Lesson preview: This lesson covers three main topics: how a landlord can terminate a rental agreement early if the tenant breaches that agreement, what the landlord can do to get the tenant to comply so tenant can avoid eviction, and when and how a landlord can legally evict a tenant.
When a Landlord Has the Right to Terminate a Lease
The term “breach” means “an act of breaking or failing to observe a law, agreement, or code of conduct.” In terms of our focus, a breach of a rental agreement means there was a failure or violation of some agreed-upon term. When a tenant breeches a rental agreement, the landlord has the right to terminate the lease, even if this means evicting the tenant, if certain conditions are met.
A breach occurs whenever the landlord or the tenant does not act according to the law or the rental agreement, which may also include verbal agreements.
- When the tenant “abandons” the rental agreement:
A property is considered abandoned if the tenant defaults on payment of rent, and reasonably indicates by words or actions his or her intention not to resume tenancy. Under these conditions, the tenant is liable for the rent for the remainder of the agreement. This is called “Abandonment of the Rental Agreement.” Washington State RCW 59.18.310 describes abandonment of a rental property, the tenant’s liability, and the landlord’s obligations.
- When the tenant violates a lease through a major breach:
The difference between Major/Material and Minor Breaches:
- Major, or “Material” breaches, are serious breaches that can result in a landlord legally terminating a lease and may include penalties, like damage and repair costs.
- Minor breaches are those which may do NOT give a landlord the right to terminate a lease and have no penalties.
See the chart below for examples of Material and Minor breaches.
How a Landlord Can Try to Get the Tenant to Resolve the Breach and Comply
A landlord can do two things to try to get the tenant to comply with the terms of the lease that was breached by the tenant has breached. Both steps require notification.
- 10-Day Notice (also called a “Notice to Comply”): This is the first step a landlord can take to communicate with the tenant they’ve breached the lease and to ask for compliance. In this 10-Day Notice, in essence, the landlord is telling the tenant, “You’re not complying with the terms of our rental agreement, and I’m asking you to comply. You have 10 days to resolve the breach.” In other words, if the rent is late, the landlord is saying, you have 10 days to pay up. Whatever the breach may be, this is a written notice from the landlord to the tenant that requires the tenant to comply within 10 days.This notice must be properly served by a person, or by mail. If the notice is not properly served, it is invalid and the case will not proceed in court (this is important). The notice takes effect 10 days after it is served.
- 3-Day Notice (also called a “Pay-or-Vacate” notice): This is the notice a landlord can give a tenant who continues not to comply with the lease agreement. Now, the tenant must pay whatever monies (for rent or repairs or any due payments) in 3 days or move out. This notice must be properly served by a person, or by mail. If the notice is not properly served, it is invalid and the case will not proceed in court (this is important). The notice takes effect 3 days after it is served.
When the Landlord Can Evict a Wrongful Tenant
- 20-Day Notice (also called a “No-Cause Termination”): In this case, when there’s been a breach and a continued noncompliance, this is the notification that begins the eviction process. It is a written notice from the landlord to the tenant that requires the tenant to move out at the end of the next rental cycle. The notice must be served at least 20 days before the next rent payment is due. This notice must be properly served by a person, or by mail. If the notice is not properly served, it is invalid and the case will not proceed in court – (this is important). Day one of physical or mail service is not counted.
- The Eviction Process: An eviction is the court process started by the landlord to force the tenant to move out of the property. The landlord starts an “unlawful detainer” eviction lawsuit called a “Summons & Complaint.” Basically, this means that the landlord has asked the tenant to meet specific conditions, the tenant has not fully complied and has failed to move out of the property. The landlord is now asking the court to remove the tenant from the property by law.
- If the tenant’s holdover is willful and not in good faith, the landlord may recover the financial costs to the landlord, including attorney’s fees.
- The landlord can also remove all of the tenants’ belongings that have not been removed from the property.
- The Landlord cannot retaliate:The landlord may not retaliate against a tenant who has complained if the tenant has complied with the rental agreement, either by increasing rent, decreasing services or by bringing or threatening to bring legal action against the tenant. The legal penalties governing retaliation are substantial. Check with your attorney if you have any
What a Landlord Can Do with Belongings Left Behind, After a Normal End of Lease or In the Case of an Eviction
If the landlord has followed the law in an eviction, or even after a tenant has moved out but left belongings behind, the landlord can enter the unit and remove the tenant’s belongings. Such belongings are considered “abandoned.” The landlord must hold the belongings in storage and make an attempt to notify the tenant in writing.
- If the property is valued at less than $250 (this may vary in your region so check with your local laws, an attorney or tenants association), the landlord may throw away or sell the items (except personal papers, family pictures, and keepsakes) after seven 7 days from the day the notice of sale or disposal is mailed to the tenant. If the property is valued at above $250, the landlord may throw away or sell all the items after 45 days if the tenant doesn’t write to claim their possessions. The landlord can then use the money to cover the costs of hauling and storing the property, or towards any debt the tenant owes them, including back rent money.
- Any money left over must be held for the tenant for up to one year. After that time, it becomes the landlord’s money. If the tenant claims the items, it must be in writing and they must pay the cost of hauling and storing the property before they can get the property back.