Key Terms for Washington Leases and Rental Agreements

Washington landlords must follow a variety of state rules when renting out property to tenants—for example, you must provide advance notice before entering a rental unit (one to two days, depending on your reason for entry). Your lease or rental agreement is the place to spell out the details of the landlord-tenant relationship and your respective rights and responsibilities.

Here are some of the most important items to cover in your Washington lease or rental agreement.

Terms to Include

1. Names of All Tenants and Limits on Occupancy

Every adult who lives in the rental unit, including both members of a married couple, should be named as tenants and sign the lease or rental agreement. This makes each tenant legally responsible for all terms, including the full amount of the rent and the proper use of the property. Your agreement should clearly specify that the rental unit is the residence of only the tenants who have signed the lease and their minor children. This guarantees your right to determine who lives in your property -- ideally, people whom you have screened and approved -- and to limit the number of occupants. The value of this clause is that it gives you grounds to evict a tenant who moves in a friend or relative, or sublets the unit, without your permission.

2. Term of the Tenancy

Every Washington document should state whether it is a rental agreement or a fixed-term lease. Here's the difference:

Rental agreements usually run from month-to-month and self-renew unless terminated by the landlord or tenant. Your agreement should specify when the rental agreement begins and how much notice you (and the tenant) will give to end the tenancy, as well as how much notice you will give to change the rental agreement. Washington landlords and tenants must each give the other 20 days' notice to end a tenancy. Landlords must give 30 days' notice to change the rent or other rental agreement terms.

Leases, on the other hand, set a specific beginning and expiration date. A lease obligates both landlord and tenant to a specific term, typically a year.

3. Rent and Related Rules

Your lease or rental agreement should provide specific details on the rent, including:

  • the amount of rent
  • when it is due (typically, the first of the month), and whether there's any grace period before rent is considered late
  • how rent is to be paid, such as by mail or delivered to your office
  • acceptable payment methods (such as personal check only)
  • details on any late fees, including the amount and when you will levy it, and
  • bounced-check charges (Washington law sets specific rules on these—for example, you may charge no more than 12% interest, plus the cost of collection, not to exceed $40, or the face amount of the check, whichever is less).

4. Security Deposit

To avoid confusion and legal hassles with tenants over deposits, your Washington lease or rental agreement should be clear on all the details, including:

The dollar amount and use of the security deposit. Washington does not limit the amount you may charge, but most landlords find it impractical to charge more than one or two months' rent. And before collecting any deposit, Washington landlords must give tenants a list of pre-existing damage in the rental unit.

When and how you will return the deposit. Washington law requires landlords to return the deposits within 14 days of the end of the rental agreement and the tenant vacating the premises, and to provide an explanation of deposit deductions,

Security deposit interest and accounts. Washington landlords must place deposits in a state or federally regulated depository and give tenants the location of the account.

5. Nonrefundable Fees

You may charge a cleaning fee or other nonrefundable fee, but this fee must not be part of the security deposit. Your lease or rental agreement should clearly label this type of fee "nonrefundable."

6. Repairs and Maintenance

To avoid tenant rent-withholding and other hassles (especially over security deposits), you should clearly set out for repair and maintenance in your lease or rental agreement, including:

  • the tenant's responsibility to keep the rental premises clean and sanitary and to pay for any damage caused by his or her abuse or neglect
  • a requirement that the tenant alert you to defective or dangerous conditions in the rental property, with specific details on your procedures for handling complaint and repair requests, and
  • restrictions on tenant repairs and alterations, such as installing wall-to-wall-carpeting without your permission.

7. Entry to Rental Property

To avoid tenant claims of illegal entry, your lease or rental agreement should clarify your legal right of access to the property -- for example, to make repairs -- and state how much advance notice you will provide the tenant before entering. Washington law specifies the amount of notice you must give and this varies depending on your reason to enter (one day's notice to show the property to prospective tenants or buyers, two days' notice in other circumstances, no notice in cases of emergency or where it is impractical to do so).

8. Restrictions on Tenant Illegal Activity

To avoid trouble among your tenants, prevent property damage, and limit your exposure to lawsuits from residents and neighbors, you should include an explicit lease or rental agreement clause prohibiting disruptive behavior, such as excessive noise, and illegal activity, such as drug dealing.

9. Pets

If you do not allow pets, be sure your lease or rental agreement is clear on the subject. If you do allow pets, you should identify any special restrictions, such as a limit on the size or number of pets or a requirement that the tenant will keep the yard free of all animal waste.

10. Disclosures

Federal law require landlords to make certain lead-based paint disclosures before tenants move in. The state of Washington also imposes additional requirements regarding fire protection information and mold.

11. Other Restrictions

Be sure your lease or rental agreement complies with all relevant state and local Washington laws including health and safety codes, occupancy rules, and anti-discrimination laws. Any other legal restrictions, such as limits on the type of business a tenant may run from home, should also be spelled out in the lease or rental agreement. Important rules and regulations covering parking and use of common areas should be specifically mentioned in the lease or rental agreement.

Where to Find Washington Lease and Rental Forms

For Washington rental documents, including leases and rental agreements, see the Real Estate and Rental Property Forms section of Nolo. These ready-to-use legal forms include detailed, clause-by-clause instructions that cover the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants in Washington. Options include the following:

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