King County Commercial Eviction Defense: Challenging Unlawful Detainer Actions

A landlord of commercial property in the state of Washington may have several reasons for wanting to evict a tenant. Still, although they might feel that a breach or violation occurred warranting such action, that does not mean they can simply remove the tenant from the property.

Commercial property landlords must follow procedures outlined in Washington laws before pursuing an unlawful detainer (eviction) action. Whether the landlord is seeking eviction based on the belief that the tenant remained in the property after defaulting in payments, failing to comply with lease agreements, or any other grounds, they must ensure that they properly serve the tenant, comply with timeframes, and raise valid legal claims concerning the unlawful detainer eviction actions.

If the landlord removes a tenant from commercial property in violation of the law, the tenant might have been wrongfully evicted, and they can raise defenses to challenge the action. Additionally, the landlord could be liable to the tenant for damages.

Let’s further explore the landlord’s legal responsibilities when pursuing an unlawful detainer action and how skirting these obligations could give rise to defenses.

Providing Proper Notice to the Tenant

First and foremost, before a commercial property landlord can evict a tenant, they must give the tenant proper notice. The notification must contain precise language concerning why the landlord wants to remove the commerical tenant from the property.

The notice must also be properly served upon the tenant either by:

  • Personally serving a copy to the tenant,
  • If the tenant is not present, serving a copy to a person of “suitable age and discretion,” and mailing a copy to the tenant; or
  • If neither the tenant nor a person of suitable age is present, posting a copy of the notice in a conspicuous place and mailing a copy to the tenant.

After the tenant is served, the landlord must wait a certain amount of time for the tenant to comply or vacate the property.

Delivering a Summons and Complaint

The next step in the commercial eviction process is for the landlord to pursue an unlawful detainer action. This involves submitting pleadings to the court and having a Summons and Complaint served upon the tenant.

The Summons and Complaint let the tenant know that a lawsuit has been filed against them, and they can submit a response before the deadline to challenge the action.

Should the tenant contest the eviction, their response must contain the defenses they wish to raise. They may formally present these defenses at a Show Cause Hearing.

Attending the Show Cause Hearing and Raising Defenses

The Show Cause Hearing can happen in as little as 7 days after the tenant has been notified. During the proceeding, both parties present their cases. A judge ultimately decides whether the eviction is warranted.

Typically, the defenses the tenant raises at the Show Cause Hearing are related to the landlord’s legal responsibilities in pursuing an eviction and their failure to comply.

Examples of commercial eviction defenses in Washington state include, but are not limited to:

  • Using unlawful means to force the tenant out of the property. A landlord can only evict a tenant after receiving a court order to do so. Generally, this means they will obtain a writ of restitution to have the tenant physically removed from the property. However, if the landlord took matters into their own hands, such as by changing the locks, before the court has decided the case, the tenant may fight the eviction based on those grounds.
  • Not providing proper notice. The landlord must give written notification to the tenant concerning their intent to evict and their reasons for doing so. If the landlord did not inform the tenant or they did not use approved methods of service (for instance, they emailed the documents to the tenant), the tenant could challenge the action by stating that they were not legally notified.
  • Not complying with timelines. Depending on why the landlord seeks to evict the tenant, they must send notice within a certain time before taking action. Not doing so provides the tenant with a method to fight the eviction.
  • Not giving the tenant time to fix issues. If the landlord is trying to evict the tenant based on an alleged breach of a commercial lease, they must give the tenant time to get into compliance or leave the property. The landlord’s lawsuit may be dismissed if the tenant remedies the issues within the time allotted by law.
  • Claiming rent wasn’t paid when it was. In cases involving nonpayment of rent, the tenant can show that they were fully paid up. Still, if they were behind in payments, the landlord must give them a certain amount of time to satisfy rent obligations before proceeding with the unlawful detainer action. If sufficient time wasn’t given, this might be raised as a defense.

Contact an Attorney Today

As a commercial tenant, you have rights under Washington law. Your landlord cannot remove you from property haphazardly and without going through proper channels. If you feel that you are being wrongfully evicted, reach out to Tomlinson Bomsztyk Russ. Our attorneys in Seattle have extensive experience dealing with complex real estate law matters. We can help you understand your rights and review your case to determine what defenses can be raised.

For the legal representation you need in King County, please contact us at (206) 203-8009 today.

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