Rental Agreements

What Is It?

A black man and a brown woman talking about a rental agreement.There are three main types of rental agreements or leases:

  • Month-to-month:
    • The renter may end their rental agreement with a minimum 20 day written notice prior to the end of the month. The property owner may end the rental agreement only if they have a just cause reason. (See Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) 22.206.160.C for more detail.)
    • The landlord may change the terms and conditions of the rental agreement with 30 days advance written notice to coincide with a monthly rental period.
    • The landlord may increase housing costs with 60 days advance written notice.
  • Fixed term lease:
    • A terminating lease for a fixed term ends at a certain date and the renter may not have an option to stay. Pay close attention to the language in the lease.
    • A fixed term lease can also automatically convert to a month-to-month lease when the term ends, which means the renter has a right to stay. 
    • The terms and conditions of the rental agreement as well as housing costs cannot be altered for the duration of the fixed term unless by mutual agreement.
  • Verbal agreement:
    • Rental agreements do not have to be written. In the absence of a written rental agreement, the City assumes the rental term to be month-to-month. It is not advisable to rent without a written rental agreement.
    • The landlord cannot collect a security deposit, move-in fees, late rent fees, etc. without a written agreement.

Rules to Follow

Alert: Parking agreement rules mean that your lease agreement needs to separate parking rent and housing rent.

All Written Rental Agreements
Landlords cannot collect security deposits and non-refundable move-in fees unless they are written into a rental agreement that:

  • Describes the terms and conditions under which the property owner may keep the security deposit
  • Includes a written checklist describing the condition and cleanliness of or existing damages to the rental unit
  • Describes the terms and conditions of the payment schedule for the security deposit and non-refundable move-in fees

Month-to-Month Leases
Rental agreements written after September 29, 1993 that create a month-to-month lease cannot:

  • Require a tenant to live in a rental unit for a minimum term of more than one month or period
  • Impose penalties if a renter legally ends the lease
  • Require loss of all or any part of a deposit if the renter legally ends the lease

Term Lease
Victims of domestic violence and members of the armed forces that are reassigned or deployed to another location have special protections under the law that allow them to exit their rental agreement with no penalty under certain conditions. See RCW 59.18 575 and RCW 59.18.220.

Parking Agreement Rules
Parking rent and housing rent now need to be separated in your lease agreement. You can do this by either having a separate parking contract or by creating a rental lease parking addendum. The parking rent amount and the parking terms must be outlined in this separate agreement and there is no minimum cost for parking.

Renter's Handbook

SDCI developed a new Renter's Handbook to replace Information for Tenants. The handbook is easier to read and provides additional tips and resources to help in the rental relationship. 

Landlords must provide a copy of the Renter's Handbook to the renter:

  • When a renter applies to rent
  • When a renter signs a rental agreement
  • Annually to month-by-month tenants
  • Whenever the handbook is updated by the City

Landlords should provide a hard copy of the Renter's handbook at the initial signing. After the initial rental agreement, landlords can provide electronic copies of the handbook. We understand that Information for Tenants is in broad circulation so landlords have until September 1, 2021 to provide the Renter's Handbook to their tenants. As of that date, only the Renter's Handbook will meet the ordinance requirement for providing this information to renters.

While City offices remain closed to the public during COVID-19, we cannot safely provide and distribute printed copies. To use our print-friendly version of the handbook, try selecting 2-sided in a landscape setting. Black and white is fine if you do not have a color printer. Visit www.seattle.gov/rentinginseattle for more information or call our helpline at (206) 684-5700.

Read the Code