So You’ve Rented an Apartment…

Congratulations! You have entered a legal relationship with your landlord.

Enter the Residential Landlord Tenant Act, RCW Chapter 59.18 and its sub-chapters that address laws governing different aspects of the landlord-tenant relationship. “LL” means Landlord, and “T” means Tenant. The top 4 important areas to be aware of in your tenant relationship are:







  • Look to your lease: The lease controls your right to the security deposit and defines what portion of the deposit is refundable.
  • 21 days: Within 21 days of move-out date, LL has duty to refund your deposit, minus any repairs and cleaning, and provide a complete bill of any deductions. If, after 21 days, LL fails to provide, T is entitled to full refundable portion of deposit, plus fees and costs associated with having it returned.
  • Bonus for Seattle renters: LL may be subject to additional penalties
  • Move-in fee restrictions: Landlords are no longer able to charge you first, last and security deposit at move-in
  • Power of Checklist: Same penalties apply if LL fails to complete and provide a move-in and move-out checklist, tenant presence required


  • Month-to-Month: At the end of a year-long lease, and when the premises continue to be rented for an indefinite period of time, a month-to-month tenancy relationship is created. Either LL or T can terminate, if 21-day notice is given.
  • No rent control: If month-to-month, LL is free to raise T’s rent every month, given appropriate notice (typically 20 days). So, sign a lease!
  • Years: Residential leases cannot be longer than one year, and one-year leases must be in writing to be valid.
  • Extras Rights: Leases often include additional rights for tenants because LLs often copy their leases from websites that include rights granted in other states that wouldn’t usually apply in WA. These additional terms also apply even if the lease was an oral agreement.


(see RCW 59.18.060 FOR full list)

  • No “just dropping by”: Barring few exceptions, LL cannot enter your premises without written notice at least two days in advance, stating the date and time of entry. Repeat offenders: LL’s who violate this rule repeatedly are subject to a $100 penalty to tenant for each violation, provided that T gave written notice alleging bad faith violations
  • Common areas: LL must keep shared/common areas reasonably clean, sanitary, and safe from defects that increase risk of fire or accident.
  • Write for Repairs: Upon written notice from T, LL must commence remedial action within:
    • 24 hrs if T deprived of hot or cold water, heat, electricity (or imminently hazardous to life);
    • 72 hrs if T deprived of use of a refrigerator, range and oven, or a major plumbing fixture supplied by the landlord
    • 10 days in all other cases


(see RCW 59.18.130 FOR full list)

  • Most obvious: Pay your rent on time!
  • Keep it clean: Keep your apartment clean and sanitary, which includes tossing your garbage regularly
  • Leave it as it was left to you: When you move out, restore the premises to its initial condition (except for reasonable wear and tear, or conditions caused by failure of the landlord’s duty to repair). T shall not be charged for normal cleaning if he or she paid a non-refundable cleaning fee.
  • Let them in: T must not unreasonably withhold the LL’s right to enter the premises, provided that they are acting in good faith, have given notice, and are not repeatedly entering.
  • Continue to write to LL until defect is cured.



This only covers the basics of landlord tenant law, and within that, only a handful of areas. This is a large body of law that often changes, so here are a few more resources that may be helpful. Keep in mind, there is still much more out there. Hover over each section to be linked to the sites directly.

RCW 59.18 “Residential Landlord Tenant Act” in its entirety 

Seattle-specific tenant resources from Tenants Union of Washington State

Seattle-specific tenant resources from Seattle Dept. of Construction and Inspections (they administer and enforce Seattle’s Housing and Building Maintenance Code 

Seattle’s Housing and Building Maintenance Code, SMC 22.000 – 22.208 

Housing Justice Project (HJP), a King County Bar Association pro bono service for low-income* tenants facing eviction in King County *must qualify as low-income 

Posted on August 15, 2017 in LandlordTenant

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