Top 10 Homeowner Questions Answered On The Eviction Process in Washington State

Written By Melanie Kershaw

Last Updated Mar 7, 2024

An aerial photo of Kirkland in Washington State, where the eviction process is different between Seattle and other local counties.

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Did you know the eviction process for rental homes in Seattle and Tacoma differs from homes in the wider Washington region? Evictions are already stressful and complex. Changing regulations and local ordinances make the process all the more challenging for homeowners. 

To help you prepare, this eviction cheat sheet will answer the top 10 questions homeowners ask about the eviction process in Seattle and Washington state:

Top 10 Homeowner Questions Answered On The Eviction Process in Washington State

1. How can you evict someone from a rental home in Washington?

There are two ways to remove a renter from your home in Washington state: 

  1. End the tenancy and provide written notice to move out
  2. Filing an ‘Unlawful Detainer Action (UDA)’ through the court system 

If a 6-12 month rental lease agreement is about to expire, you can provide 60 days written notice to end the tenancy. If you’re on an indefinite month-to-month lease, things can get complex. Depending on the local laws for your city and the details in your lease, you may need to provide a reason to end the agreement. It’s worth reading up on the Washington state legislation in this scenario. 

If a resident doesn’t leave, you will need to file an eviction lawsuit to have them removed. Check your local jurisdiction for notice periods as the 20-day notice period required by some cities has increased to periods between 60 - 120 days.

If the tenant breaches the terms of your lease agreement and can’t rectify the situation, such as non-payment of rent or conducting criminal activity, you can also file for an eviction lawsuit. 

If your home is in Seattle, you must abide by the local jurisdiction that prohibits “no cause” termination of lease agreements. Seattle’s Just Cause Eviction Ordinance outlines that no lease agreement will be terminated without a valid reason, even if it’s month-to-month or due to expire. There are similar measures in the cities of Tacoma and Bellingham, with pressure for other localities to adopt the same measures. This is why it’s important to get advice from an industry professional or attorney before attempting to end a tenancy. 

Read More: 5 New Laws Washington State Landlords Should Be Prepared For in 2024

2. What are the reasons you can evict someone from a rental home in Seattle, WA?

The City of Seattle has stronger protections in place than many areas of Washington. For example, requiring landlords to show “just cause” to end a tenancy — even if a lease agreement is expiring. Be sure to check your local laws before terminating any rental agreement in Washington, as these protections may be adopted by other areas over time. 

For example, Seattle and Tacoma have introduced limitations that prohibit evictions during cold-weather, eviction of students or educators during school periods, and evictions based on a tenant’s status as a first responder, service member, senior, health care provider or educator. 

This is why it’s important to seek legal advice and check with local ordinances before filing for an eviction. You can check Seattle’s municipal code here for details and exceptions to eviction notices. In Tacoma, the Landlord Fairness Code introduced new rules in 2023 and Bellingham’s city regulations for landlords are here. 

3. What is Seattle’s Just Cause Eviction Ordinance?

The Just Cause Eviction Ordinance outlines reasons a landlord can end a rental agreement, even if it’s month-to-month or due to expire. As of July 2021, homeowners must offer a renewal on expiring lease terms unless you have a justifiable reason not to renew. This safeguards responsible residents from being evicted for no reason or to seek higher rent from a new tenant. 

The following reasons are examples of “Just Cause” for ending a resident’s tenancy in Seattle:

  • Failure to follow a notice to pay or vacate
  • Repeated failure to pay rent, when four or more written notices are issued over a 12 month period
  • Breaching a lease agreement and not complying with orders to rectify the situation
  • Repeated lease violations (3+ times in a 12 month period)
  • Criminal or illegal conduct on the property
  • When a tenant's occupancy is conditioned upon employment on the property and the employment relationship ends

As the homeowner you can also cancel the rental agreement with proper notice (usually 30 - 120 days) if you need the home vacant for a valid reason. In these instances you may need a permit and/or cover the moving resident’s relocation expenses. 

Reasons you can end a tenancy in Seattle to repossess the home include:

  • When you have intent to sell the property
  • So that you or your immediate family can move in
  • To do substantial work on the property that requires the resident to move out
  • To demolish the property, convert it into a cooperative, or convert it into nonresidential use
  • To reduce the number of people living in the home to comply with the limit under Title 23. You must give the tenants 30 days to meet the current legal limit.
  • To discontinue to use of an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) after a violation notice has been received
  • When you receive an emergency order to vacate the home and the conditions have not/can’t be corrected 

4. Do I have to take tenants to court in Washington state to evict them from my home?

Yes, in Washington all evictions go through court. If you can’t attend physically, as of 2023 landlords and tenants can ask that a hearing be held remotely. The courts need to grant this request unless there’s a reason for the parties to attend in person. 

5. Do I have to offer tenants mediation before an eviction? 

In 2024, landlords no longer have to give the option of mediation or dispute resolution to resolve unpaid rent before an eviction can be filed. 

