WA Supreme Court Affirms No Emotional Distress Damages for Tenant Relocation

In a previous post I addressed the limitations on tenants’ legal remedies against landlords.  Today the Washington Supreme Court unanimously found that “actual damages” under RCW 59.18.085 does not include emotional distress damages in connection with tenant relocation from a condemned dwelling.  The Court’s decision is based on its interpretation of the legislative intent of the Residential Landlord Tenant Act (“RLTA”).  In very general terms, the Court reasons that the RLTA expressly prescribes detailed remedies for relocation from a condemned dwelling, such as relocation expenses and deposit, and that where emotional distress damages are not one of the prescribed remedies, they should not be read into the statute.

The Supreme Court’s reasoning confirms again that while the RLTA is generally very favorable to tenants as consumers, it typically does not form the basis for non-economic damages.  For the lawyer audience, however, just because the RLTA does not create a cause of action itself does not mean violation of a provision by a landlord will not constitute evidence of negligence or potentially negligence per se under RCW 5.40.050, as supporting a common law cause of action.