Rent, Roommates, and Sub-leases

Paying Your Rent and Rent Increases

Always pay your rent, on time. If you cannot pay your rent on time, talk to your landlord before the rent is due. Eviction is an unwelcome business expense for the landlord, so it’s often in their interest to work with you if you’re having financial trouble.  Also, if you really can’t pay the rent, consider negotiating a move-out date with your landlord to avoid eviction.

Most of the rights you have as a tenant can only be asserted if the rent is paid in full and up to date. You have rights and legal recourse if the landlord doesn’t keep his or her end of the bargain, but you basically lose those rights if you don’t pay your rent.

Always get a receipt from the landlord when you pay your rent.  Make sure the receipt states the date and amount paid, and that the landlord signs the receipt.  If you pay your rent electronically through a bank transfer, make sure you keep a record of the transaction.

State law does not permit rent control in Washington.  There are no legal limits on how much your rent can be nor on how much a landlord can increase your rent.  There are laws about when and how frequently a landlord can increase the rent, and your rental agreement may have additional restrictions.  A landlord cannot increase the rent during a term lease.  For example, if you sign a lease to rent for one year at $1,000 per month, the landlord may not increase the rent during that year that the lease is in effect.  The landlord must wait until the lease expires to raise the rent.

In a month-to-month tenancy, the landlord can increase the rent so long as he or she gives you 30 days’ written notice of the increase.  A landlord may not increase the rent as a form of retaliation for the tenant asserting his or her legal rights.

Sub-Lets, Roommates, and Co-Tenants

Some rental agreements will permit the tenant to sub-let the rental unit, or to take on roommates.  More often, lease agreements do not permit sub-lets, and do not allow anyone not listed on the lease to live in the unit.  There are special legal exceptions for children born to or adopted by a tenant during tenancy.  If you have unauthorized people living in the rental unit, you are likely in violation of your lease agreement and could be evicted.

Some lease agreements will list one person as the primary tenant, and permit up to a certain number of roommates.  That primary tenant is responsible for paying the full amount of the rent t the landlord.  If more than one person is listed on the lease, each listed tenant is responsible for making sure the rent is paid in full and on-time.  If one named tenant pays their share of the rent and another does not, everyone on the lease is at risk of eviction.

Can I Force My Roommate to Move Out?
In situations where there are several tenants living in a rental unit, sometimes one person doesn’t pay their share of the rent, or are otherwise a bad roommate. If they refuse to move out on their own, what can you do?

In a situation like this, you should try and talk to your landlord so he or she knows what is going on. The landlord may be able to help persuade the bad roommate to move out. Keep in mind that collectively, the tenants are all fully responsible for making sure the rent is paid in full, on time. If the landlord serves a 3-day warning to pay or vacate or a 20-day warning to vacate, that applies to everyone in the rental unit. A landlord cannot move to evict just one person on the lease; an unlawful detainer action will force everyone in the unit to move out.

If there is a Dispute Resolution Center in your county, the DRC can be very helpful in finding a resolution. See the Resources guide.

What About No-Rent Living Situations?
Suppose you own or rent your home or apartment, and you let someone stay for a while for free, maybe even for a really long time, and then they won’t leave when you ask them to. What can you do?

If you find yourself in a living situation like this where no rent or other work or commodity of value is expected, the Landlord-Tenant Act does not apply. You cannot bring an action for unlawful detainer against someone who is not a renter, especially if you are not the owner of the rental unit. But there are other avenues you can take if someone just won’t leave.

One option is to create a landlord-tenant situation by informing the unwelcome person in writing that their rent is now going to increase from nothing to something at the start of the next month. If they refuse to pay, you can serve them with a 3-day notice to pay or vacate, and initiate an unlawful detainer action if they do not move out or pay the rent. Or you can then issue a 20-day notice to vacate if you are outside of Seattle) and force them out.

You may also be able to use laws against trespass if someone is staying with you and won’t leave when you ask them to. You may be able to obtain a restraining order to keep them away from the property, or ask law enforcement for assistance. However, if someone has been living with you for a while, your unwelcome guest may actually have some rights as a quasi-tenant, so you may have to either create a landlord-tenant situation as described above, or find an alternate way to resolve the situation.

If there is a Dispute Resolution Center in your county, the DRC can be very helpful in finding a resolution. See the Resources guide.