Steven Law Office
Dedicated to landlord tenant relations
Experienced Washington Eviction Attorney
Unfiled Summons and Complaint
(Ultra Conservative Approach)
Use of an Unfiled Summons and Complaint in an Unlawful Detainer context allows the landlord to commence the action by service of the Summons and Complaint on the tenant without having to pay the Court filing fee. If the tenant chooses to vacate prior to the expiration of the Summons, the landlord may choose not to file the action thereby saving filing fees, Court Writ fees, and Sheriff’s Writ fees. This is a substantial savings of costs to the Landlord, and the legal time involved in drafting only a Summons and Complaint will be minor.
RCW 59.18.365 allows the tenant to require the landlord to file the lawsuit within fourteen (14) days to maintain subject matter jurisdiction. The failure of the landlord to file the lawsuit after demand will deprive the Landlord of going forward in the action.
In the event the Tenant answers the lawsuit, the Landlord will be required to pay $187.00 filing fee. The Landlord should then utilize an Order to Show Cause to bring the Tenant(s) into Court to show why they should not be removed from the leasehold premises. In the alternative, after an answer, a landlord may choose to set the case for immediate Trial. However, setting the case for Trial without moving for a Show Cause Hearing may actually protract the proceeding. RCW 59.18.380 provides that after a Show Cause Hearing, wherein the Court determines that the Plaintiff is not entitled to immediate possession of the property, the Court shall enter an Order directing the parties to proceed to Trial within thirty (30) days. As such, requesting a Show Cause Hearing prior to setting a Trial may be an advantageous way to get an expedited Trial date.
Not filing the Summons and Complaint has an added benefit for the tenant in that it will not impact the tenant’s rental history, unless the case is ultimately filed with the Court. An educated tenant may realize that the case has not been filed and choose to vacate prior to expiration of the Summons [to prevent the impact on rental history]. This may act as an enticement for the tenant to vacate the premises.
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Filed Summons and Complaint without Show Cause (Conservative Approach)
Another method of prosecuting an Unlawful Detainer case is to file the lawsuit with the Court but without obtaining a Show Cause hearing at the onset of the process. This is a less expensive way for the landlord to initiate the case because the initial filing fee is $75.00 in lieu of $187.00. In the event the Defendant answers, the residual filing fee amount of $112.00 will need to be paid into the Court, along with the Order to Show Cause. The process will impact the tenant’s rental history and may also make it harder for the tenant to obtain housing elsewhere, if they choose to vacate. Most Landlords screen tenants for rental history as well as Unlawful Detainer Court history and will see a filed Unlawful Detainer action during the screening process. Filing the action may cause the tenant to treat the action more seriously and may motivate the tenant to respond appropriately. In addition, filing the action has the added benefit in allowing the landlord to utilize a process set forth in RCW 59.18.375, requiring the tenant to either file a sworn statement verifying that no rent is due or pay undisputed rents into the Registry of the Court.
If the Summons and Complaint issued on the tenant expire without an answer, the landlord may obtain a Default and an Order Granting a Writ of Restitution. In the event that the tenant answers and fails to satisfy the Notice given pursuant to RCW 59.18.375, the landlord may still be able to obtain an Order Granting Writ of Restitution, but will not be able to claim a Default. In the event that the tenant answers and satisfies RCW 59.18.375, the landlord should either move the Court for a Show Cause Hearing or set for Trial.
The potential benefit of using an Unlawful Detainer process filed with the Court without a Show Cause Hearing at the initiation of the process is the potential to avoid the Show Cause hearing. The landlord will save $112.00 of the filing fee in the event that the tenant does not answer. In the event the Defendant answers, however, the Defendant will have the benefit of delaying the process for approximately two (2) weeks over the normal timeline for restitution of the premises.
Filing the Summons and Complaint with Show Cause (Aggressive Approach)
The most aggressive way to pursue an Unlawful Detainer action is by filing the lawsuit and moving the Court for an Order to set a Show Cause Hearing for the tenant(s) to appear and show cause of why they should not be removed from possession of the property. Use of this process requires the filing fee of $187.00. The landlord should take this course of action if minimizing delay in restitution of the premises is a primary objective. This is recommended when there are limited vacancies at a multi-family property, or in the height of the rental season when re-letting the premises will likely occur on an expedited basis. The downside of the process is the payment of the full filing fee of $157.00 at the onset of the case. There is some benefit in minimizing attorney fees and costs if the landlord believes that the tenant will answer. If it is anticipated that the Defendant will answer, then requesting a Show Cause Hearing at the onset is likely the best course of action.
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Steven Law Office provides experienced legal representation to landlords in Spokane, Cheney, Wenatchee, East Wenatchee, Ellensburg, Grand Coulee, Yakima, Kennewick, Moses Lake, Pasco, Pullman, Richland, Sunnyside, Walla Walla, Spokane County, Yakima County, Chelan County, Kittitas County, Grant County, Benton County, Franklin County, Walla Walla County, Whitman County Washington and all other counties east of the Cascade Mountains.