A year after the legislature overhauled the Washington Residential Landlord Tenant Act (RLTA), Chapter 59.18 RCW, the legislature has again imposed new regulations impacting Washington residential landlord tenant laws. [For a summary of the July 2019 changes, see Article: Important Changes to Washington Residential Landlord Tenant Law].  The new 2020 updates, which went into effect on June 11, 2020, include:

  1. Five-Day Grace Period for Late Fees. A landlord cannot assess a late fee until the sixth day following the date rent is due. However, a landlord may – and should – issue the 14-day pay or vacate notice immediately following the date rent is due.  Timely issuance of the pay or vacate notice ensures a landlord can expeditiously proceed with an eviction if necessary.

For example, if rent is due on the first of the month and the tenant fails to pay, on the second day of the month the landlord should issue the 14-day pay or vacate notice, and on the sixth day of the month the landlord should send a notice to the tenant indicating that a late fee has been assessed.

Tenants receiving government assistance may request, in writing, a change of the rent due date up to five days after rent is due if their monthly source of government assistance is not received until after the due date for rent.

  1. Landlord May Not Issue a Pay or Vacate Notice for Failure to Pay Non-Possessory Charges. A tenant’s failure to pay late fees, damages, legal costs, or other fees, including attorneys’ fees, is no longer a basis for an eviction action. These fees and costs can still be collected through litigation.
  1. Tenant Must be Permitted to Pay Move-in Fees (Deposit, Last Month’s Rent, and Any Non-Refundable Fees) in Installments. Depending on the length of the lease term, a landlord must offer a tenant the ability to pay the move-in fees in either 2 or 3 monthly installment payments.  Failure to make these installment payments can be a basis for issuing a pay or vacate notice and commencing an eviction.  Leases less than three months must allow a tenant to make these payments over two months, while leases exceeding three months must allow a tenant to make these payments over three months.
  1. Maximum Unit Holding Fees. A landlord cannot require a prospective tenant to pay fees in excess of 25% of the first month’s rent to hold a unit.
  1. Updated Pay or Vacate Notice Form. A revised pay or vacate notice can be found here.
  1. The Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) Prohibits Discrimination Based on Citizenship or Immigration Status. While not an update that is included in the RLTA, the addition of citizenship or immigration status in the WLAD still impacts landlords.  The WLAD provides that it is an unfair practice for a landlord to base rental decisions on citizenship or immigration status.

Tips for Landlords

  1. Consider Using Installment Payments to Your Advantage. One of the tips in our 2019 landlord tenant law update article was to consider collecting larger deposits and move-in fees.  Significant upfront move-in fees may be prohibitive to many good tenants; however, the tenants may be able to pay higher move-in fees if the fees are collected over several months of smaller payments. The new law providing for installment payments sets a minimum number of installment payments landlords must offer, but it does not prohibit landlords from offering a longer installment payment plan for collection of deposits or other fees.

 For example, if rent is $2,500 per month and a landlord wants to collect a total of $5,000 in move-in fees, the landlord could divide those payments over six months (approximately $833 additional payment per month).  This payment plan can increase the pool of prospective renters while providing a pathway for the landlord to have adequate security if the landlord later has to pursue eviction.  Note, even if deposit funds are collected with rent, monies collected as deposits still must be held in a separate trust account per RCW 59.18.270.

  1. Don’t Forget to Check Your City or Local Regulations for Additional Requirements. While this tip was included in our 2019 landlord tenant law update article, we again recommend checking your local regulations for additional landlord tenant laws because this is an important and often forgotten area of landlord tenant regulation.

Please contact Tim Schermetzler at Chmelik Sitkin & Davis P.S. if you have questions about your residential leases or need assistance.