How to serve your legal notices properly
When attempting to evict your residential tenants, an improperly served legal notice may cause the judge to dismiss your case and award reasonable attorneys fees to your tenant.
What is a legal notice?
There are several types of legal notices. The most common notice informs a tenant that he has three days to pay the rent or vacate the premises. Some of the other notices are: three days to quit the premises because of nuisance; ten days to comply with a material term of the contract; and twenty days to quit the premises.
How are all legal notices served?
In Washington, there are two methods to serve legal notices. The surest method is by personal service. For example, the landlord or her agent personally hands a written legal notice to the tenant. The other method of service is by substituted service. Although this method is simple to perform, landlords often perform it improperly. Improper service means the landlord must start the eviction process all over again.
What is substituted service?
There are two types of substituted service. One is known as, "post and mail." Here, the landlord serves the notice by posting the notice on the front door and mailing a copy of the notice to the tenant. In the other method, the landlord personally serves the notice upon someone (not the tenant) of suitable age and discretion at the premises, then mails a copy of the notice to the tenant. Before posting, the landlord must make a reasonable attempt to personally serve the notice upon the tenant. This is a simple as knocking on the front door. If no reasonable attempt is made, then the court can dismiss the case. Should the tenant fail to answer, the notice must be affixed in a conspicuous place. This means: tape or tack it to the door.
After posting or leaving a notice with someone other than the tenant, the landlord must mail a copy of the notice to the tenant by first class mail. The copy must be mailed from the county in which the residence is located. Further, the landlord must wait one additional day after the notice is posted or left before her attorney can commence a lawsuit to evict the tenant.
The cost of an improperly served notice is severe.
The case will be dismissed, and the landlord must restart the entire process by serving a new legal notice. Usually, this means that the tenant remains in possession without paying rent. In restarting the process, the landlord must pay service fees, court costs, and her attorney again to accomplish what should have been accomplished in only one attempt. Finally, the judge may order the landlord to pay the tenant's legal fees. Judges commonly assess $250.00 judgments against landlords.
A word of advice: a busy property manager should always mail the notice to the tenant before service is attempted regardless of the type of service actually accomplished. The reason is that the statutory requirements for serving legal notices will be satisfied for all methods of service.
At the show cause hearing when the tenant denies receiving the notice, the judge will ask your property manager if notice was mailed to the tenant. The unflinching answer will be, "Yes, because I always mail my notices regardless of the way the they are served." The judge will see that your property manager is careful, and your attorney will breathe that much easier.
Law Office of Mark B.
P.O. Box 46331
Seattle, Washington, 98146
This page last edited 2 August 2000.