One huge advantage of renting is that you get a home without the drawbacks of being responsible for its upkeep and repair. This was a lesson I recently learned as a new homeowner, waking up to a dryer full of laundry as wet as it was when it came out of the wash.
As a renter, if the dryer your landlord provides stops working, it’s not at your expense to repair it. Even better — there are several ways to go about having it, or any maintenance issue, taken care of by your landlord.
Under RCW 59.18.060, state law requires landlords to make repairs to their units. To initiate the repair, however, the tenant should first send a written request for maintenance or repair to the landlord.
It is important that the request be in writing. A landlord does not have to begin making repairs until a written request is made and received. The notice should be a hard-copy letter to the landlord, ideally sent by certified mail with return receipt requested. A renter should keep a copy of the letter and take photos of the area or item in need of repair.
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Once the landlord has received the request, there are timeframes for a response to begin the repair, which must be “completed promptly,” according to RCW 59.18.070.
If the landlord fails to begin a repair within the given statutory time frame, it will open other options to the tenant.
RCW 59.18.090 (1) allows the tenant to “terminate the rental agreement and quit the premises upon written notice to the landlord without further obligation under the rental agreement, in which case he or she shall be discharged from payment of rent for any period following the quitting date, and shall be entitled to a pro rata refund of any prepaid rent, and shall receive a full and specific statement of the basis for retaining any of the deposit together with any refund due.”
Tenants should be aware that selection of this option may have adverse credit-report implications, because a landlord may attempt to post a claim on your credit that you have broken the lease and are in collections for unpaid rent. In such an instance, it’s advised to speak to an attorney.
Moving out does not provide an ideal remedy for all tenants, though, and other options exist.
The “repair-and-deduct” method is most common, and allows a tenant to get work done promptly when the landlord fails to respond to maintenance or repair requests.
If the landlord has been informed of the need for repairs and fails to carry out the duties as stated in RCW 59.18.060, the tenant may submit to the landlord a good-faith estimate of the cost to perform the repairs.
Tenants should be aware that the repair-and-deduct method limits the amount of repairs that can be deducted from rent. Those amounts are typically restricted to no more than two months’ rent, and repair-and-deduct totals cannot exceed two months’ rent during a 12-month period (RCW 59.18.100).
If the repair-and-deduct or termination-of-tenancy options aren’t working for the tenant, legal options are available under landlord-tenant law. Many Washington counties also have mediation services that assist landlords and tenants in resolving disputes. Additionally, cities have code-enforcement inspectors who will visit residential units to ensure compliance with local building codes.
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.