Preparing a Proper Lease Agreement
It is generally in the best interest of all landlords to spell out the specific rights and responsibilities of tenants in written lease or rental agreements. Without a signed lease, a landlord can experience significant difficulty obtaining damages for any violation of an oral agreement.
When a landlord is creating a lease agreement, he or she needs to make sure that all the necessary areas are covered for financial protection. It is also important, however, to make sure that a lease or rental agreement complies with all state and city laws, as illegal provisions may result in leases or rental agreements being declared null and void.
Lawyer for Preparing Lease Agreements in Seattle, WA
If you are a landlord who is preparing a residential lease or rental agreement, you will want to seek legal representation to make sure that every aspect of your agreement is properly handled. Law Offices of Joyce S. Schwensen helps landlords throughout the greater Seattle area, including Bellevue, Renton, Kent, Federal Way, Tacoma, and many surrounding communities in King County.
Seattle real estate attorney Joyce Schwensen has more than three decades of legal experience and teaches continued legal education courses relating to real estate to other lawyers. You can have her provide an honest and thorough evaluation of your case when you call (206) 367-1065 today to schedule an initial consultation.
Washington Lease Agreement Information Center
- What are the differences between month-to-month and fixed-term leases?
- What are some of the most important topics that need to be included in rental agreements?
- Where can I find more information about landlord-tenant laws in Seattle?
In the state of Washington, a landlord will generally use one of two types of rental agreements:
- Month-to-Month — A month-to-month rental agreement (also referred to as Tenancy at Will) does not have a fixed end date. The contract can run as long as the tenant continues to pay rent in accordance with the provided due date. Under Revised Code of Washington (RCW) § 59.18.200, the landlord or tenant can terminate the agreement by providing notice to vacate or terminate tenancy, respectively, 20 days or more from the expiration of the rental agreement. State law does provide an exception for members of the armed forces—including the national guard and armed forces reserves—or their spouses or dependents, who are allowed to terminate month-to-month rental agreements with less than 20 days' notice if they receive reassignment or deployment orders that do not allow a 20-day notice.
- Fixed-Term — A fixed-term lease is a rental agreement that lasts a specified period of time. Most fixed-term leases are usually one-year agreements. Unlike month-to-month rental agreements, no notice is required as leases simply expire on their specified end dates. Under RCW § 59.18.210, any lease for a term of more than one year must be notarized in order to be valid.
Another type of rental agreement is the “one-way lease” in which a landlord charges a termination fee, withholds the deposit, or imposes other penalties if a tenant moves out before a minimum period of time has passed. One-way leases are prohibited in Seattle under Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) § 7.24.030.
Landlords have a significant number of key provisions in rental agreements that need to be addressed. Failure to include such language or to word the provisions properly can result in frustrating and costly complications later on.
In addition to establishing the names of the tenants and the terms of the tenancy, a landlord will also need to address the following issues:
- Rent — A standard rental agreement will establish the amount of rent to be paid, the date the rent is due, and how the rent is to be paid as well as what payment methods are acceptable. The landlord will also want to establish the grace period under which rent payments are considered late and what the late fees are. Under RCW § 62A.3-515, the fee for a returned check cannot be more than 12% interest, plus the cost of collection, not to exceed $40 or the face amount of the check, whichever is less. RCW § 59.18.140 establishes that a landlord must provide 30 days notice before any increase in the amount of rent.
- Security Deposit — Landlords can charge whatever they like for a security deposit, but the rental agreement must establish when and how the deposit will be returned to the tenant upon vacating the property. RCW § 59.18.270 requires all security deposits to be placed in trust accounts in financial institutions or licensed escrow agents located in Washington. In order to collect a security deposit, the landlord must provide tenants with “a written checklist or statement specifically describing the condition and cleanliness of or existing damages to the premises and furnishings, including, but not limited to, walls, floors, countertops, carpets, drapes, furniture, and appliances, is provided by the landlord to the tenant at the commencement of the tenancy.” Under RCW § 59.18.285, landlord can charge pet deposits or other additional fees, but non-refundable fees cannot be part of the security deposit and rental agreements must clearly specify such fees are nonrefundable.
- Entry Notices — A rental agreement should establish the landlord’s right to access the premises. Under RCW § 59.18.150(6), a landlord generally must provide a tenant with two days notice before entry, although only one day’s notice is required for the purpose of exhibiting the property to prospective or actual purchasers or tenants. Landlords are allowed to enter property without the consent of tenants in cases of emergency or abandonment.
- Restrictions — To reduce or eliminate any possible civil liability, landlords will want to be sure to include provisions that prohibit behavior which is illegal or disruptive for other tenants.
- Disclosures — RCW § 59.18.060 establishes that a landlord has a duty to provide a written notice to the tenant disclosing that the dwelling unit is equipped with a smoke detection device as required in RCW § 43.44.110 and the tenant's responsibility to maintain the smoke detection device in proper operating condition and of penalties for failure to comply with the provisions of RCW § 43.44.110(3). Landlords also need to disclose all known lead paint hazards and provide tenants with an information pamphlet on lead-based paint hazards as an attachment to the written lease.
Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA) — View the full text of RCW § 59.18. The RLTA is essentially the most important law relating to the rights of tenants and landlords in the state of Washington. You can learn more about a landlord’s duties, right of entry, and remedies for a tenant's failure to comply with statutory duties.
Information for Tenants | City of Seattle — Seattle also has specific laws relating to landlords and tenants. You can learn more about the obligations of tenants and landlords under city laws through this link. You can also find information about other city ordinances that affect tenants and landlords.
Law Offices of Joyce S. Schwensen | Seattle Lease Agreement Lawyer
Are you a landlord who is preparing to rent out your property to a prospective tenant? It will be in your best interest to make sure that you retain legal counsel for assistance in crafting your rental agreement.
Joyce Schwensen of Law Offices of Joyce S. Schwensen is a real estate attorney in Seattle who represents clients in Everett, Olympia, Bellingham, Vancouver, Kennewick, Spokane, and many other communities in King County. Call (206) 367-1065 or complete an online contact form to set up a consultation that let our lawyer review your case and discuss your legal options.