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Evictions: Guidelines for Landlords and Property Managers

Evictions: Guidelines for Landlords and Property Managers

The following article outlines the eviction process, including termination notices required, “just cause” rules, lawsuit documents and physical evictions.

First Step

Whether your property is commercial or residential, the first step in evicting a problem tenant is identifying the reason for the eviction.  A landlord may terminate an expired or month-to-month lease for any reason or no reason at all, provided termination is not retaliatory or discriminatory.

During a fixed term lease, or if a residential Seattle property, a tenancy may only be terminated for cause.  The most common cause is nonpayment of rent, but a tenant may also be terminated for any other violation of the lease and for many violations of state and local law.

Once the landlord identifies a basis for the eviction, she or he must give the tenant a notice.  No notice is required when a tenant fails to vacate after a fixed term that does not continue on a month-to-month basis. Every other basis for termination corresponds to a particular type of notice.  For non-payment of rent, the landlord must give a 3-day notice to pay rent or vacate. For most other lease violations, the landlord must give a 10-day notice to cease the violation or vacate.  While experienced landlords are familiar with selecting and preparing the appropriate notice, many landlords choose to consult with an attorney do this step. 

It is vital to a successful eviction that notices be properly served on tenants. There are three valid methods of service. Actual receipt of the notice is not enough. See Instructions for preparing and serving a 3-day notice to pay rent or vacate. Note that there are additional requirements related to Section 8 tenants.

Eviction Lawsuit

Once the notice period has passed and the tenant has not complied with the notice, the landlord should prepare and serve an eviction summons and a complaint for unlawful detainer.  While the notice is an essential part of the eviction, the summons and complaint are what start the litigation itself.  The process is complicated and so this step is usually where even an experienced landlord will work with a lawyer.  The summons requires the tenant to appear and respond to the lawsuit within at least seven days of service.  The complaint identifies the facts relevant to the eviction, such as the lease term violated, the rent, and the type of notice that was served.

These documents must be served on the tenant by someone legally allowed to do so and never by the landlord himself or herself.  In both residential and commercial cases, the summons and complaint may be filed with the court before service or anytime afterward once the landlord needs the court to act.

When the deadline for a response passes, or when the tenant responds, the landlord may then decide what step to take next.  If the tenant did not respond or vacate, the landlord may obtain a default judgment and the litigation is over.  If the tenant responds, the landlord may wish to negotiate with the tenant or set a “show cause” hearing to proceed with the unlawful detainer.

A show cause hearing is an evidentiary hearing. The landlord and tenant will be allowed to testify. It is a summary proceeding, meaning it often provides an expedited final verdict.  Most unlawful detainers are resolved at this hearing.

Physical Eviction

When the landlord wins, either by default or after a show cause hearing, the court will issue a writ of restitution.  This writ is an order directing the county sheriff to remove the tenant from the property.  The physical eviction usually takes place between 3 and 20 days after the end of the litigation.  If the tenant does not vacate before the day of the physical eviction, the sheriff will supervise while the landlord’s agents change the locks and remove the tenant’s property.  The court may also award the landlord a money judgment that may be collected from the former tenant.

This article is intended as a summary of the eviction process only.  There are many laws and court rules that impact what type of notice to give, how to serve documents and obtain court orders, and other details of the process.  In addition, the lease used and local ordinances may provide additional rights and duties that change the eviction process.  Commercial leases nearly always extend the 3-day and 10-day notice periods.  The Loeffler Law Group PLLC recommends consulting with an attorney before selecting a notice or evicting a tenant.  

If you need assistance with an eviction, notices, litigation or other landlord-tenant dispute, please call 206.443.8678 today to speak with one of our experienced attorneys.

Important: The Loeffler Law Group PLLC provides this information as a courtesy without any claim as to its effectiveness or legality. Use of the information in this hand-out does not in any way create an attorney-client relationship between the user and any party associated with the Loeffler Law Group PLLC.

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