What Happens When a Tenant Doesn't Pay Rent?

As landlords in Washington State are well aware, the Landlord-Tenant Act (RCW 59.18 et seq.) and Seattle Just-Cause Eviction Ordinance (SMC 22.206 et seq.) are heavily weighted in favor of tenants’ rights. These laws have created a daunting and oft confusing legal process for landlords to navigate when an eviction becomes necessary. The first step in evicting a tenant is to place the tenant on notice that they are in default of their lease.  The type of default and issues surrounding the tenancy will dictate the type of notice a landlord is required to serve.

The most common notice a landlord will utilize is when the tenant fails to pay rent.  This post will address some of the pitfalls that landlords often fall victim to when serving a 3-Day Notice.

One of the most frequent mistakes our firm sees landlords make is what dollar amounts to include in the 3-Day Notice. Simply put, a landlord should include only the amount of unpaid rent.  Nothing more.  Do not include utilities, unpaid deposits, late fees or other miscellaneous charges; just the unpaid rent should be listed on the 3-Day Notice.

The next step is service of the 3-Day Notice. Ineffective service is perhaps the biggest and most costly mistake we see landlords make. A landlord’s failure to strictly adhere to the guidelines associated with serving a 3-Day Notice can lead to a dismissal of the court eviction, costing extra time, money, and leaving the tenant in the unit.  In order for service of the 3-Day to be considered effective, it is critical to serve the notice according to RCW 59.12.040. We encourage all landlords to become familiar with service requirements. In a nutshell, the 3-Day Notice must be served in one of two ways, however, a landlord must always knock first. If the tenant answers, one copy per each tenant of the 3-Day Notice must be hand-delivered to any person 18+ years of age. If the knock goes unanswered, then again, one copy per each tenant of the 3 Day Notice must be posted in a conspicuous place at the premises AND mailed to the tenant.  When mailing is necessary, one day is added by rule to the tenant’s response time; therefore, a 3-Day Notice in reality becomes a four day notice. Finally, the day after the 3-Day Notice is served is when the clock starts to tick on the tenant’s time to respond by curing the default or by vacating the premises.

In a legal environment that favors tenants’ rights, a good offense is the best defense, and knowledge is power.  Landlords must arm themselves with a working knowledge of the eviction process, both on a county and municipal level.  While the purpose of this and future blogs is to provide a legal overview of the procedural processes involved in evictions, there is no better offense than having an experienced legal team.  Holmquist & Gardiner, PLLC has been assisting both residential and commercial real property landlords for years. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of dealing with deadbeat tenants, please call our firm at 206-438-9083, and we would be happy to help.