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59.18.110  <<  59.18.115 >>   59.18.120

RCW 59.18.115

Substandard and dangerous conditions — Notice to landlord — Government certification — Escrow account.

(1) The legislature finds that some tenants live in residences that are substandard and dangerous to their health and safety and that the repair and deduct remedies of RCW 59.18.100 may not be adequate to remedy substandard and dangerous conditions. Therefore, an extraordinary remedy is necessary if the conditions substantially endanger or impair the health and safety of the tenant.

     (2)(a) If a landlord fails to fulfill any substantial obligation imposed by RCW 59.18.060 that substantially endangers or impairs the health or safety of a tenant, including (i) structural members that are of insufficient size or strength to carry imposed loads with safety, (ii) exposure of the occupants to the weather, (iii) plumbing and sanitation defects that directly expose the occupants to the risk of illness or injury, (iv) lack of water, including hot water, (v) heating or ventilation systems that are not functional or are hazardous, (vi) defective, hazardous, or missing electrical wiring or electrical service, (vii) defective or inadequate exits that increase the risk of injury to occupants, and (viii) conditions that increase the risk of fire, the tenant shall give notice in writing to the landlord, specifying the conditions, acts, omissions, or violations. Such notice shall be sent to the landlord or to the person or place where rent is normally paid.

     (b) If after receipt of the notice described in (a) of this subsection the landlord fails to remedy the condition or conditions within a reasonable amount of time under RCW 59.18.070, the tenant may request that the local government provide for an inspection of the premises with regard to the specific condition or conditions that exist as provided in (a) of this subsection. The local government shall have the appropriate government official, or may designate a public or disinterested private person or company capable of conducting the inspection and making the certification, conduct an inspection of the specific condition or conditions listed by the tenant, and shall not inspect nor be liable for any other condition or conditions of the premises. The purpose of this inspection is to verify, to the best of the inspector's ability, whether the tenant's listed condition or conditions exist and substantially endanger the tenant's health or safety under (a) of this subsection; the inspection is for the purposes of this private civil remedy, and therefore shall not be related to any other governmental function such as enforcement of any code, ordinance, or state law.

     (c) The local government or its designee, after receiving the request from the tenant to conduct an inspection under this section, shall conduct the inspection and make any certification within a reasonable amount of time not more than five days from the date of receipt of the request. The local government or its designee may enter the premises at any reasonable time to do the inspection, provided that he or she first shall display proper credentials and request entry. The local government or its designee shall whenever practicable, taking into consideration the imminence of any threat to the tenant's health or safety, give the landlord at least twenty-four hours notice of the date and time of inspection and provide the landlord with an opportunity to be present at the time of the inspection. The landlord shall have no power or authority to prohibit entry for the inspection.

     (d) The local government or its designee shall certify whether the condition or the conditions specified by the tenant do exist and do make the premises substantially unfit for human habitation or can be a substantial risk to the health and safety of the tenant as described in (a) of this subsection. The certification shall be provided to the tenant, and a copy shall be included by the tenant with the notice sent to the landlord under subsection (3) of this section. The certification may be appealed to the local board of appeals, but the appeal shall not delay or preclude the tenant from proceeding with the escrow under this section.

     (e) The tenant shall not be entitled to deposit rent in escrow pursuant to this section unless the tenant first makes a good faith determination that he or she is unable to repair the conditions described in the certification issued pursuant to subsection (2)(d) of this section through use of the repair remedies authorized by RCW 59.18.100.

     (f) If the local government or its designee certifies that the condition or conditions specified by the tenant exist, the tenant shall then either pay the periodic rent due to the landlord or deposit all periodic rent then called for in the rental agreement and all rent thereafter called for in the rental agreement into an escrow account maintained by a person authorized by law to set up and maintain escrow accounts, including escrow companies under chapter 18.44 RCW, financial institutions, or attorneys, or with the clerk of the court of the district or superior court where the property is located. These depositories are hereinafter referred to as "escrow." The tenant shall notify the landlord in writing of the deposit by mailing the notice postage prepaid by first-class mail or by delivering the notice to the landlord promptly but not more than twenty-four hours after the deposit.

     (g) This section, when elected as a remedy by the tenant by sending the notice under subsection (3) of this section, shall be the exclusive remedy available to the tenant regarding defects described in the certification under subsection (2)(d) of this section: PROVIDED, That the tenant may simultaneously commence or pursue an action in an appropriate court, or at arbitration if so agreed, to determine past, present, or future diminution in rental value of the premises due to any defective conditions.

