What is Eviction

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If you are being evicted now, it is important that you talk to a lawyer for legal advice as soon as possible.  Because eviction is a legal process that can cause long-term issues with credit and your ability to rent in the future, and because federal, state, and city laws offer different types of eviction protections for renters.  A trained lawyer can best help you understand what laws may be in place to pause or stop an eviction.[1] 

  1. What is eviction?

Eviction is a legal process where a landlord takes action to force a renter to move out of a property.  If a tenant breaks the rules of a lease, or stays beyond the leasing period, their landlord may give them a written notice to stop the problem behavior (sometimes called “curing” the behavior) or to move out within a specific amount of time.[2] Termination of tenancy, which is a notice from your landlord to move out at the end of a lease or on a specific date if you are renting month-to-month, is not the same thing as an eviction.[3]  If your landlord gives you a termination of tenancy, you only need to move out by the deadline.[4],[5]

“Unlawful detainer

A landlord may ask their tenant to change their behavior or move out through a written notice.[6]  There are specific rules about how the landlord delivers the notice: they must give you a copy in person; leave a copy with someone old enough and able to understand it; or (1) put a copy of the notice in an obvious place like the front door plus (2) give a copy to whomever is staying there and also (3) send a copy to you through the mail.[7] If the tenant does not take the actions requested within the set amount of time, the landlord can change the tenant’s status to “unlawful detainer.” Unlawful detainer means the renter staying in the apartment is now considered to be there illegally and against the landlord’s wishes.[8]  The landlord will give the tenant two written documents: an eviction Summons and Complaint.[9]   The Summons[10] with a court date and location when the tenant must appear at the Show Cause Hearing to defend themselves, and a Complaint[11] describing what the landlord thinks the tenant did wrong.  The Complaint will explain what the landlord is demanding from the tenant, which could be to pay overdue rent or fees, to move out, or to take other actions.  When you receive a summons and complaint,  you have seven days to respond with an answer.  Your landlord has started the legal process of eviction and you must take immediate action

  • How can I get rental advice?

Legal advice about your rights as a renter depend on where the property is located.  You can get some tips on handling basic rental situations here.  As a general practice, keep copies of all documents, including receipts for payments, you give to or receive from your landlord.[12]  Renters in Washington State can receive free counseling on their rights by contacting Solid Ground.  If your landlord has given you a summons and complaint, talk to a lawyer who is familiar with your city’s rental laws. You can find lawyers for low-income persons here; area tenant associations at here; associations where lawyers are familiar with local laws and often have assistance programs here.[13] If you need get help by phone you can leave a message with the Housing Justice Project staff on this number (206) 267-7069 and they will call you back.[14] (Be sure you can leave them a phone number where they can call you back).

  • What is a moratorium?

A moratorium means a pause in legal actions.  An eviction moratorium is when some level of government (federal, state, or local) has announced that nobody can be evicted for nonpayment of rent.  However, some evictions can still proceed for other reasons during an eviction moratorium.  Washington State has programs[15] to help with paying back rent, also known as rental assistance programs.  However, a moratorium does not mean that any unpaid rent will automatically be erased or forgiven.  When the moratorium ends, tenants will owe any unpaid rent or fees to their landlords all at once.[16]  Different eviction moratoria have different rules for protecting renters.  How the different moratoria can help renters is being worked out in the Washington courts.[17],[18]

  • CDC’s National Eviction Moratorium

The federal government declared a national eviction moratorium to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.[19]  Under it, tenants cannot be evicted for not paying rent[20] until the moratorium expires on June 30, 2021 or later if it is extended.  However, renters can still be evicted under the CDC’s moratorium if they take certain actions that threaten the health or safety of others.[21]

To benefit from the CDC’s moratorium, tenants who cannot pay their full rent must opt in by signing a declaration form, giving a copy to their landlord, and saving a copy.  Each “covered person” on a lease should sign the form.[22]  To prove your landlord received a copy, ask the landlord to sign or initial your copy.[23] The covered person can use a translated version.[24],[25]

Covered person

A “covered person” is an adult on the lease who signs a form swearing that they meet the conditions to be protected by the CDC eviction moratorium.[26]

  • Washington State’s Eviction Moratorium

The Governor issued a series of proclamations extending and amending a statewide eviction moratorium through June 30, 2021. Until then, landlords and property owners or managers may not serve, enforce, or threaten to serve or enforce a notice to pay or vacate, a notice of unlawful detainer,[27] notice of termination of rental, or notice to comply or vacate except under certain conditions.[28]  Renters do not need to fill in a declaration form.  Although the state moratorium protects renters who cannot afford their rent, Washington state landlords may still evict tenants under certain other conditions.  Like the health and safety exemption in the CDC’s moratorium, Washington landlords can sign a document saying they have to evict because the tenant is causing risks to the health, safety, or property of others.  Additionally, Washington landlords can still evict tenants during the state moratorium if they give the tenant 60 days’ written notice that one of two things will happen: either the landlord plans to move into the property themselves, or they plan to sell the property.[29]  This means the notice must allow for 60 days to pass before the tenant would be evicted and must leave the property.  For instance, if a landlord gave a 60 days’ notice on March 1, then on the 60th day after that (April 30th), the eviction would take effect.


