Landlord Tenant Law Series: Ejection, Tenancy at Will, and Getting Rid of Tenants with No Lease

No good deed goes unpunished.  You had some extra space or even a second home and out of the goodness of your heart you let some friends move in as they had no where else to go.  Now they won’t leave.

Under Washington Law, this type of situation is called a “tenancy at will” and it is not easy to resolve.

Unlike a landlord in a traditional lease situation under the landlord tenant act (RCW 59.18 et. seq.), you do not have the ability to just issue a three day pay or quit notice and swiftly evict the tenant.  Instead, you have to use the very slow and costly procedures available under RCW 7.28 for ejection- which in essence is a trial on an unexpedited basis.

There is a temptation to resort to self help such as simply locking the “tenants” out, shutting off utilities, etc.  However, self help by landlords is not allowed and can result in significant damages to include damages and attorney fees.

Generally, the best way to deal with a tenant at will is to offer money to move out (cash for keys) with the threat to file a suit if they do not move.  It is important to note that any suit for eviction, or ejection in this case, will be part of the permanent court record and will be seen on any background or rental check.  With that in their background, it will be very difficult to rent again and if they do they often will have to pay a premium to do so.

A combination of carrot and stick is often the most effective method in a tenancy at will situation.