Seattle and Tacoma Landlord Problem Attorneys

Helping to resolve legal disputes between landlords and tenants

The landlord/tenant relationship is a complicated one, as each party has certain rights and responsibilities under the law. However, just as in any other type of relationship disputes can often arise, with each party striving for dispute resolution in their favor.

Whether you are a residential landlord, a residential tenant, a commercial landlord, or a commercial tenant, the experienced real estate lawyers at the Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess in Seattle and Tacoma will help you resolve your issues in a most favorable manner possible.


Landlord/tenant cases may be complicated

Depending on the specific basis for the dispute, legal cases involving landlords and tenants may involve many different areas of the law including state statutes, contract law, premises liability, real property, bankruptcy, and Fair Housing. The attorneys at the Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess are thoroughly familiar with all of the applicable laws and legal doctrines that may apply to landlord/tenant cases in order to best assist you no matter what the cause of your dispute may be.

Common issues between landlords and tenants

Disputes between landlords and tenants may arise in a wide variety of ways, including but not limited to the following:

  • Lease interpretation disagreements
  • Defects on the property
  • Premises liability claims
  • Failure to maintain the property
  • Waste
  • Fair Housing or ADA1 claims
  • Non-payment of rent
  • Retaliatory, “self-help,” or otherwise wrongful evictions
  • Unlawful detainer3
  • Wrongful termination of lease

Each landlord/tenant case requires a particular type of legal action depending on the type of party, the issues leading to the dispute, and other circumstances. Our attorneys know how to evaluate your particular case to determine the most appropriate way to resolve your dispute.

Landlord-Tenant Basics

Residential landlord-tenant law is governed by the RCW 59.18 in Washington State. This law is commonly referred to as the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act. Here at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess, we represent both landlords and tenants throughout the Puget Sound area (Seattle and Tacoma, in particular). Given the difference in the respective positions of these individuals, there are specific legal duties you should know:

Duties of a Landlord

  • Code compliance. Check for any applicable municipal or county codes, ordinances, or regulations associated with the rental premises, and generally maintain the premises to substantially comply with any applicable code, statute, ordinance, or regulation;

  • Basic structural maintenance. Maintain roofs, floors, walls, chimneys, fireplaces, foundations, and all other structural components, in reasonably good repair;Common area maintenance. Keep any shared or common areas clean, sanitary, and free from defects;

  • Pest control. Ensure that the property is free from pest infestation at the outset of the tenancy and control any infestation that occurs during the tenancy unless said infestation was caused by the tenants (unless the property is a single-family residence);

  • Repairs to normal wear and tear. Arrange for repairs as necessary except where damage is attributable to normal wear and tear;

  • Unit maintenance. Maintain all electrical, plumbing, heating, and other facilities and appliances supplied to tenants in reasonable working condition;

  • Ensure the property is reasonably weathertight and provide adequate heat and water access (including hot water);

  • Provide receptacles for garbage and removal of the same in multi-family units; and

  • Follow notice procedures. Provide written notice regarding fire safety and protection, as directed in 59.18.060(12);

In the event that a landlord violates one or more of their duties, tenants have options. If a problem is encountered with the rental unit, tenants must first alert the landlord of the problem(s) via a written notice which describes the nature of the defect(s). In response, the landlord is obliged to begin remedial action as soon as possible and in compliance with the applicable time frames outlined in RCW 59.18.070(1)-(3). If a landlord fails to remedy the defect(s) within a reasonable time, tenants may be entitled to a portion of the rent owed/paid. Under certain circumstances, a tenant may be able to contract with a 3rd party to make necessary repairs and deduct the costs from rent owed to the landlord.

Duties of a Tenant

Tenant obligations towards their rental unit are outlined in RCW 59.18.130. In general, these duties include the following:

  • Code compliance. Check for any applicable municipal or county codes, ordinances, or regulations;

  • Timely rental payments. Pay the correct amount of rent on or by the correct date, as indicated in the rental agreement;

  • Unit upkeep. Keep the premises clean and sanitary, including proper disposal of garbage;

  • Properly use and operate the fixtures and appliances supplied by the landlord;

  • No unusual damage to the unit. Avoid intentional or negligent destruction, defacement, damage, impairment, or removal of the property (including fixtures, appliances, furniture, etc. supplied by the landlord) by any tenant or visitor of the same. (Note that this does not prohibit damage to the premises through normal wear and tear);

  • No drug or gang activity. This is probably obvious, but a renter must avoid any illicit drug or gang-related activity on the premises;

  • Smoke detectors. Renters are obligated to maintain smoke detectors in the unit (note that some local fire departments have Federally-funded programs to visit your property and help install smoke detectors. Check with your local municipality to see if you are eligible);

  • Be safe. Avoid any hazardous activity that could harm others;

  • Leave it how you found it. Upon vacation of the premises, restore them to the condition equivalent to when the tenant took possession of the same.