In 2023, there was a pilot program that made dispute resolution a mandatory option to resolve unpaid rent issues after COVID-19. This program ended in June 2023.

6. How much does an eviction cost in Washington State?

Costs throughout the eviction process in Washington may include:

  • Filing fees: Filing fees can vary depending on the county where the eviction is taking place, but it typically ranges from $100 to $250.

  • Serving fees: If you hire a process server to deliver court documents and ‘serve’ the tenant, you will need to pay their quoted fee (around $50 - $100+).

  • Attorney fees: If you hire an attorney to handle the eviction, the cost can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the complexity of the case and billing quoted by the firm you’ve hired.

If you expect that your property management fees will cover the costs of an eviction, be sure to check the fine print. When we ranked the top-rated property management companies in Washington, we found that many eviction protection packages have strict limitations that can leave you with out of pocket expenses. Not only does eviction protection increase your management fees, most still charge per hour for overseeing the eviction process and charge extra if staff need to attend court on your behalf. 

If you choose to partner with Belong, you’ll have real peace of mind that your eviction process is supported. If Belong ever needs to evict a resident that we have chosen (not existing leases or tenants), Belong will cover legal costs up to $15,000 — that’s around 3x - 15x what property managers are offering! 

7. How do I find my local court to process an eviction?

There are 39 courts in Washington State, one for each county, listed on the Washington Courts website. 

8. What written notice do I need to give tenants if they don’t pay their rent? 

If a Washington resident is behind on their rent, you must give them 14 day’s written notice to pay or move out.

Here’s what happens next:

  • If the resident pays the rent within the 14-day period, you can’t proceed with an eviction and the lease continues. If it happens again, the process must be repeated.

  • If you don’t receive the rent, but the resident vacates within the 14-days, you may use the security deposit to cover the unpaid rent. If the security deposit doesn’t cover all of the rent due, you have the option to sue for the amount owing. Learn more about recent changes to security deposit returns here.

  • If the resident doesn’t pay the rent and remains in the home, you can serve notice to vacate and begin the eviction process.

If you see any advice regarding a 3-day notice period — this was extended to 14 days as of 2021. To avoid getting caught out by legislation updates or using the wrong form, first speak to your property manager, an attorney, or use the Residential Landlord-Tenant Resources provided by Washington’s Attorney General’s Office. If you use the wrong notice or get the information wrong, it could jeopardize your eviction case. 

Did you know?: In 2021, census data found almost 6 million households (15% of all renters in the US!) were behind on their rent payments. That means there are millions of homeowners not earning income on their rental properties. Belong has eliminated this issue by offering Guaranteed Rent. By vetting and qualifying all of our residents, we pay homeowners rent on schedule, regardless of when we receive it. Learn more here.  

9. Can I force a renter to leave my Washington property?

Only a law enforcement official has the authority to remove someone under a writ of possession.

You should never take matters into your own hands when you need a tenant to leave. Shutting off the utilities or changing the locks to keep a renter out is classified as a “self-help” eviction and is illegal in Washington.

If you are found to be forcing an eviction illegally, you will need to pay the tenant any out-of-pocket losses from your actions. If you shut off their utilities, you will be charged $100 per day of no service. E.g. If you had the electricity turned off for 5 days, you would have to pay $500 plus any damages incurred, such as replacing food in the refrigerator or finding hotel accommodation. 

10. How long does the eviction process take in the state of Washington?

At a minimum, the eviction process in Washington State will take about 3-4 weeks from notice served to move out. 

This assumes the process moves quickly and all orders are followed. The process is likely to take longer if your residents contest the eviction, arguing that you didn’t meet your obligations as the homeowner or interfered with the process such as changing the locks. 

Protect yourself from an ugly eviction process in Seattle

There is a way to avoid the headaches and cost of evictions. Ditch the DIY route and property managers to work with a residential network that will put the best people in your home. With first-class vetting, guaranteed rent and real protection against costly evictions, you can rest easy knowing Belong is looking after you and your Seattle home. See why thousands of homeowners are ditching Seattle Property Management to Belong instead. 

Disclaimer: This article provides a guide for homeowners of residential property for rent in Washington State on the eviction process, but should not replace legal advice. Every eviction case is unique, so a lawyer can help remedy your exact situation. Belong refers to renters as ‘residents’ rather than ‘tenants’, so this article is based on people who pay rent and live in your property under a residential lease agreement, and is not applicable to people who are staying at the home short-term or under a personal arrangement. In this article we use the words tenant and landlord for clarity on legal matters. Please note that the answers provided are not exhaustive, you can find the full Residential Landlord-Tenant Act on the Washington State Legislature website

About the author

Melanie Kershaw

Mel Kershaw is a Content Lead at Belong. With an extensive background working with technology companies including Eventbrite and Yelp, she’s always looking for ways to create educational and informative articles that simplifies tech and solves problems for her audience.