Just Cause Tenancy Termination comes to Washington State

August 25th, 2021 - Catherine A. Moore

Washington recently passed a new law limiting when landlords can terminate their tenants’ tenancies without cause. Previously, in most cities and counties in Washington (but not all, including Bellingham), a month-to-month tenancy could be terminated by either party with 20 days’ notice for any reason, and a tenancy with a lease for a specific time period that did not roll over into a month-to-month tenancy ended on the date specified. House Bill 1236, which passed in April 2021 and became effective in May, changed this. Now, tenants have more protection against losing their homes and landlords have slightly less flexibility in administering their rental properties.

Under HB 1236, a landlord may no longer terminate a month-to-month tenancy (or other periodic tenancy) without cause. A landlord can now only terminate a month-to-month or periodic tenancy if one of over a dozen causes applies. The complete list can be found in Section 2 of HB 1236. Some of the causes landlords are likely to use most include: failure to pay rent, substantial breach of the lease, if the tenant commits waste or nuisance, if the landlord or their immediate family need to move in, if the dwelling is a single-family home and the landlord wants to sell, if the landlord shares a dwelling or common kitchen and bathroom with the tenant, refusal to sign a new reasonable lease, or for “a legitimate economic or business reason,” the scope of which is not exactly clear. Each of these requires notice to the tenant as provided for in the statute, and the notice provisions are different for each exemption. It should be noted that while a landlord may only terminate a month-to-month if one of the reasons enumerated in Section 2 of HB 1236 applies, a tenant may still end a month-to-month tenancy without cause with 20 days’ written notice.

Leases that roll over into month-to-month tenancies generally follow the rules for month-to-month tenancies, except that a landlord may terminate such a lease without cause if the lease was for an initial term of 6 to 12 months, and the landlord serves written notice that the lease would not be renewed on the tenant as prescribed in RCW 59.12.040 at least 60 days in advance.

Leases for specific terms that do not roll over into month-to-month tenancies have different rules. A landlord may choose not to renew a tenant on a lease for a specific term if (a) the lease is for a term of 12 months or more, or the landlord and tenant have entered into at least two consecutive leases for six months or more each, (b) the landlord informs the tenant that the lease will not be renewed at least 60 days before it ends and serves notice on the tenant as provided in RCW 59.12.040, and (c) the tenancy has never been month-to-month or periodic, with one limited exception.

Please note that at the time of publishing, the renter protections in Governor’s Proclamation 21-09 and the federal eviction moratorium remain in effect. Additionally, landlords and tenants should be aware of E2SSB 5160, which provides additional renter protections in the wake of the COVID-19 emergency, including a payment plan provision, eviction resolution pilot program, and a right to counsel for indigent tenants.

This is a time of change in landlord tenant laws in Washington. Tenants may need legal help if they are unsure of their rights or dealing with landlords unaware of the new law. Landlords will now more than ever need to think ahead when terminating tenancies and may wish to consult an attorney to ensure they follow the new procedures correctly.

Disclaimer: This article and blog are intended to inform the reader of general legal principles applicable to the subject area. They are not intended to provide legal advice regarding specific problems or circumstances. Readers should consult with competent counsel with regard to specific situations.

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