have agreed on additional requirements that may vary from town to town. The following section will examine those differences. 

  • In Seattle and Tacoma, tenants who have signed a month-to-month lease can move out with proper notice without being penalized even before the previously agreed minimum term. 

  • In cities like Auburn, Burien, Federal Way, Kenmore, SeaTac, Seattle, and King County (unincorporated), there is a need to provide just cause for non-renewal in the case of fixed-term leases. 

Rent Regulations 

Statewide Rent Rules 

In Washington, landlords can charge late fees for overdue rent. But there are still differences from city to city. Here are the landlord responsibilities Washington state-wide regarding late payments.

  • Auburn, Burien, and Seattle: Late fees can't go higher than $10 per month. 

  • Kenmore, Redmond, Shoreline, and King County (unincorporated): Late fees must be below 1.5% of the tenant's monthly rent.

  • SeaTac: Late fees should be lower than 2% of the tenant's monthly rent. 

  • Shoreline and Tacoma: Here, there are additional restrictions related to late payment of rent

Another important thing is that different cities have different requirements for notifying tenants about rent increases. Landlords must use the appropriate Rent Increase Notice to comply with Washington State tenant laws. This means they can only increase the rent if they had previously notified the tenants appropriately. 

Move-in Costs 

Statewide Move in Payment Plans 

If the tenants request to pay moving costs on a payment plan, the landlord must allow it. This payment plan includes deposits and non-refundable fees but excludes the first month's rent. Additional rules say that the deposit payment schedule should be used to formalize these plans. 

City-Specific Regulations 

Again, different cities have different rules about moving costs. Let's see which they are. 

  • Auburn: Moving costs should be lower than the month's rent. Additional deposits for pets are allowed, but they must also be reasonable. 

  • Burien, Kenmore, Kirkland, Redmond, SeaTac, Seattle, and Unincorporated King County: If the tenants require more extended payment plans for moving costs, they will be allowed 

  • Olympia and Seattle: The limits on the total moving fees and deposits mustn't exceed one month's rent, while the additional pet deposits should be up to 25% of the month's rent. 

Termination and Non-renewal 

If the tenant decides to terminate or refuse to renew a rental agreement in Washington State, they must stick to some specific notice periods that depend on the cause. For example, in Tacoma, these notices must follow additional forms, timing, and service requirements for everyone renting the shared housing,

Access and Security 

An important rule in Seattle regarding lock changes mandates that locks be changed with each new tenancy at no additional cost to the tenant. To improve security, it is recommended that this practice be applied all across Washington. 

Roommate additions are legal in Seattle. Tenants can add roommates and immediate family members as additional occupants. However, the lease agreement must be updated, and other necessary approvals must be obtained without unnecessary delays for the additional tenants to be legally recognized as tenants of the rental unit. 

Pets and Animals 

Some rules stand out in Olympia and Tacoma regarding pets and animals and the deposits that the tenants should pay. Namely, pet deposits cannot exceed 25% of one month's rent in Tacoma. The landlords can only impose breed restrictions if their insurance requires it. On the other hand, in Olympia and Tacoma, deductions from the 25% deposit can be used for damage caused by the Pet. 

Some Practical Advice for Landlords and Tenants in Washington 

There are many rules and regulations, and they might be challenging for both parties. For that purpose, landlords and tenants should stay informed and regularly read state and local news to ensure compliance. Both parties must use proper forms to ensure all legal requirements are met. These forms are provided by the Rental Housing Association of Washington (RHAWA)

Good advice would be to keep detailed records of all transactions, communications, and agreements. In more complex cases, listing professional help can simplify the whole process. Moreover, tenants should know their rights and clearly communicate what they expect from the tenancy. In case of issues, they should document and record everything. 

The Role of Property Managers 

Property managers play a crucial role in managing rental properties and thus mediate the landlord-tenant relationship. Therefore, they can provide valuable services, including:

  • They will ensure that all rental agreements and property management practices comply with Washington State tenant laws.  

  • They can do extensive background checks to find reliable tenants. 

  • They ey can manage rent payments and address late payments. 

  • They can handle finances and accounting.

  • They can handle maintenance issues promptly and efficiently. 

  • They can carefully do the tenant screening process to ensure they find the most suitable tenants. 

  • They can mediate disputes between landlords and tenants to reach amicable solutions. 


To have a successful rental business in Washington State as a landlord, you must deeply understand state and legal regulations. You must use proper documentation to ensure you comply with the law, while the tenants should also know their rights and responsibilities. You can always turn to property managers to ask for their help because they can provide invaluable support to both parties. By following the guidelines and advice given in this article, landlords and tenants can maintain a positive and legally compliant rental relationship in Washington.

Are you ready to hire a property management team? PMI Equitas is here for you, with decades of experience assisting property owners like you. For expert Bothell property management services, contact us today.