Eviction – Glossary

What is the Just Cause Eviction Ordinance?

Just Cause Eviction Ordinances are city laws that exist in addition to state laws, intended to provide greater tenant protection. These city laws require a residential landlord to provide a legal reason, one that is listed in the ordinance, to end a month-to-month rental 1Just Cause Eviction Ordinance, Seattle Department of Construction & Inspection. In Washington, both the City of Burien and the City of Seattle have Just Cause Eviction Ordinances 2Seattle Municipal Code §22.206.160.C.1; Burien Municipal Code §5.63.070.1.

What is a month-to-month rental? 

The Just Cause Eviction Ordinance only applies to month-to-month rentals 3 Cause Eviction Ordinance, Seattle Department of Construction & Inspection. A month-to-month rental is different than a fixed term. A fixed term lease provides an end date, such as a one year lease 4 RCW 59.18.210. A month-to-month rental, on the other hand, does not have an end date. The renter will continue paying rent on a monthly basis. This often occurs after the end of a fixed term lease. 

What are Just Causes?

In the city limits of Seattle or Burien, a landlord must be able to prove one of the 16 listed “just causes” exist, in order to end the rental5 Seattle Municipal Code §22.206.160.C.1; Burien Municipal Code §5.63.070.1. Of the 16 reasons, I will write about two different categories below. Recall, these are city laws, so the landlord will also need to meet state requirements to terminate a rental. To view the ordinance in its entirety, follow the link for Seattle and Burien.

Renter’s failure to do certain things

The first category is where a tenant has failed to do certain things. One “just cause” reason to end a rental is when a tenant fails to comply with state notices, such as a 14-day notice to pay rent or vacate 6Seattle Municipal Code §22.206.160.C.1; Burien Municipal Code §5.63.070.1. For example, if after the 14th day, if the tenant has not paid or vacated the rental unit, the landlord has just cause to end the rental agreement7A Guide for Landlords and Tenants, Renting in Burien Handbook 4 (Jan. 2021), https://burienwa.gov/UserFiles/Servers/Server_11045935/File/City%20Hall/Laws%20&%20Regulations/Renting/Renting%20in%20Burien%20Handbook.pdf

A second “just cause” reason is when a tenant habitually fails to pay rent on time. For example, a renter receives from their landlord four separate 14-day notices to pay rent or vacate in a span of 12 months. In this case, unlike the example above, the renter has paid the rent each time within the 14-days, allowing the renter to stay in the unit. However, because the renter has received four notices

within a 12 month period, the renter has “habitually failed” to pay rent on time. This is a “just cause” reason for the landlord to end the rental agreement. However, the landlord would not have “just cause” if the renter received three of these notices within a 12 month period, or four notices over a period of several years.

A third “just cause” reason is when a renter is involved in certain criminal activity. Examples include drug activity or other crimes that place the landlord or others nearby in danger. Under this “just cause” reason, the landlord would need to provide detailed facts to support the claim of criminal activity. Evidence such as police reports would need to be provided to the City in order to prove “just cause.”

Landlord Changes

Immediate family members 

The second category is when the landlord’s living situation has changed. For example, a landlord may terminate a rental agreement to allow an immediate family member to move into the rental unit. First, it is important to know who is included as the landlord’s immediate family members. In Seattle, immediate family members include the landlord’s spouse or domestic partner, parents, grandparents, children, brother or sisters of either the owner or their spouse/ domestic partner. In Burien, however, immediate family members include the spouse or domestic partner, dependent children, and other dependent relatives. 

Once confirmed that the immediate family member meets the City definition above, the landlord must provide the existing renter with a 90-day notice indicating the date the rental ends. As an example, the landlord could provide notice to the renter on January 1st, stating the rental is ending March 31st, 90-days after the notice. After March 31st, the immediate family member may then move in. Once moved in, the immediate family member must use the unit as their primary residence for a minimum of 60 days out of 90 days. The time begins from the day the original tenant moved out. In the example above, the immediate family member would need to move in by the end of April and continue to occupy the unit for the next 60 days. This would comply with the “just cause” of the landlord’s immediate family member occupying the unit for a minimum of 60 days in the first 90 days, from the renter having moved out. 

It is important to remember that the Just Cause Ordinance is intended to protect renters from arbitrary evictions, and the landlord’s claims can be challenged by the tenant. If so, the landlord may be required to certify with the City Director. This would be a statement showing the landlord’s intent to have an immediate family member move into the unit. 

Landlord Elects to Sell

A landlord may have “just cause” if they choose, or elect, to sell the property. In Seattle, the property must be a single family dwelling. Seattle considers a structure with one unit and a permanent foundation to be a single family dwelling. A single family dwelling would not include a condo or townhome because they share walls with other units. Nor would a single family dwelling include a mobile home because it does not have a permanent foundation. Whereas, in Burien, a landlord may sell any dwelling unit, including single-family homes, apartments, condos and mobile homes. Once the property has been determined to fall into the definition above, the landlord can begin the “just cause” process. 

First, the landlord needs to provide the renter with a 90-day notice. This notice would explain that the landlord intends to sell the property. At the end of the 90-days, the renter will be required to leave the property. Only once the renter has left the property, may the landlord attempt to sell the property. This means that the landlord should not first agree to sell the property, and then provide the notice to the renter. The landlord may only begin to sell the property once the renter has left. 

If the renter suspects they are being treated unfairly, or the landlord does not actually intend to sell the property, the renter can request the City to have the landlord fill out a certification of intent. For example, if the landlord does not make an attempt to sell the property, such as by listing it for sale through a relator, the renter can contact the City. The City would ensure the landlord is following through with the “just cause” reason to end the rental.

Landlord sharing the property with a renter

Another “just cause” reason may exist when a landlord lives on the same property as the renter. Living on the same property can include a landlord renting a room in their own home, or it can be a secondary home or building on the landlord’s property. Since the landlord is sharing their property with the renter, the landlord has “just cause” to end the rental agreement.

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