When you buy property, sometimes it comes with certain encumbrances. One type of encumbrance that can be particularly troubling comes up if you buy a home that the owner is currently renting to someone else. If you wish the current tenant to vacate the premises, there may be some legal hoops to jump through. The laws governing tenant evictions are complex. Deciphering the laws and their application requires specialized knowledge. That is why you should always contact a real estate lawyer in your area before attempting the process of tenant eviction from purchased property.
A Note About COVID-19
It would be remiss of us to continue without acknowledging the pandemic’s tremendous impact on the current real estate market. This impact has affected purchasers, owners, and tenants. Because of the financial fallout from pandemic shut-downs, the governor of Washington established an eviction moratorium in 2020. That moratorium was to remain in effect until June 30, 2021. As of the writing of this article, this end date has just passed.
However, in April of this year, the state legislature enacted E2SSB 5160, establishing programs and protections for those unable to pay rent because they lost their job due to COVID-19. This new law establishes programs to help both renters and landlords get back on their feet without too much struggle. The intent behind the law is to avoid a huge wave of evictions resulting from widespread pandemic job loss.
However, Governor Inslee saw that it would take time to implement the programs outlined in this new legislation. He saw a gap approaching between the end of the current eviction moratorium and the availability of help for those in need. So on June 29, 2021, the governor issued Proclamation 21-09 to act as a bridge between the prior eviction moratorium and the protections established in E2SSB 5160.
What Does All This Mean?
What all this means is that evicting anyone from a residential dwelling is going to be harder in 2021 than it was before. Washington, along with the entire US, is going through the pains of reestablishing financial equilibrium after being hit hard by COVID-19. Once the current financial crisis is over, things will presumably return to normal, and old tenant-landlord eviction rules will apply again.
But right now, Proclamation 21-09 is in effect until September 30, 2021. Therefore, it will be harder to evict or get a tenant to vacate a dwelling that they do not wish to leave at least until that date. It is not impossible to evict, just harder than before.
And Governor Inslee may enact another proclamation prior to the September 30 deadline that may extend tenant protections even further. Only time will tell. But for now, the governor wants landlords to sincerely attempt to work things out with their tenants before taking any eviction actions.
All of this is an anomaly brought about by the COVID-19 emergency. But even during normal times, eviction law is complex. So let’s turn our attention to how one would go about evicting a tenant from purchased property during normal years not affected by the pandemic.
Landlord’s Guide to Evicting Tenants in Washington State
The Residential Landlord-Tenant Act is the part of the Revised Code of Washington that governs all tenant evictions. Eviction always begins with providing the tenant with notice. The type of notice depends on the reason for eviction. Washington allows you to evict a tenant for three reasons.
Failure to Pay Rent
If a tenant does not pay rent, the landlord must provide them with a 14-day Notice to Pay. If they fail to pay within that time period, the landlord can begin eviction proceedings.
Failure to Abide by the Terms of the Rental Agreement
Lease violations can be curable or incurable. Curable violations include things like too many people living in the home or the renter having an unauthorized pet. In curable violation scenarios, the landlord must provide a 10-day Notice to Comply. The tenant has 10 days to cure the violation or face eviction.
Incurable violations include things like illegal drug activity, gang-related activity, waste, and nuisance issues. If the tenant has committed an incurable violation, the landlord must provide them with a three-day Notice to Quit. There is no opportunity to “cure” the violation in these scenarios. After receiving notice, the tenant has 3 days to move out of the property or face eviction.
At-Will Tenant or End of Lease Term
A tenant may be living month to month or even week to week with no lease in place. Or the lease term may be up and the landlord does not want to renew because they want to take the residence back. In these cases, the landlord must give the tenant 20 days’ written notice before beginning eviction proceedings.
Standard Eviction Process and Timeline
Here is a breakdown of the process and timeline for evictions in Washington.
- Notice—This period is between three and 20 days, depending on the reason the landlord is evicting the tenant.
- Summons and complaint—The landlord must file a complaint, then serve the summons and complaint on the tenant. This period can last a few days to a few weeks.
- Answer—The tenant has between seven and 30 days to file their answer, after which the court sets a hearing. If the tenant fails to file an answer, the court will issue a default judgment in favor of the landlord.
- Hearing and Judgment—Both parties must show up at the hearing, or the court will enter a default judgment in favor of the present party. The judge will hear arguments at this hearing and issue a judgment for or against eviction.
There is no hard and fast rule on the timeframe for these hearings. It depends on local court rules and docket availability. If the judge rules in favor of the landlord, he issues a writ of restitution giving the tenant three to five days to move out voluntarily. If they do not, the sheriff will go to the property and force them to leave.
As you can see, the rules surrounding eviction in Washington are complex. So if you buy a property or home at a foreclosure auction or in another non-traditional way and there are tenants on the property, you may have to wait until the lease runs before moving to evict. Of course, if any conditions exist like unpaid rent or illegal activity, you can proceed with ousting them immediately. But if the tenants are behaving within the lease restrictions and are up to date on rent, you may just have to wait out the lease. This is particularly true given the additional protections for tenants that our legislature just enacted.
No matter which way you slice it, evictions are complex and sometimes emotional experiences. Do not proceed blindly. If you bought property that you want to use yourself and there are tenants living there, you need to speak with one of the experienced attorneys at Bolan Law Group. Our legal team is well-versed in the intricacies of eviction law in Washington State. We have been helping clients just like you with their real estate-related matters and more since 1977. So let us put our combined 50+ years of experience to work for you today. Call us or contact us online today to set up your initial consultation.