If the Rental Needs Repairs
When something in the rental unit needs repair, the first step is for the tenant to give written notice of the problem to the landlord or person who collects the rent. The notice must include the address and apartment number of the rental, the name of the owner, if known, and a description of the problem.
It's a good idea to deliver the notice personally, or to use certified mail and get a return receipt from the post office. To speed up the repair process, the estimate can be given to the landlord along with the original written notice of the problem. After giving notice, the tenant must wait the required time for the landlord to start making repairs:
- 24 hours for no hot or cold water, heat, or electricity, or for a condition imminently hazardous to life
- 72 hours for repair of refrigerator, range and oven, or a major plumbing fixture supplied by the landlord
- 10 days for all other repairs
If the tenant is paid up in rent and utilities, the following options are available if the repairs are not started within the required time:
- Vacate Rental: After waiting the required time, the law allows tenants to give written notice to the landlord and move out immediately. Tenants are entitled to a prorated refund of their rent, as well as the deposits they would normally get back.
- Litigation or Arbitration: A tenant can hire an attorney and go to court to force the landlord to make repairs (these kinds of suits cannot be brought in Small Claims Court). Or, if the landlord agrees, the dispute can be decided by an arbitration service. Arbitration is usually less costly and quicker than going to court.
- Tenant Contracted Repairs: The tenant can hire someone to make the repairs. In certain situations the tenant can have the work done and then deduct the cost from the rent. There are limits to the amount of money a tenant can expend to effect these repairs - the most being two month's rent over a period of one year (Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 59.18.100). Before having repairs done the tenant must submit a good faith estimate to the landlord.
- If the repair is one that has a 10 day waiting period, you cannot contract to have the work done until ten days after the landlord receives notice, or five days after the landlord receives the estimate, whichever is later.
Tenant Contracted Repairs
After the work is completed, the tenant may pay for the repair and deduct the cost from the rent payment. The landlord must be given the opportunity to inspect the work. There are limits on the cost of repairs that can be deducted.
If a tenant contacts the repair work out to a licensed or registered contractor, or to a responsible person if no other license is required, then the total cost of repairs that may be deducted is not more than one month's rent per each repair, and no more than two months rent in any 12 month period.
If a large repair that affects a number of tenants needs to be made, the tenants can join together, follow the proper procedure, and have the work done. Each tenant can then deduct a portion of the cost from the rent.
Tenant Performed Repairs
The tenant can make the repairs and deduct the cost from the rent, if the work does not require a licensed or registered tradesperson. The tenant must give the landlord proper notice of the problem as outlined later on this page. Then, if the landlord does not begin repairs within the required time, the tenant can make the repairs. The cost of materials and labor can be deducted from the rent.
The cost of the repairs cannot be more than half a month's rent. Within any 12 month period, the tenant can only deduct a total of two month's rent. Work must be properly done and meet local codes. The tenant could be held responsible for inadequate repair work. The landlord must be given the chance to inspect the repairs.
Rent in Escrow
After notice of defective conditions, and after appropriate government certification of defect, and waiting periods have passed, tenants may place their monthly rent payments in an escrow account. This procedure is very technical and cannot be described in full here. For copies of the law, RCW 59.18, contact any Washington State Attorney General's Office Consumer Resource Center.