20 Tips to Avoid Legal Problems with Tenants

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20 Tips to Avoid Legal Problems with Tenants

20 Tips to Avoid Legal Problems with Tenants

Evan L. Loeffler Law Group PLLC 2611 NE 113 th Street, Suite 300 Seattle,

Evan L. Loeffler Law Group PLLC 2611 NE 113 th Street, Suite 300 Seattle, WA 98125 -6700 (206) 443 -8678 [email protected] com www. loefflerlaw. com

I. Finding Tenants

I. Finding Tenants

1. Advertising � Must not discriminate any protected class ◦ HUD considers a blanket

1. Advertising � Must not discriminate any protected class ◦ HUD considers a blanket policy against renting to convicted criminals a discriminatory practice ◦ Section 8 tenants are a protected class in Seattle � Indicate whether you accept portable tenant screening

2. Tenant Screening Criteria � Criteria should be in writing and distributed with the

2. Tenant Screening Criteria � Criteria should be in writing and distributed with the application packet ◦ ◦ ◦ Income to rent ratio Good rental history and references Credit rating Confirmed employment Criminal history � Be aware that Section 8 benefits effectively lower the rent

3. Tenant screening � RCW 59. 18. 257 on screening � Always give a

3. Tenant screening � RCW 59. 18. 257 on screening � Always give a receipt for any money from prospective tenant � Give the name and contact information for the tenant screening service � Use the “adverse action notice” provided by statute

II. Forming the Relationship

II. Forming the Relationship

4. Late fees � Late fees should be reasonable ◦ 10% appears to be

4. Late fees � Late fees should be reasonable ◦ 10% appears to be the limit ◦ Per diem late fees create issues � Late fees may not be rent anymore � Understand the difference between a due date and a grace period

5. Payment Requirements � Direct deposit vs. checks � Cashier’s checks after NSF �

5. Payment Requirements � Direct deposit vs. checks � Cashier’s checks after NSF � Prohibition against cash

6. Lease Attachments � Security deposit checklist � Lead paint disclosure � Mold information

6. Lease Attachments � Security deposit checklist � Lead paint disclosure � Mold information � Summary of landlord-tenant laws (Seattle) � Pet addendum � Parking and storage addenda � Rules and regulations

7. Renters Insurance � If the lease does not say tenants are not beneficiaries

7. Renters Insurance � If the lease does not say tenants are not beneficiaries of the landlord’s insurance they are � Request proof of insurance � Do not require certain limits or deductibles – it’s the tenant’s policy

8. Deposits � Must have a walk-through condition checklist � Checklist must be signed

8. Deposits � Must have a walk-through condition checklist � Checklist must be signed and dated by the tenant � Money must be in a separate account � Address of bank must be provided

9. Tenant Representatives � RCW 59. 18. 590 provides landlords may request sole occupants

9. Tenant Representatives � RCW 59. 18. 590 provides landlords may request sole occupants to designate a “tenant representative” in the event of the tenant’s death � Designation to be separate from the rental agreement – not necessarily the emergency contact

III. During the Tenancy

III. During the Tenancy

10. Written Communications � Give your lawyer a record to work with � E-mail

10. Written Communications � Give your lawyer a record to work with � E-mail communications for most contact OK ◦ Not acceptable formal communications like changes in terms and notices of default � Keep records of communications � RLTA requires that landlord give receipts

11. Timely Repairs � Law requires landlords to commence repairs within time limits and

11. Timely Repairs � Law requires landlords to commence repairs within time limits and continuously try to finish in a timely manner � The obligation of good faith trumps the obligation to make repair requests in writing � Even if tenant causes the problem it should be fixed – determine who pays for the repair later

12. Reasonable Accommodations � Tenants requesting reasonable accommodation should be accommodated if possible �

12. Reasonable Accommodations � Tenants requesting reasonable accommodation should be accommodated if possible � It is OK to request verification if a disability is not apparent ◦ E. g. note from a doctor that the tenant is being treated and a dog is a part of the treatment – not requesting what the treatment is for �A reasonable accommodation must not seriously inconvenience landlord or other tenants

13. Inspections and Access � RCW 59. 18. 150 says landlord has the right

13. Inspections and Access � RCW 59. 18. 150 says landlord has the right to access for repairs with at least two days’ notice ◦ Landlord may enter without notice if there is an emergency ◦ Parties may agree to less time ◦ Tenant need not agree ◦ Tenant need not be present ◦ Landlord should not breach the peace ◦ Landlord must not abuse the right to access ◦ After refusing to allow access the landlord may fine the tenant $100

14. Notices of Default � Notices of default (payment of rent, violation in terms)

14. Notices of Default � Notices of default (payment of rent, violation in terms) and termination of tenancy must ALL be delivered ◦ In person, or ◦ Both posted and mailed by regular U. S. mail � No e-mail substitutes � Prerequisite to eviction: do it right or do it again

15. Notices of Changes � Probably should be delivered similarly as with other notices

15. Notices of Changes � Probably should be delivered similarly as with other notices � At least 30 days before the beginning of the next rental term � Raising the rent requires 60 days’ notice before the beginning of the next rental term � Includes any change of term including when rent is due, insurance requirements, etc.

16. Renewals � If lease is not renewed its ends � If tenant does

16. Renewals � If lease is not renewed its ends � If tenant does not move and landlord accepts rent, tenancy is month-to-month � Offer renewal for a limited time (unless tenancy is already month-to-month) well in advance of lease termination

IV. Ending the Tenancy and Afterwards

IV. Ending the Tenancy and Afterwards

17. Terminating Tenancy � Listen to your lawyer � Follow all the rules �

17. Terminating Tenancy � Listen to your lawyer � Follow all the rules � Do not accept rent if tenant is supposed to be out � “Out” means tenant has removed all personal property or abandoned it. A tenant planning to come back to pick up personal property is not out.

18. Allowing Early Termination � Tenants requesting reasonable accommodation to move for health reasons

18. Allowing Early Termination � Tenants requesting reasonable accommodation to move for health reasons � Tenants who are victims of domestic violence � Tenants who are in the military (or dependents) who receive orders to deploy or to relocate

19. Accounting for the Deposit � There is no requirement that the landlord and

19. Accounting for the Deposit � There is no requirement that the landlord and tenant meet to inspect the unit � Exit inspections or “walk-throughs” an excellent way to guarantee a disagreement � The law changed in 2016: 21 days to account for the deposit ◦ Leases that say 14 may supersede the 21 -day rule � Case law requires landlords to be proactive to provide accounting—don’t wait a week to line up contractors! � Provide estimates and invoices whenever possible.

20. Keep Records � Statute of limitations to sue on failure to comply with

20. Keep Records � Statute of limitations to sue on failure to comply with a contract is six years. � Recommend keeping records concerning a tenancy for at least seven years.