As a prospective renter, you’ll encounter several documents during the process of finding and living in a rental home.
Aside from the lease agreement, many of these documents may seem innocuous — but the importance of proper record-keeping cannot be overstated.
Before you head out to look at a rental property, get a copy of your credit report. Knowing your credit history will go a long way toward ensuring that you meet a landlord’s minimum screening criteria when you fill out the application.
Another advantage of having your credit report is that you’ll be able to verify that the background information the landlord has on you is accurate and complete. The landlord cannot legally share with applicants a copy of their credit report.
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If you don’t get a copy of your credit report before filling out your rental application, you may have to wait days to get one from the screening agency that ran the report.
It’s also important to have a valid ID to verify that the information on your rental application is complete and accurate.
This is also a good time to verify that the screening agency is legitimate. Unfortunately, rental scams are all too common these days.
Proceed cautiously if landlords skip the step of requesting a rental application and ID. If they aren’t checking your background, it probably means they aren’t checking those of their other tenants, and you could end up living next door to someone who’s a risk to your safety.
During your tenancy, make sure that you note all payments of rent and other fees. Landlords are required to provide receipts for payments made in cash, and tenants may request a receipt for a payment made in any form other than cash (RCW 59.18.063).
Hold on to the lease agreement, property-condition checklist and other documents signed at move-in for three years after vacating. Tenants may request one additional copy of the lease during their tenancy (RCW 59.18.065).
Any written complaints or requests for maintenance or repair also should be kept in case the landlord fails to fix items for which he or she is responsible.
The agreement ends when a tenant has vacated and received a deposit refund statement. This document must be sent to the tenant’s most recent mailing address and postmarked within 14 days of vacating the unit.
A landlord’s failure to do so entitles the tenant to a complete refund of the deposit.
Throughout the rental process, a general rule of thumb is to keep everything you sign or put your name on. The ability to quickly prove a repair request or a rent payment can solve a problem before it becomes a lengthy and costly process for both parties.
Sean Martin is the director of external affairs of the Rental Housing Association of Washington, 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.