According to the latest census data, 147,148 (51.9 percent) of the housing units in Seattle are lived in by renters. We're guessing it's even higher now. That's a lot of people who rent and a lot of people who are rented from. The relationship between the tenant and the landlord can often be a pleasant one but it's also fraught with a lot of legal wrangling, loopholes and grey areas. You can spend all day perusing the Seattle Tenant-Landlord Laws, and that's not the worst idea in order to protect yourself, but we sifted through to find some of the pertinent pieces of information Seattle renters need to be aware of. You never know when your building will be sold or when your rent might skyrocket, so be prepared.
Image: Rental Realities
The Just Cause Eviction Loophole
Let's say you signed a year lease to rent an apartment. You're protected under the terms of a fixed-term lease, which means landlords need a very specific reason to evict you, like failure to pay rent. Now let's say your lease ends, but the terms don't automatically roll over into a month-to-month agreement, you just continue living in the apartment with an understanding between you and the landlord. Well that understanding includes the fact that you are no longer protected by just cause rules. At that point, a landlord can evict you for literally any reason they want. Point is, make sure it's clear what happens when your initial lease terms are up.
The Relocation Assistance Loophole
Let's say your landlord decides they're going to demolish or renovate the building you're renting in. They are allowed to evict you but they must help you with moving costs if you make less than half of the median income. Specifically, $3,255, which they will split with the city of Seattle. But here's the rub...there are ways for landlords to skirt around this. All they have to do is raise the rent so much that you decide to leave on your own. That way you're out on your own terms and the landlord isn't required to assist you. There's currently a proposal working its way through the city council to hold landlords accountable for such behavior but it's not law yet.
Just because you are your landlord are having a disagreement, there's certain things they absolutely cannot do without cause, which include: changing the locks on your door, removing furniture or other fixtures, discontinuing utilities, evicting, increasing rent or threatening a tenant for reporting code violations to DPD or the Police Department. They also cannot enter your residence except in case of an emergency or with consent given with two-day notice. The Seattle Police will enforce any violations if you want them to.
Quick Window For No-Fault Evictions
Let's say your landlord's kid decides they would like to live in the apartment you're currently renting and the landlord agrees. Right now, if you're on a month-to-month lease, all the landlord has to do is give you twenty days notice to leave the property. That's...abrupt, considering you didn't do anything wrong. There's a proposal working it's way through city government to extend that window to 60 or even 90 days, but it's currently on the back burner.
Bulletin Board Material
Don't like the way you're being treated by the landlord and you want the other tenants to know about it? Fair game. Landlords are prohibited from stopping you from distributing information in the building, posting information on bulletin boards in accordance with building rules, contacting other tenants, assisting tenants to organize and holding meetings in common areas. They'll probably want to stop you, but they can't (until you do something illegal or against the lease).
Keeping Things Up To Code
Building owners must meet certain minimum standards and keep buildings in good repair. If you notice a serious problem in your building, you absolutely should make a request with your landlord to fix it. If that request goes unheeded, it's well within your rights to report needed repairs to the Department of Planning & Development. They'll send out an inspector and if they find code violations, the owner will be required to make needed corrections. If they don't like it, they certainly can't take it out on you. And if they do...you know what to do.
It's time to move out and move on. So now, it's on your landlord to return your deposit within 14 days. They also have to provide you with a written statement as to why all or part of the money is being kept. You can do your part to make this transaction run smoothly by leaving a forwarding address with the landlord. Be clear that a deposit cannot be used to pay for normal wear and tear that happened during your time living there. What exactly that means might be up for debate, but that's why it's super-important to photograph everything when you move in and do it again when you move out. It's the best way to prove where stains and broken items came from. If your landlord does stiff you on the deposit, you can take them to court and get back double the amount owed.
Got any other need-to-knows worth sharing? Let them be known in the comments below.
· Three Things Seattle Can Do Right Now to Help Renters [SLOG]
· Seattle Tenant Landlord Laws [DPD]