Did you know that about half of the residents of Seattle either rent or lease their homes? That’s right, half of Seattle’s residents write a check to their landlord every month so they have a place to live.
Being a tenant can seem scary, especially if you don’t know the law. In Washington state, we have Title 59.18 of the Revised Code of Washington, otherwise known as the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA). This law exists to preserve the rights of landlords and tenants by laying out specific rights of both parties, as well as each party’s responsibilities.
In addition to the RLTA, landlords and tenants should become familiar with the Federal Fair Housing Act, which deals with protected-class status, among other things, as well as any local city or county laws that go beyond state law.
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One example of a local ordinance is Seattle’s Just Cause Eviction Ordinance, which dictates when a landlord may terminate a month-to-month tenancy in Seattle.
The most commonly used just-cause reasons given to tenants in Seattle are:
• Failure to pay rent or comply with rules of the rental agreement. Tenants must respond within the given time period of the notice — three days for unpaid rent and 10 days for rules violations. If they do not, the landlord has just cause to issue a notice of termination of tenancy 20 days or more prior to the end of the rental period.
• Rent is consistently paid late. If the tenant receives four or more three-day notices to pay rent or vacate in a 12-month period, just cause exists for the landlord to terminate tenancy by issuing the tenant a notice 20 days or more prior to the end of the rental period.
• The tenant regularly does not comply with the rules of the rental agreement. The landlord has just cause to evict a tenant who receives three or more 10-day notices in a 12-month period. It is very important for tenants to respond in writing to all 10-day notices they receive from the landlord, and provide as much documentation as possible that they are in compliance with the rules of their tenancy.
• The owner decides to sell a single-family dwelling unit. Seattle tenants living in single-family dwelling units (an individual condo unit does not count as single-family) that are being put up for sale are entitled to a 60-day notice of termination of tenancy prior to the end of a rental period.
Armed with the knowledge of how a termination of tenancy can be brought about, there are some simple, practical steps that tenants in Seattle, or any city, can take to ensure that their tenancy is a positive one and ends on their terms.
The obvious first step is to always pay rent on time. If it’s going to be late, ensure your landlord knows before rent is past due.
Beyond on-time payment of rent, the traits that landlords appreciate most in a renter involve taking care of the rental unit and being respectful of neighbors.
Noise issues can become a major headache for a landlord to manage. They have an interest in ensuring other tenants remain happy and want to stick around. Forcing one tenant to vacate for continual noise violations versus losing several respectful tenants who are tired of loud noise will always end up being an easy decision for a landlord.
Reckless behavior will turn in to a quick termination of tenancy when hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets and the safety of others are at risk. Safe operation of appliances and other features in a rental will significantly reduce the chances of any such situation arising.
Always consult with your landlord before attempting to move in a roommate. Unauthorized occupants present a huge risk, as they have not been vetted through a tenant-screening process. An unauthorized roommate could end up costing you your own tenancy rather than creating a new situation to be excited about.
If there is one thing a tenant should always remember, it’s this: Landlords will almost always prefer working with their tenants to make the relationship successful — and to avoid having a vacant unit.
Sean Martin is the director of external affairs and Bill Hinkle is the executive director of the Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound, a not-for-profit association of more than 5,000 landlord members statewide. Rental Resource is the organization’s biweekly column. For more information for landlords or tenants, visit rhawa.org.