This may seem obvious, and in many ways it is, but when people are wronged rational behavior can sometimes go flying out the window. So I am going to say it again: For tenants to be entitled to the full protections of Washington’s Residential Landlord/Tenant Act (RLTA) their rent has to be current. RCW 59.18.080. (Generally, RLTA covers rental agreements involving residential homes, mobile homes are governed by different rules. Please see the following link for laws covering other types of rental agreements. )
Usually people want to stop paying rent because they feel the home has fallen into disrepair and the landlord has not fixed the problem. The RLTA does allow for this but there are a set of very strict requirements that one must meet before rents can change or rental agreements can be terminated. Procedure in this statute is key so you must read the statute and follow the sections step by step in order to do it right.
Notice: A landlord must get written notice of the problem that needs to be fixed. RCW 59.18.070 Says: “written notice to the person designated in RCW 59.18.060(11), or to the person who collects the rent, which notice shall specify the premises involved, the name of the owner, if known, and the nature of the defective condition.”
Time to Cure: The RLTA also gives the amount of time a landlord has to fix the problem. “The landlord shall commence remedial action after receipt of such notice by the tenant as soon as possible but not later than the following time periods, except where circumstances are beyond the landlord’s control:
(1) Not more than twenty-four hours, where the defective condition deprives the tenant of hot or cold water, heat, or electricity, or is imminently hazardous to life;
(2) Not more than seventy-two hours, where the defective condition deprives the tenant of the use of a refrigerator, range and oven, or a major plumbing fixture supplied by the landlord; and
(3) Not more than ten days in all other cases.” RCW 59.18.070
Tenant’s Choices: RCW 50.18.090 gives a tenant’s choices if the landlord fails to fix the problem and the tenant has met all the notice requirements and given the landlord an opportunity to cure (fix) the problem. A tenant has several choices under this statute available to them. They may terminate the rental agreement and leave the home after giving the landlord written notice. At that point you are not responsible for rent after the date you leave the home. The other choices are that the tenant may bring an action in court or pursue other remedies in the RLTA (keep reading).
Many people misunderstand RCW 59.18.100 (Landlord’s failure to carry out duties – Repairs effected by tenant – Procedure – Deduction of cost from rent – Limitations.) probably because they see “deduction of cost from rent” and scan over “procedure.” Again, procedure is key. Unfortunately the statute is fairly complicated and involves a number of requirements. The basic gist is that a tenant must get a good faith estimate for the repair (this can be submitted with the RCW 59.18.070 Notice to cure the problem). The amount of the repair cannot exceed one month’s rent (This is difficult because most big repairs cost more than one month’s rent. If this is the case then the problem is indeed large and terminating the rental agreement in RCW 59.18.090(1) might make more sense or RCW 59.18.115 – see below). If the landlord hasn’t fixed the problem then the tenant may get the damage fixed being very careful to follow the requirements on notice in RCW 59.18,100(2) and deduct the costs of the repair from the rent, not to exceed one month’s rent.
As I’m writing this it seems very complicated and it is but if you are following the statute and read it carefully giving the landlord WRITTEN notice of everything that you do and then making sure to SERVE the notice on the landlord properly according to RCW 59.18.100(1) you will set yourself up for success.
If the situation in the home is more serious and affecting the health and safety of the tenants then RCW 50.18.115 applies. This statute has another set of specific procedural requirements involving agencies and governmental inspections etc. so you should be very certain that your situation is covered by the statute. The requirements are as follows:
“(2)(a) If a landlord fails to fulfill any substantial obligation imposed by RCW 59.18.060 that substantially endangers or impairs the health or safety of a tenant, including (i) structural members that are of insufficient size or strength to carry imposed loads with safety, (ii) exposure of the occupants to the weather, (iii) plumbing and sanitation defects that directly expose the occupants to the risk of illness or injury, (iv) lack of water, including hot water, (v) heating or ventilation systems that are not functional or are hazardous, (vi) defective, hazardous, or missing electrical wiring or electrical service, (vii) defective or inadequate exits that increase the risk of injury to occupants, and (viii) conditions that increase the risk of fire, the tenant shall give notice in writing to the landlord, specifying the conditions, acts, omissions, or violations. Such notice shall be sent to the landlord or to the person or place where rent is normally paid.” RCW 59.18.115.
Be sure to read through the whole section before you start down this path so that you understand all the consequences. Here, if a government agency determines that there is imminent risk to the health and safety of the tenant then the tenant may set up an escrow account to pay rent while the courts figure out how best to solve the problem (You may get this money back if the courts decide that the value of the home did not merit the amount of rent paid, but you never know). This means that the tenant cannot stop paying rent. In other words, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.