Washington Eviction Process
November 15, 2023
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Eviction In Washington
If you own and rent properties in the state of Washington, you are responsible for complying with Washington eviction laws. In this article, we break down each step of the legal Washington state eviction process.
Washington’s eviction laws can be found at RCW § 59.12.
Eviction Process in Washington
- Landlord serves a three- to 14-day eviction notice.
- Landlord files an eviction lawsuit with the court.
- Court serves tenant a summons.
- Tenant files an answer.
- Landlord and tenant attend court hearing and receive judgment.
- Tenant gets three days to move out.
- Sheriff returns to forcibly remove the tenant.
In Washington, tenants can be evicted for failing to pay rent, violating the lease, committing or permitting waste upon the premises, carrying out any unlawful business on the premises, or creating/maintaining any nuisance on the property.
1. Landlord Serves a Three- to 14-Day Eviction Notice
Eviction in Washington begins with the landlord serving a Washington eviction notice, which states that the tenant has the appropriate number of days to remedy the violation or move out. There are three possible eviction notices a landlord may send in Washington:
- Rent Demand Notice: 14 days to pay or quit. If rent is unpaid when due, the landlord may deliver this notice stating the amount of unpaid rent required to remedy the breach and the date on which the lease will terminate if it is not paid (not less than 14 days after receipt of the notice) (RCW § 59.12.030(3), 59.18.057).
- Lease Violation Notice: 10 days to cure or quit. If a tenant violates a lease term (such as subletting without permission), the landlord may deliver this notice stating the breach and what is required to remedy it, as well as the date on which the lease will terminate if the tenant does not cure the breach (not less than ten days after receipt of the notice) (RCW § 59.12.030(4)).
- Unconditional Notice to Quit: 3 days to quit. If a tenant commits or permits waste upon the premises, carries out any unlawful business, or creates/maintains any nuisance on the property, the landlord may serve this three-day quit notice without providing any opportunity to cure the violation (RCW § 59.12.030(5)).
Eviction notices in Washington must be served in one of the following manners:
- By delivering a copy personally to the tenant
- If the tenant is absent, by leaving a copy with someone of suitable age and discretion at the rental unit AND mailing a copy
- If neither of the above are possible, by posting a copy on a conspicuous place on the premises, handing a copy to any person living there, AND mailing a copy
For all evictions, the landlord may recover actual damages and reasonable attorney’s fees.
2. Landlord Files an Eviction Lawsuit with the Court
The next step in the Washington eviction process is filing a complaint in court. If the tenant has not cured the breach by the end of the notice period (or if the violation is uncurable and the notice period expires), the landlord can then file an unlawful detainer complaint in the Washington Superior Court of the county in which the property is located (RCW § 59.12.060).
The unlawful detainer complaint will include:
- The facts on which the landlord seeks to recover possession
- A description of the premises (including its address)
- Any fraud, force, or violence committed by the tenant
- Any damages or compensation the landlord wishes to claim
- The amount of the tenant’s rent default (if any)
The landlord will also be required to pay a filing fee of $45 (RCW § 36.18.020 (2)(a)).
3. Court Serves Tenant a Summons
After the landlord files the claim, the court will issue a summons demanding the tenant’s presence at a court hearing. A template for the summons may be found here. The summons includes:
- The names of both parties
- The name of the court
- The nature of the eviction action
- Any relief (monetary damages) the landlord seeks
- The return day
- A statement notifying the tenant to appear and answer within the time designated, or a default judgment will be granted to the landlord.
- The signature of the landlord or their agent
The summons must be served to the tenant by the sheriff of the county, the sheriff’s deputy, or any other person over 18 years old who is not a party in the case and competent to be a witness in the action (WA Rules of Superior Courts, Civil Rules, Rule 4(c)). It should be served in one of the following manners:
- Personal service to the tenant
- By publication
- If permitted by the court, by serving a copy to any person at the property over 18 years old and mailing a copy to the tenant’s last known address (in this case, the tenant gets 90 days from the date of mailing to appear and answer.
The summons must be served at least five days before the return day listed, and returnable by the server between seven and 30 days from the date of service (RCW § 59.12.080, 59.12.070). The fee to have the sheriff serve the summons is $10, plus mileage (RCW § 36.18.040 (1)(a)).
If the landlord is unable to serve the summons via the methods above, after due diligence, the court may authorize alternative means of service. This includes posting the summons and complaint in a conspicuous place on the premises or mailing copies of both by regular and certified mail. However, the service must be made at least nine days from the return date for either of these methods, and both the landlord and the server are required to file an affidavit stating the belief that the tenant cannot be found.
Additionally, when service is made by this alternative procedure, the court’s jurisdiction is limited to restoring possession of the premises—no money judgment may be entered until jurisdiction is obtained (RCW § 59.12.085).
4. Tenant Files an Answer
After the summons has been issued, the tenant is required to file a “defendant’s defense,” also known as an answer. In Washington, tenants are required to serve a copy of this answer within 20 days after service of the summons. If they do not, the judge may grant the landlord a default judgment (WA Rules of Superior Courts, Civil Rules, Rule 4(b)).
Note that when/if the tenant files an answer, the landlord will be required to pay an answer filing fee of $112.
