Seattle Landlord-Tenant Law

Seattle has many laws regulating residential tenancies.  Seattle has long had a just cause eviction ordinance and has in recent years added laws regarding screening such as the first-in-time law and limitations on criminal background checks. In response to the pandemic, Seattle enacted an eviction moratorium and new temporary eviction defenses.

Temporary Eviction Defenses

Contrary to some reports, Seattle did not extend the local eviction moratoriums for an additional six months. There are additional tenant defenses for six months but these new defenses will not apply in every case.

Seattle enacted temporary defenses for residential tenants in response to the COVID-19 pandemic including the inability to pay as a defense and expanded rights to petition for court-ordered payment plans. It remains unclear how the courts will interpret and enforce these laws. Seattle landlords are encouraged to seek the advice of a lawyer.

Seattle Just Cause Eviction

A Seattle residential landlord may not evict a tenant except for just cause.

Just cause includes failure to cure a Notice to Pay Rent or Vacate (“14-Day” Notice), or failure to cure a Notice to Comply or Vacate (“10-Day” Notice). For failure to cure a notice, the tenant need only fail to cure the notice one time.

If the tenant is month-to-month the landlord may serve a notice to terminate the tenancy for only specified reasons listed in the just cause eviction ordinance. Note that the just cause eviction grounds below apply only if the tenant is month-to-month. These just cause eviction grounds do not give the landlord a right to break the lease. The just cause grounds to issue a notice to terminate the tenancy include:

  • habitual failure to pay rent (four Pay Rent or Vacate notices in a 12-month period);
  • habitual failure to comply with the lease terms (three or more Comply or Vacate notices in a 12-month period);
  • the landlord or an immediate family member intends to occupy the premises as his primary residence;
  • the landlord intends to sell a single-family residence.

There are additional, less common just cause eviction grounds.

Seattle Eviction Forms

For Seattle residential tenancies be sure to use our Seattle specific eviction forms rather than the Washington state eviction forms.  For commercial rental properties use our commercial eviction forms, even if the property is in Seattle.

Seattle Winter Eviction Ban

Seattle has a winter eviction ban affecting residential landlords who own more than four rental units. Landlords can pursue evictions but the court order may not result in the eviction of a tenant from December through February.

Tenant Screening

Evictions that occur during the mayor’s declared state of emergency or six-month thereafter cannot be the basis for an adverse action unless the eviction was based on a tenant’s actions that pose an imminent health or safety threat.

Seattle first in time law. 

Seattle residential landlords are required to log all rental applications and accept the first qualified applicant. Landlords must disclose to all prospective occupants (in addition to disclosures required by state law) the screening criteria, all needed information and documentation, an explanation of how to request additional time, and other information.

Criminal background checks.

Seattle all but bans criminal background checks, unless the landlord shares a residence with the tenant and certain other very narrow exceptions.