Property Management Q & A - Autumn 2019

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QUESTION:

I heard that the legislature amended the Residential Landlord Tenant Act (RLTA) to change a 3-day notice or pay or vacate to a 14-day notice. I heard there are other changes as well, what are they?

ANSWER:

You are correct that the legislature adopted SB 5600 which substantially changed what monies can be included as owing on a Pay or Vacate Notice, and also increased the period of “cure” from three days to 14. There were three other bills that adopted which also significantly amend the RLTA.

HB 1440 is probably the one that most significantly impacts your operations. This bill amends RCW 59.18.140 to require a notice of rent increase to be on a minimum of 60 days’ notice, rather than 30 days which were previously required. If you recall, any change to a month-to-month tenancy must normally be on a minimum of thirty days’ written notice prior to the date it becomes effective. Under the prior law, for example, if you wanted to increase the rent on March 1st of a given year, you would need to provide written notice of that rule change to your tenants no later than January 29th (unless it was a leap year). Under the new law, you need to add another 30 days to the notice. Please be aware that this is only the case if the tenancy is one from month-to-month, and the landlord is unilaterally imposing a rent increase. By way of comparison, if you have a lease which is expiring on its own terms and does not become month-to-month, then any extension would be by mutual agreement of the landlord and tenant, and as such, no advance notice is required.

Another change was made to RCW 59.18.200 and .220, clarifying the circumstances under which a member of the armed forces may terminate their tenancy. HB 1138 allows a month-to-month tenant receiving permanent change of station or deployment orders can vacate on less notice if those orders don’t allow a twenty-day written notice. For those tenants on a term lease, they can terminate on a minimum of 20 days’ notice if one of six circumstances apply (see RCW 59.18.220(2) for the specifics).

HB 1462 adds additional notice for some terminations of tenancy. Under RCW 59.18.200, most notices of termination of tenancy applicable to month-to-month tenancies remain twenty day notices. However, if the reason for the termination is because the landlord intends to demolish, substantially rehabilitate or change the use of a building, then a minimum of 120 days’ notice is required. Again, you will want to read the full text of the law, so you understand the particulars, but in the most common case, termination due to “substantial rehabilitation,” this is defined as “extensive structural repair or extensive remodeling of premises that requires a permit such as a building, electrical, plumbing, or mechanical permit, and that results in the displacement of an existing tenant.” The penalties are steep for terminating tenancy with the wrong amount of notice (three times the monthly rent) so most landlords will err on the side of caution in determining which terminations require 120 days’ notice instead of 30.

Lastly, SB 5600 did far more than simply modify the forms used for Pay or Vacate Notices. That law also established a mechanism (codified in RCW 59.18.410) for tenants who have been found guilty of unlawful detainer (i.e., lost at an eviction hearing) to reinstate their tenancy. If you are going through the eviction process, the attorney representing you will most likely fill you in on these changes, as they are complex. However, the biggest takeaway is that a win in court might still result in your tenant staying in tenancy.



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