5. Landlord and Tenant Attend Court Hearing and Receive Judgment
On the day of the eviction hearing, the landlord should bring copies of the lease agreement, the eviction notice with proof of service, the complaint, and any evidence of the lease violation. Both the landlord and tenant will present their cases and any evidence to the judge, who will afterwards issue a judgment.
If the judge rules in the landlord’s favor, the judgment will be entered for the landlord’s repossession of the property (and any monetary judgment, if applicable). At the landlord’s request, the judge will order the issuance of a writ of restitution, which authorizes the tenant’s removal from the property. However, the landlord will first need to file a bond in court with sufficient surety to be approved by the clerk. This bond will cover the tenant’s costs and damages should it turn out that they were wrongfully evicted (RCW § 59.12.090).
6. Tenant Gets Three Days to Move Out
After the writ is issued, it will be directed to the sheriff, who will serve a copy to the tenant. The service fee with aid of the county is $40, plus $30 for each hour after the first hour; the fee for service without aid of the county is $25, plus mileage.
For evictions based on nonpayment, the tenant gets five days to move out, during which they are allowed to pay their rent plus all other amounts due to reverse the judgment and avoid being evicted (RCW § 59.12.170). For all other evictions, the tenant gets three days to move out before the writ can be executed (RCW § 59.12.100).
During the three- or five-day period, the tenant may choose to appeal the judgment instead of moving out. In this case, they need to file a bond with the court, submit the appeal paperwork, and have it served upon the sheriff with the writ of restitution. In this case, the tenant will remain in possession of the premises until a final decision is made on the appeal (RCW § 59.12.220).
7. Sheriff Returns to Forcibly Remove the Tenant
If the tenant does not move out by the end of the three- or five-day period (and also fails to pay their rent for nonpayment cases), the sheriff will return to execute the writ, forcibly remove the tenant from the premises, and restore possession of the property to the landlord (RCW § 59.12.170). The sheriff’s fee for execution of the writ in Washington state is $30 per hour, plus mileage.
Evicting a Squatter in Washington
A squatter is a person who moves into a vacant or abandoned property without getting permission from the owner or paying rent. Squatters can usually be charged as criminal trespassers and be evicted like any other tenant. However, some squatters can receive the right to possession by meeting certain state-determined criteria. In Washington state, squatters must have lived in the property for ten continuous years (or seven continuous years if they also have color of title and paid property taxes) to invoke Washington squatters rights and claim right of possession (RCW § 7.28.085, 7.28.050, 7.28.70). Squatters rights in Washington state also dictate that the possession must be:
- Hostile/Adverse—The squatter must not have a valid lease with the owner
- Actual—The squatter must be actively residing on the property
- Open and Notorious—The squatter is openly and obviously living there.
- Exclusive—The squatter does not share possession of the property with anyone else.
- Continuous—The squatter must hold continuous and uninterrupted possession.
While relatively rare, if a squatter meets all these criteria, they have “color of title”: the right of legal ownership without having a written deed to the property. They can file an action for adverse possession in Washington to legally obtain the title to the property. However, in most cases, a squatter will not meet the criteria and can be removed. If you think a squatter is living in your vacant property in Washington, you should:
- Call local law enforcement.
- Determine whether the person is a trespasser or a squatter.
- If the person is a trespasser, they can be removed immediately by a police officer.
- If the person is a squatter, you must contact the sheriff’s office.
- Send the squatter an eviction notice as per Washington law.
- If the squatter does not vacate the premises by the end of the notice period, file for eviction and follow the typical eviction process.
- Only the sheriff can physically remove a squatter from your property. You cannot do so, and neither can a police officer.
Washington Eviction Cost Estimates
This chart shows estimates of the approximate cost of the Washington eviction process, according to civil procedure in the state and iPropertyManagement. A highly accurate estimate of an eviction is impossible to provide, as cases and circumstances vary so widely. Remember to factor in other losses due to an eviction as well, such as lost rent, time, and stress.
|Service of court summons by sheriff||$10, plus mileage|
|Answer filing fee||$112|
|Service of writ of possession||With aid of county: $40, plus $30 for each hour after the first hour Without aid of county: $25, plus mileage|
|Execution of writ of possession||$30 per hour, plus mileage|
|Average locksmith fees||$160|
|Storage fees for abandoned property||Varies|
|Tenant turnover costs||Varies|
Washington Eviction Time Estimates
The chart below shows an estimate of the duration of each part of the Washington eviction process timeline. Keep in mind that the length of eviction cases varies widely depending on the complexity of the eviction, the court’s current caseload, and whether or not the tenant contests or appeals the lawsuit.
|Eviction notice period||3-14 days|
|Service of summons||5-9 days before the return day|
|Tenant response period||20 days|
|Eviction hearing||Varies depending on local court schedule|
|Issuance / service of writ of restitution||A few hours to a few days|
|Time to quit after writ is posted||3-5 days|
- Washington Superior Court Civil Rules – The specific rules of civil procedure and court policies in the state of Washington.
The eviction process in any state can be long and complex, so hiring an eviction attorney is advised in most cases. It’s also important to note that municipalities and local governments often have stricter laws and requirements for landlords, so be sure to check local statutes as well as state ones. However, by reviewing the legal procedures and Washington state laws on eviction, you can feel more confident pursuing an eviction in this state.
Innago does not provide legal advice. The content and materials provided in this article are for general informational purposes only and may not be the most up-to-date information.