Moving out can be a complete hassle for a renter. Getting everything packed, making sure the place is clean and worrying about a deposit refund can add up to one big headache.
The process of moving out is typically initiated when the landlord or tenant gives 20 days’ notice to the other indicating that the tenancy will be terminated.
In Seattle, there are nuances to when and how a landlord may terminate a month-to-month tenancy, as guided by the Just Cause Eviction Ordinance. And in the case of the sale of a single-family rental unit, 60 days’ notice is required to be given to the tenant, rather than the usual 20 days.
Less frequently, a lease agreement may be written as a fixed term, with no reversion to month-to-month available. In such a case, either a lease extension or renewal is signed, or the tenancy is over when the lease term expires and the tenant must vacate.
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When a tenant is moving out of a rental unit, the first move to make should always be to request a list of cleaning instructions from the landlord. The instructions offer the tenant a valuable tool for measuring the landlord’s expectations of cleanliness in the vacant unit, and affords the tenant the opportunity to recoup his or her security-deposit money if no additional cleaning or repairs are needed.
It’s also helpful to use the property-condition checklist — signed by both tenant and landlord at the beginning of the tenancy — as a reference point to note anything that was already present as a defect in the unit.
By law under RCW 59.18.260, tenants are allowed to request one additional copy of their property-condition checklist at no charge.
If a checklist was not signed by both parties at move-in, no basis for retaining any of the security deposit for cleaning or repairs exists, and a full refund of the deposit is required.
When a notice to terminate tenancy has been given, tenants should expect that the landlord will want to enter the unit to inspect the unit and assess what repairs may be needed, and to show the unit to prospective new renters.
Landlords have the right to enter to a unit, but they must comply with RCW 59.18.150 (6), which states that a 24-hour written notice is required for entry to show the unit, and a 48-hour written notice must be given for any other purpose.
After moving out, tenants should provide the landlord with a forwarding address to which the landlord can send the deposit refund. The refund timeline is fairly simple, as guided by RCW 59.18.280:
“Within 14 days after the termination of the rental agreement and vacation of the premises … the landlord shall give a full and specific statement of the basis for retaining any of the deposit together with the payment of any refund due the tenant under the terms and conditions of the rental agreement.”
Tenants are advised to keep their lease documents and other paperwork on hand for at least three years after vacating a property.
Sean Martin is the director of external affairs of the Rental Housing Association of Washington, a not-for-profit association of more than 5,000 landlord members statewide. Rental Resource is the organization’s biweekly column. For more information for landlords or tenants, visit rhawa.org.