What can a tenant do when a landlord breaches the rental or lease agreement?

For a tenant to exercise his or her remedial rights under the Landlord-Tenant Act (RCW 59.18), the following requirements must be satisfied:

1.  Tenant must be current on rent

2.  Tenant must give landlord notice of any defective condition in writing (the landlord then has statutorily-outlined time requirements in which to correct the defects.  RCW 59.18.070).  If the landlord is not given notice, the court will not expect him to have fixed the defect(s).

3.  Tenant must not prevent or thwart the landlord’s attempt at remedying the defect

4.  If the landlord still does not correct the defect, the tenant may elect one of the following remedies:

(a) terminate rental agreement, and vacate; (b) commence action in court; or (c) fix the defect and deduct the cost from the required rental payment; (d) seek a third party arbitrator or court determination which assesses the reduction of rental value of the property; (e) in the case of substantial danger to the health and safety of the tenant, he or she can request that a government conduct an inspection on the premises.  The inspector will then certify whether in deed the property is sufficiently dangerous, thus verifying whether withholding rental payment is justified; (f) seek authorization from a court or arbitrator to end the tenancy — this is only authorized when the defects are so drastic that they cannot be corrected.

For a more detailed description of the above guide, look to RCW 59.18.  It is important to note that tenants must follow these requirements strictly.  If a landlord can show that the RCW was not followed, he may defeat the tenant’s actions in attempting to correct the deficiency — meaning that the tenant may have violated the lease and is liable for subsequent damages.

Above all, if you are a tenant, be sure to keep paying rent!  The court will not go along with your actions IF it is shown that you are either deficient in the rent owed, or have unnecessarily withheld amounts that you rightfully owe.

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