[1] Also, Washington passed a bill (Senate Bill 5160) on April 10, 2021, to help low-income renters facing eviction get access to lawyers.

[2] There are six actions by tenants which can lead to eviction:(1) staying longer than the lease period;6 (2) staying after the landlord asked them to move out by a 20-day notice; (3) not paying rent 6.30 (4) breaking other rules in the lease other than nonpayment of rent; (5) breaking laws or destroying property 6.70; (6) trespassing; and (7) committing or permitting gang-related activity on the premises as defined in RCWA 59.18.130(9). With items number 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7, the tenant must move out within the notice period. With items number 3 and 4, the tenant can either change the behavior or move out within the period of time. 

[3] Eviction (solid-ground.org)

[4] RCW 59.18.200: Tenancy from month to month or for rental period—Termination—Armed forces exception—Exclusion of children—Conversion to condominium—Demolition, substantial rehabilitation of the premises—Notice—Penalties. (wa.gov)

[5] RCW 59.18.220: Termination of tenancy for a specified time—Armed forces exception. (wa.gov)

[6] RCW 59.12.040: Service of notice—Proof of service. (wa.gov)

[7] Id.

[8] RCWA § 59.12.030 (West)

[9] Eviction (solid-ground.org)

[10] RCWA § 59.12.080 (West) The summons explains what the tenant must do to respond, including which court they must appear in and when, and any fines owed. The summons may include a demand for unpaid back rent.

[11] RCWA § 59.12.070 (West)

[12] For Tenants (solid-ground.org)

[13] FAQs_Webinar_Renters-Rights.pdf (nlihc.org)

[14] Get Help (kcba.org)

[15] Renter Resources – Rental Housing Association of Washington (rhawa.org)

[16] How to Collect Rent During the Nationwide Eviction Moratorium – ApplyConnect

[17] Because of the conflict between the state and federal protections, several cases in Washington have asked the Court to provide guidance on the combination of the CDC Order with state and local landlord-tenant laws.   Antonia NYMAN, Respondent, v. Dan HANLEY and all other Occupants, Appellant., 2021 WL 863365.  The Washington State Supreme Court will hear oral arguments May 13th, 2021 about how these moratoria interrelate.

[18] Phone interview with Kaitlin Heinen, Housing Justice Project, March 24, 2021.

[19] Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions to Prevent the Further Spread of COVID-19 | CDC

[20] Any eviction for nonpayment of rent in a U.S. state or territory that was started but not complete on September 4, 2020, is subject to this Order.

[21] Federal Register :: Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions To Prevent the Further Spread of COVID-19:

(1) engaging in criminal activity while on the premises; (2) threatening the health or safety of other residents;

(3) damaging or posing an immediate and significant risk of damage to property; (4) violating any applicable building code, health ordinance, or similar regulation relating to health and safety; or (5) violating any other contractual obligation of a tenant’s lease, other than the timely payment of rent or similar housing-related payment (including nonpayment or late payment of any fees, penalties, or interest).

[22] HHS/CDC Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions to Prevent the Further Spread of Covid-19

[23] What is the CDC Eviction Moratorium? – Legal Aid Society of Cleveland (lasclev.org)

[24] The covered persons do not have to use the CDC’s form, but they must answer all the questions and sign the declaration. Id.

[25] The translated form must cover all the same declarations, be signed by the covered person, and include the acknowledgment that they are truthful, or will be liable for perjury if any statements are untrue.

[26] 1) do not expect to earn more than $99,000 annually;[26] 2) have made their best efforts to find any government assistance[26] for rent or housing; 3) are unable to pay rent in full[26]; 4) are making their best efforts to pay what rent they can; 5) if evicted, would become homeless or have to move in with a friend.[26]

[27] RCWA § 59.12.030 (West)

[28] proc_20-19.6.pdf (wa.gov)

[29] https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/proclamations/proc_20-19.6.pdf

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