To evict a Seattle tenant, you must have a just cause for the eviction. There are 16 causes that are legally “just,” and the most common cause for eviction is nonpayment of rent. We’re talking about the eviction process in Seattle for 2023, and what you need to do when your tenant has not paid rent and you want to terminate the lease and remove them from your rental property.
Seattle’s eviction process is not mediation oriented. When the tenant does not contest the eviction, you may be able to do it in a month’s time. If your tenants qualify for low-income protections, they will be guaranteed free legal support during the eviction process from an attorney.
We believe that the best way to manage an eviction is to avoid it. We’ll talk first about the process you must follow when you are evicting a tenant, and then we’ll talk about what you can do to prevent this situation.
Serving a Notice to Pay or Vacate
Good information can be found from The Tenants Union of Washington State. Their website includes timelines and legal requirements which is useful not only for tenants, but for landlords who are beginning an eviction.
The eviction process must start with a 14-Day Notice to Pay or Vacate. There are no grace periods mandated in Seattle. If your rent is not paid on the day it is due, you can serve the notice on the second day.
Tenants will have those 14 days to pay the rent in full. You are not required to accept partial rental payments. However, if rent is paid in full within this time period, you do need to accept it and cancel the eviction. When you state the amount of rent that is owed in your 14-Day Notice, you should not include any additional late fees.
When the notice period passes, if the tenant has not paid rent yet, you can file an eviction lawsuit, which starts with a Summons & Complaint.
Seattle Evictions and the Courts
Your tenant will have seven days to answer the Summons & Complaint. If they do not respond, you will win your lawsuit right away by default. If the tenant answers the lawsuit, they will need to present a defense or pay the amount that’s due directly to the court.
With an answer, a hearing date will be set.
At the hearing, a judge will make a ruling. If the tenant wins, the eviction case is dismissed. When tenants are able to pay what is owed, the lawsuit must be dismissed and the tenant must be allowed to stay in your property.
When you win your case, the sheriff will serve the tenant with a Writ of Restitution, and that Writ can be enforced 72 hours after it is served. The sheriff will make sure the tenant has vacated the property and you will have the opportunity to change the locks.
The process is fairly straightforward, and it’s important that you follow the legal process to precision. Otherwise, your case could be thrown out and you’ll need to start the entire process again.
Preventing Evictions in Seattle
We’ve found that the best way to avoid eviction mistakes is by avoiding eviction. Unexpected things can happen in any tenancy; we understand that eviction is not always avoidable. However, we always encourage the owners and landlords we work with to put some preventative measures in place that will help avoid the worst case scenario. Here are some of those measures that will reduce the chance of eviction:
- Good tenant screening
You’ll need a screening process that’s rigorous and consistent. Make sure you know who your ideal tenant is; someone who pays rent on time, takes care of your property, and follows the terms of your lease agreement. When you establish screening criteria that identifies those tenants and then you apply it to every applicant, you can trust your process to deliver a high-quality resident. Talk to former landlords to get an idea about whether rent was consistently late or always paid on time. Look for prior evictions. Make sure the income that’s verified is enough to pay your rent.
- Establish a rent collection process
Consistency will also help with your rent collection process. When tenants understand your expectations around rent payments, there will be an incentive to pay rent on time every month. Establish when rent is due, how much rent is due, how it should be paid, and what the consequences are for late payment or missing payments. This should be included in your lease agreement, and you also want to have a conversation with your tenants around rental payments and the importance of getting them in on time.
- Invest in good tenant relationships
If you establish and maintain a good working relationship with your residents, you’ll be less likely to chase down late rent. Good relationships lead to good tenancies. Tenants will feel more comfortable coming to you if they’re struggling to get all of the rent together one month. They’ll feel like they can ask you for extra time. Keep the lines of communication open and make sure you’re responsive and open.
- Be willing to work with payment plans
You’re not required to work with tenants when their rent is late. However, it can be a great way to avoid the stressful and costly eviction process. When you’re willing to set up payment arrangements and give your tenants an opportunity to catch up, you’re more likely to get the full rent paid than if you’re confrontational and demanding. Work with your tenants when they are willing to get the rent paid. It leads to much better outcomes than eviction.
We know that this process has grown even more difficult since the pandemic. Some of your tenants may be eligible for assistance programs. If you’d like to talk about your options when you have a tenant who is not paying rent or you want to evict for another just cause, please contact us at SJA Property Management. SJA is a premier Seattle property management company serving Seattle, Seattle’s Eastside & the Greater Puget Sound region since 2009. We provide sophisticated, personalized, and comprehensive management services for single-family residences, luxury homes, condominiums, and multi-family buildings.