In the event that a tenant violates one or more of their duties, landlords may give written notice to the tenant outlining the nature of the violation(s) pursuant to RCW 59.18.180. A landlord is authorized to enter premises to perform necessary work to be done or can begin the eviction (unlawful detainer) process (note that some circumstances require serving written notice to vacate prior to commencing an unlawful detainer action while others do not).

It is important to note, that landlords often encounter pitfalls involving service of the unlawful detainer documentation (pleadings). Often as a result of the difficulties in performing service of the unlawful detainer documentation, the timing gets disrupted from a civil procedure standpoint. This has a lot to do with the differing notice requirements since they vary depending on the basis for issuing the notice to vacate. For instance, if a tenant is not paying rent, a landlord can issue a three-day notice to pay or vacate. It is important to note that it must be a notice to pay rent OR vacate within three days. This means that it is an either/or scenario and that the tenant can remedy the situation by either paying all past-due rent, together with any applicable fees OR by vacating the premises. If the tenant fails to do either of these things within three days, you may initiate unlawful detainer proceedings.

Another example of a written notice to vacate from a landlord to a tenant is the catch-all notice: the 20-day notice of termination of tenancy. This is an option that is available on any month-to-month residential lease agreement. This option does not require a for-cause reason to terminate tenancy; in other words, you may utilize this option for any reason (note that the city of Seattle has adopted more rigid rules that you must comply with). It is important to note that this 20-day notice does not operate the same way that the 3-day notice to pay rent or vacate does. Unlike the 3-day notice which allows a landlord to initiate an unlawful detainer action on the 4th day, a 20-day notice must be served at least 20 days prior to the end of the lease period (or 20 days prior to the end of the month), and unlawful detainer actions may be commenced after the end of said lease period. For example, if the landlord serves the 20-day termination of tenancy on the 3rd day of the month, a landlord cannot begin an unlawful detainer action on the 24th of the month – they must wait until the first day of the following month.

Eviction & Service

Tenant notification of the initiation of an eviction (unlawful detainer) process can be accomplished in one of three ways. (Note that following these notice procedures is tremendously important. If a landlord fails to follow the procedures exactly Washington courts will not execute the necessary orders to remove the tenant from the rental unit.)

These three methods of service are (1) personal service, (2) substitute service, and (3) posting and mailing.

Personal Service. Hand a hard copy of the notice to each tenant.

Substitute Service. Hand a hard copy of the notice for each tenant to either a tenant or someone else of suitable age, AND mail a copy of the notice to each tenant.

Posting and Mailing. When no one is available to hand the documents to (assuming the person serving knocked and verified that no one was home), you may post the notices in a conspicuous place on the premises (one copy for each known tenant), AND mail a copy of the notice to each tenant.

In calculating the timing of the service, it is crucial to remember that the day of service does not count in the calculation and if you’re mailing notices, you must add an additional day to the calculation.

Here at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess, we’ve litigated eviction (unlawful detainer) disputes involving virtually all forms of rental agreement breaches. Whether it is a simple failure to pay rent, to a more complicated breach involving the use of the property, we have literally seen it all. This is because of our firm’s unique focus on real estate litigation (especially in the Seattle and Tacoma area). Not only do we understand the intricacies of the law impacting landlords and tenants in Washington State, but by virtue of our collective experience, we can counsel with you regarding the strategic approach to dealing with a difficult rental issue.

Contact an experienced landlord/tenant lawyer for a consultation

Whether you are a landlord or tenant of a residential or commercial property, disputes can significantly affect your life and finances. If you are in the midst of a landlord/tenant dispute, please do not hesitate to contact the Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess in either Seattle or Tacoma for help today.





