Eviction Glossary

Answer: This is a legal document in which the defendant responds to the allegations made by the plaintiff.  This document must be sent to the plaintiff and filed with the court.  See Civil Rule 8 for more detail on the substance of an Answer.



Appearance: This is a written notice given to the plaintiff and filed with the court stating the defendant is appearing in the case.  Making a formal appearance must be in writing and will require the defendant to give you notice before seeking a default judgment.


Complaint: This is a document in which a plaintiff states their version of the facts and states the type of relief they want the court to order.



Counter-Claim: This is a claim asserted by a defendant against a plaintiff.  This allows the court to decide both issues in the same proceedings, rather than requiring the defendant to start a separate lawsuit.  In some cases, counter-claims may be mandatory, and you may lose the right to assert a claim if a counter-claim is not made.  In eviction cases, a counter-claim must relate directly to the issue of whether or not the defendant has a right to possess the property (i.e. rent was not due because the landlord failed to make repairs).



Court Registry: This is a Court controlled bank account sometimes used as a place for parties to deposit money until the court makes a decision.  In some eviction cases, you may be required to deposit rent in the court registry.



Declaration: This is a written document which is made under the penalty of perjury. In some court hearings, other than trial, these documents may sometimes be used in place of in-person testimony. A declaration must use specific language and be formatted as any other pleading.


Default:  This is an automatic victory granted to the plaintiff because the defendant did not respond to the summons and complaint. If the defendant has not made a written appearance filed with the court before the deadline for responding to the summons and complaint, the plaintiff does not need to give the defendant notice before seeking a default judgment.


Defendant: The person who is being sued by the plaintiff.  In an eviction case, the tenant will be the defendant.


Ex Parte Department: This is a special department of the court. In many counties this department is responsible for hearing eviction cases.  This department often has special rules and procedures that are only applicable in the Ex Parte Department.


Forceful Detainer: This is a special type of eviction that applies only in limited circumstances.


Judgment: This is the final decision of the court. It will state who won the case and specify if the defendants owe money to the plaintiff.


Just Cause Eviction Ordinance: This is a law effective only in the City of Seattle. It prohibits a landlord from eviction a tenant, except under certain circumstances. You can learn more about the ordinance on the City of Seattle's website


Order to Show Cause: A court order requiring a tenant to appear at a show cause hearing.  The order will specify the time date and place of the hearing.


Plaintiff: Refers to a person who starts a lawsuit. In an eviction case, the landlord will be the plaintiff.


Pre-Eviction Notice: This is the notice that a landlord must serve on a tenant before the tenant may be sued for eviction.  Notice periods are defined in RCW 59.12.030.

  1. No Notice Required: If a property is leased for a specific term that does not automatically renew (not month to month) then after the expiration of the lease, the landlord may start an eviction without further notice.

  2. Ten Day Comply or Vacate Notice: This notice is used when a tenant has committed a material breach of the lease, other than payment of rent. The tenant has tens days to comply with the notice or face eviction.

  3. Three Day Pay or Vacate Notice: This notice requires you to pay all past due rent or an eviction lawsuit may be filed with the court. This notice applies only if a tenant is behind in rent.

  4. Twenty Day Vacate Notice: In a month to month tenancy, a landlord can require a tenant to leave at the end of the next month. If the property is in the City of Seattle a landlord may only issue a 20-day notice under certain specified circumstances.


Return of Service/Declaration of Service: This is a document swearing under the penalty of perjury, the manner in which a defendant was served with the summons and complaint.


Service of Process: Refers to the requirement that a defendant is given notice of a lawsuit by having a copy of the summons and complaint personally delivered to him/her.  This must be done correctly or the court cannot rule against the defendant.  In an eviction case, service of process must be done in accordance with RCW 59.12.080, RCW 59.12.085; RCW 4.28.080(16).


Show Cause Hearing:  A hearing before a judge that will determine whether or not a writ of restitution should be entered.  The Judge may rule in favor of the tenant, the landlord, or determine that a full trial is necessary.


Summons: This is a document created by a plaintiff or his/her attorney requiring the defendant to respond to a lawsuit. This document typically consists of form language that is required by court rules. A Summons will specify the amount of time you have to respond to a lawsuit.


Unlawful Detainer: This is the legal term for an eviction lawsuit.


Venue: A legal term referring to the specific courthouse in which a lawsuit must be filed. In eviction cases, the lawsuit must be filed in the court of the same county that the property is located. Some counties have multiple courthouses and will post rules specifying which courthouse a case should be heard in.


Writ of Restitution: A court order directing the county sheriff to physically remove a tenant from the property.  If you do not leave after being served with a writ, the sheriff may break down the door and force the tenant to leave.

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