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Holdover Tenant Laws in Washington

Tenants in Washington can remain in their rental after the lease expires as holdover tenants, but may face eviction.

Tenants in Washington who don’t leave their rental after their lease is up become what’s known as “holdover tenants.” Landlords can choose to let these tenants stay, or evict them for any reason. Seattle offers a bit more protection to holdover tenants who’ve established a month-to-month tenancy, however—landlords can only ask them to move out for specific reasons laid out by the city.

Tenants who stay past lease end date become holdover tenants

If a tenant in Washington stays in their rental unit past the end date on their lease, two things can happen:1

  • The tenant continues paying rent, and their landlord accepts the payments. They become a month-to-month tenant.
  • The landlord wants the tenant out—regardless of whether or not they’re willing to pay rent—and serves them with a 10-day notice to quit. Either the tenant moves out, or they remain and the landlord begins the eviction process.

If a tenant has a fixed-term lease, it’s pretty clear when it ends—the exact date should be stated in the written agreement. If a tenant has a month-to-month lease, the landlord must give the tenant 20 days’ written notice that they want to terminate the agreement (or vice versa). That notice should include the lease end date.2

Original lease terms carry over to the holdover tenancy

Throughout a holdover tenancy, the terms of the original, now-expired lease are still enforceable.3 That means tenants must continue to comply with any provisions in the lease agreement unless they’ve made agreed-upon changes with the landlord.

So, if no dogs were allowed in the original lease, they wouldn’t be permitted in the holdover tenancy either—unless both the landlord and tenant agree to it. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to get any agreed-upon changes in writing.

Landlords can change any terms of a month-to-month tenancy with 30 days’ written notice to the tenant.4

Month-to-month tenancies can be ended with 20 days’ notice

Once a holdover tenant has established a month-to-month agreement, they are protected in the same way as every other month-to-month tenant in Washington. Landlords who want to terminate their lease must first deliver a 20-day notice to vacate.7 Landlords don’t have to give a reason for ending the tenancy, unless their rental property is in Seattle (more on that below).

If the tenant doesn’t move out by the date required by the notice, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit to get them removed. Landlords can’t change the locks or turn off utilities to get a tenant to leave, however. They must wait for a ruling from a local judge on the eviction case.

Landlords in Seattle need “just cause” to end a month-to-month agreement

While landlords in most cities in Washington can end a month-to-month tenancy for any reason, landlords in Seattle must show just cause. Just cause includes:8

  • Not paying rent
  • Refusing to comply with the lease agreement
  • Regularly paying rent late
  • The landlord wanting to move in

This list isn’t exhaustive—Seattle’s Just Cause Eviction Ordinance includes 18 acceptable reasons to end a month-to-month lease agreement.

[1] RCW 59.18.200, RCW 59.18.290

[2] RCW 59.18.200

[3] Marsh-McLennan Bldg. Inc. v. Clapp (1999)

[4] RCW 59.18.140

[5] RCW 59.18.140

[7] RCW 59.12.030

[8] SMC 22.206.160(C)

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.