Attorney Robert Dickson

Attorney Robert DicksonThe core of Rob’s legal practice is civil litigation, with an emphasis on construction, real estate, and business law. He represents a wide range of clients, from large construction companies to individual homeowners. His is a practical approach to law, which strives to balance the need for a successful legal outcome with a client’s financial goals (or constraints). Outside of his private practice, Rob serves as an adjunct professor at the Seattle University School of Law where he teaches real estate litigation. [ Attorney Bio ]

    our firm

    Attorney Thomas L. Dickson

    Thomas L. Dickson

    Tom is an experienced litigator and the founding partner of the firm. For over 30 years, he’s helped clients prevail in their real estate, construction, and business law matters.

    attorney profile
    Attorney Heather Burgess

    Heather Burgess

    Heather represents property owners and developers in all phases of real estate development, from pre-acquisition due diligence through local permitting and appeals.

    attorney profile
    Attorney Robert P. Dickson

    Robert P. Dickson

    The core of Rob’s legal practice is civil litigation, with an emphasis on construction, real estate, and business law. He represents a wide range of clients, from large construction companies to individual homeowners.

    attorney profile
    Attorney Daniel J. Frohlich

    Daniel J. Frohlich

    Dan’s legal practice focuses on civil litigation, real estate law, business law and probate law. He has more than 10 years of experience as an attorney serving clients throughout Western Washington.

    attorney profile
    Attorney Mark S. Johnson

    Mark S. Johnson

    Mark’s legal practice focuses on civil litigation, real estate law, business law and family law. He works tirelessly to help his clients achieve the outcome they are looking for.

    attorney profile
    Attorney Trevor A. Zandell

    Trevor A. Zandell

    Since graduating with honors from law school in 2005, Trevor has been serving the legal needs of businesses, individuals, and families across Southwest Washington.

    attorney profile
    Attorney Daniel E. Pizarro

    Daniel E. Pizarro

    As an associate at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess, Daniel is active in the firm’s civil litigation department. His practice is mainly centered around real estate law, landlord-tenant law, construction law, and probate law.

    attorney profile
    Attorney Alexander J. Wisbey

    Alexander J. Wisbey

    Alexander Wisbey comes to the firm with 5 years of experience as a litigator and trial attorney. He has first chaired several jury trials and has extensive experience handling arbitrations, mediations, depositions, and settlements.

    attorney profile
    Attorney Andrew Hata

    Andrew Hata

    Andrew is the head of our Transactional Department and focuses his practice on corporate governance, real estate transactions, commercial contracts, and corporate finance.

    attorney profile
    Attorney Kelley Duggan

    Kelley Duggan

    As an associate at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess, Kelley practices in a wide range of areas, including estate planning, probate, civil litigation, and intellectual property law.

    attorney profile
    Attorney Cambria A. Queen

    Cambria A. Queen

    Cambria is an Associate with Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess in the civil litigation department, where she practices primarily real estate and probate law.

    attorney profile
    Attorney George Knight

    George Knight

    As an associate at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess, George is active in the firm’s civil litigation and transactional departments. His practice is mainly centered around business law, real estate law, construction law, employment law, and probate law.

    attorney profile
    Attorney Chris Pierce-Wright

    Chris Pierce-Wright

    Chris comes to Phillips Burgess Tacoma from Seattle, where he served as an associate attorney focused on insurance litigation with Wilson Smith Cochran Dickerson.

    attorney profile
    Attorney Lacey L. Hatch

    Lacey L. Hatch

    Lacey has developed an in-depth knowledge and has successfully advised clients in an array of land use matters, including project review, code drafting and interpretation, as well as a variety of litigation pertinent to land use issues.

    attorney profile
    Attorney Jennifer Yoo

    Jennifer Yoo

    Jennifer is an associate attorney at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess where her current practice focuses on real estate law, contract and commercial disputes, and business law.

    attorney profile
    Attorney Katherine E. Baals

    Katherine E. Baals

    As an associate at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess, Katherine practices in a range of areas, including real estate, construction, business, and civil litigation.

    attorney profile
    Attorney Kenneth Chan

    Kenneth Chan

    As an associate at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess, PLLC, Kenny is active in the firm’s civil litigation and transactional departments. Prior to working at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess, Kenny was an in-house attorney for a Fortune 100 company.

    attorney profile
    Attorney Brian Buske

    Brian Buske

    Following his graduation from Lewis & Clark Law School, Brian garnered valuable client experience working on international compliance and intellectual property issues.

    attorney profile


    I highly recommend Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess and if I ever need a lawyer again they will be my first call.

    - Jeremy H.

    I can’t even tell you how much I appreciate this firm! These guys helped me through one of the most challenging legal situations I’ve faced in my life. Their skill and expertise literally saved my business. I’ve dealt with other counsel in the past but the Dickson firm was by far the most competent and tactful counsel I’ve ever received. I would recommend this group to anyone!

    - Keith D.

    It’s a pleasure to work with the guys at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess. One of the first things that stood out to me was how down to earth and friendly everyone at the firm is. I would definitely recommend them.

    - Den L.