Make informed decisions on leases by knowing rights

Understand rights, expectations of tenant-landlord relationships



A lease is a legal contract between tenant and landlord. Read through it and ask for clarification if necessary. Keep a copy of your lease for later reference.

SAGE ABDI, Evergreen reporter

Know your rights

When entering a rental agreement, it’s important to understand your rights and responsibilities.

Education is the best preparation for unforeseen circumstances. Federal, state and local laws govern and protect the landlord-tenant relationship. In addition to laws, tenants may have implied rights stated in their lease.

“People who live in Washington have very strong tenant laws that protect and look out for the tenants to make sure that we aren’t taking advantage,” said Britney Baldus, property manager at Midway Property Management.

Landlords may also have certain rights and regulations that protect them. To avoid any potential problems and get the best possible experience, know what’s expected of you.

Read your lease

The lease outlines the legally binding terms and conditions required of both landlord and tenant. Be sure to read it carefully and completely, and ask for clarification as needed.

During the lease signing, the landlord is required to disclose certain information to the tenant, such as deposits, fees and environmental health and safety hazards. The landlord must also provide the tenant with a copy of the lease and a checklist to document the condition of the premises upon move-in.

Habitable living space

By law, the tenant is entitled to a livable, safe and clean residence throughout their tenancy. The residence must have usable heat, utilities and water.

If a leased property becomes uninhabitable for any reason, the landlord should be notified as soon as possible. He or she is required to make repairs in a timely fashion. If the landlord needs to enter a tenant’s space, they must give advance notice, except in the event of an emergency.

“If it’s just to do your general inspection or repair, we have to give tenants 48 hours,” Baldus said.

The tenant is responsible for keeping the space in good condition in accordance with the lease terms. Tenants are protected from retaliation for complaining about living conditions. To protect yourself, make sure to document incidents in writing.

Eviction and back rent

Landlord-tenant laws allow for eviction if the lease is breached or expired. Reasons for eviction could include non-payment of rent, damage, unauthorized persons or pets or criminal activity.

“I don’t think evictions happen around here often,” Baldus said. “Usually you have to be pretty far behind rent before people are evicted.”

Landlords are required to provide written notice prior to eviction. A court order is needed to forcibly vacate a tenant.

Getting help

Most disputes between landlords and tenants stem from financial issues and living conditions. Before going to court, consider mediation services as an alternative way to resolve issues.

There are resources available for tenants in need of emergency service, such as the Community Action Center of Whitman County. The center provides food, housing, rental and utility assistance, among other services.