     (3) The notice to the landlord of the rent escrow under this section shall be a sworn statement by the tenant in substantially the following form:



NOTICE TO LANDLORD OF RENT ESCROW


Name of tenant:


     Name of landlord:

     Name and address of escrow:

     Date of deposit of rent into escrow:

     Amount of rent deposited into escrow:

The following condition has been certified by a local building official to substantially endanger, impair, or affect the health or safety of a tenant:


That written notice of the conditions needing repair was provided to the landlord on . . ., and . . . days have elapsed and the repairs have not been made.



     . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

     (Sworn Signature)



     (4) The escrow shall place all rent deposited in a separate rent escrow account in the name of the escrow in a bank or savings and loan association domiciled in this state. The escrow shall keep in a separate docket an account of each deposit, with the name and address of the tenant, and the name and address of the landlord and of the agent, if any.

     (5)(a) A landlord who receives notice that the rent due has been deposited with an escrow pursuant to subsection (2) of this section may:

     (i) Apply to the escrow for release of the funds after the local government certifies that the repairs to the conditions listed in the notice under subsection (3) of this section have been properly repaired. The escrow shall release the funds to the landlord less any escrow costs for which the tenant is entitled to reimbursement pursuant to this section, immediately upon written receipt of the local government certification that the repairs to the conditions listed in the notice under subsection (3) of this section have been properly completed.

     (ii) File an action with the court and apply to the court for release of the rent on the grounds that the tenant did not comply with the notice requirement of subsection (2) or (3) of this section. Proceedings under this subsection shall be governed by the time, service, and filing requirements of RCW 59.18.370 regarding show cause hearings.

     (iii) File an action with the court and apply to the court for release of the rent on the grounds that there was no violation of any obligation imposed upon the landlord or that the condition has been remedied.

     (iv) This action may be filed in any court having jurisdiction, including small claims court. If the tenant has vacated the premises or if the landlord has failed to commence an action with the court for release of the funds within sixty days after rent is deposited in escrow, the tenant may file an action to determine how and when any rent deposited in escrow shall be released or disbursed. The landlord shall not commence an unlawful detainer action for nonpayment of rent by serving or filing a summons and complaint if the tenant initially pays the rent called for in the rental agreement that is due into escrow as provided for under this section on or before the date rent is due or on or before the expiration of a three-day notice to pay rent or vacate and continues to pay the rent into escrow as the rent becomes due or prior to the expiration of a three-day notice to pay rent or vacate; provided that the landlord shall not be barred from commencing an unlawful detainer action for nonpayment of rent if the amount of rent that is paid into escrow is less than the amount of rent agreed upon in the rental agreement between the parties.

     (b) The tenant shall be named as a party to any action filed by the landlord under this section, and shall have the right to file an answer and counterclaim, although any counterclaim shall be dismissed without prejudice if the court or arbitrator determines that the tenant failed to follow the notice requirements contained in this section. Any counterclaim can only claim diminished rental value related to conditions specified by the tenant in the notice required under subsection (3) of this section. This limitation on the tenant's right to counterclaim shall not affect the tenant's right to bring his or her own separate action. A trial shall be held within sixty days of the date of filing of the landlord's or tenant's complaint.

     (c) The tenant shall be entitled to reimbursement for any escrow costs or fees incurred for setting up or maintaining an escrow account pursuant to this section, unless the tenant did not comply with the notice requirements of subsection (2) or (3) of this section. Any escrow fees that are incurred for which the tenant is entitled to reimbursement shall be deducted from the rent deposited in escrow and remitted to the tenant at such time as any rent is released to the landlord. The prevailing party in any court action or arbitration brought under this section may also be awarded its costs and reasonable attorneys' fees.

     (d) If a court determines a diminished rental value of the premises, the tenant may pay the rent due based on the diminished value of the premises into escrow until the landlord makes the necessary repairs.

     (6)(a) If a landlord brings an action for the release of rent deposited, the court may, upon application of the landlord, release part of the rent on deposit for payment of the debt service on the premises, the insurance premiums for the premises, utility services, and repairs to the rental unit.

     (b) In determining whether to release rent for the payments described in (a) of this subsection, the court shall consider the amount of rent the landlord receives from other rental units in the buildings of which the residential premises are a part, the cost of operating those units, and the costs which may be required to remedy the condition contained in the notice. The court shall also consider whether the expenses are due or have already been paid, whether the landlord has other financial resources, or whether the landlord or tenant will suffer irreparable damage. The court may request the landlord to provide additional security, such as a bond, prior to authorizing release of any of the funds in escrow.

[1989 c 342 § 16.]