Being a landlord isn't always what it's cracked up to be. Sure, it can be a financially rewarding experience, but there are plenty of challenges along the way. Tops on the list for most would be how to handle difficult tenants, but ultimately, how to evict them if that is the only option you feel you have.
Most people are not comfortable with this sort of confrontational experience. The best way to make it as painless as possible is to make sure you know how to handle it, both from a personal and a legal perspective.
Every state has their own tenant laws. If you are a landlord in Washington State, here are some of the things you need to consider if you are ready to proceed with an eviction.
Give a Three-Day Notice
When you've come to the conclusion that the differences with your renter are irreconcilable (and they are in default), you are legally able to give them a three-day notice to pay rent or to vacate your property.
There are three acceptable ways to deliver this message:
- – Deliver the written notice the tenant personally
- – Hand it to someone at the property, then mail a copy to the tenant
- – Post the notice at the property and mail it to the the tenant
The notice should specify the amount of rent that is in default and instruct the tenant that he/she has three days to either pay or vacate the premises.
Obtain an Order to Show Cause
If the tenant does not pay the outstanding balance on their rent within those three days, what can you do now? The next step available to the landlord is to seek what's called a writ of restitution. This involves presenting your order for the renter to vacate to a judge.
A court date is then set where the tenant is able to present their case for why they should not be evicted. The court date has to be at least seven days and no more than 30 days from the date the tenant is served with legal papers.
Assuming everything goes in your favor, you will be given a writ of restitution, which involves a filing fee to obtain. This authorizes the county sheriff to enter your property and remove the tenant and their personal possessions.
Eviction Complaint and Summons
After the eviction, some landlords may be happy to simply cut their losses and just be done with the ordeal. However, you can still proceed to obtain outstanding rent if your tenant is still not willing to concede.
This starts with filing an eviction complaint with the hopes of being awarded a judgment for unpaid rent, and any other costs that were written into the lease agreement. An eviction complaint also comes with a filing fee. A summons is issued to notify the tenant that an action has been filed against them, informing them of the deadline to respond.
Optional Registry Notice
Under the Residential Landlord Tenant Act, a landlord can serve a notice on the tenant that requires them to pay what is due into the court registry. The alternative is to submit a sworn statement explaining why the rent isn't owed. If the tenant doesn't comply within the specified time, a writ of restitution can be obtained immediately.
Serving the Tenant
All of the above must be served on the tenant. The paperwork can be served by the county sheriff for a fee or you can hire a process server. While you can do it on your own, it's advisable to have it done by a professional to avoid mistakes that can lead to delay in the eviction process.
Attending the Court Hearing
At the date scheduled for hearing on the order to show cause, the landlord should appear with any documentary evidence (written leases, records of payment, photographs of property, etc.) and be prepared to explain to the judge the reason for the eviction. If the tenant does not answer or appear, the judge may issue the writ of restitution and/or enter a default judgment for past-due rent, damages, and any other charges to which the landlord is entitled. If the tenant appears and answers, the judge will decide whether the tenant has presented any legal defense that requires a trial on the merits. Be aware that under RCW 59.18.080, the tenant must be current on the rent to obtain remedies against the landlord – in other words, the tenant cannot claim that the landlord is in violation of any duties as a justification for withholding rent.
Removing the Tenant's Property
Once a writ of restitution, the tenant has three days to voluntarily remove their personal possessions from the property. If they don't comply, you can contact the sheriff to schedule a mandatory move within 10 days of the writ being served.
It's important to note that the sheriff will be in attendance as a peace keeper. It's your job as the landlord to remove the tenant's possessions. If the tenant submits a written request for the landlord to store the possessions within three days of getting the writ, you must do so in what is determined to be a reasonably safe manner until the tenant pays the cost of moving and storage.
You can sell the property if payment isn't received within 30 days of notifying the tenant of your intentions to do so.
No doubt, if you have to take any step beyond serving an eviction notice, it's a hassle. Fortunately, most people who are presented with the threat of legal action will not stand their ground, so chances are pretty slim that you will have to go through all of this. But if that day comes, it's vital that you know the steps you must take to protect yourself and your investment.