In rental situations, landlords often have the upper hand during negotiations and the signing of lease agreements. Because landlords rely on rentals for their livelihoods in many instances, they are often well informed of the law that are designed to protect their investment and the obligations that are imposed on tenants.
By contrast, tenants are often students, the elderly, those for whom English is a second language, or individuals too busy with their families and working lives to intimately study the laws that apply to their rental agreements. For this reason, they may not be aware of the obligations that their landlords owe to them and their legal remedies when landlords fail to meet these obligations.
Landlord Obligations in Tacoma
Landlords have significant obligations that owe to tenants during the process of seeking out and signing on new tenants, during the time that the tenants are residing on their property, and when the tenant relationship ends. At each of these stages, legal issues can arise when landlords do not know their obligations or when tenants don’t know how to protect themselves.
First, when seeking out new tenants, landlords must always be careful to comply with existing state and federal antidiscrimination laws. This means that landlords cannot select certain tenants, or reject other ones, based on factors such as race, age, or disability. All individuals are entitled to the equal opportunity to obtain a home, and landlords must be clear and transparent when rejecting certain renters.
This does not mean that landlords are not allowed to reject applicants for an apartment or home. They can do so on the basis of credit checks, reference requests, lack of proof of income, and other similar factors. They simply can’t use impermissible factors such as sexual orientation or gender as a basis for denial.
Once they identify a suitable tenant, landlords also have an obligation to provide a written lease to the tenants that sets forth each party’s rights and responsibilities and how issues such as late rent or repairs will be handled. The written lease must comply with Washington law and cannot include illegal clauses such as a waiver of a landlord’s responsibilities to the tenant.
Tenants are also entitled to certain disclosures from landlords under Washington law, such as whether there is lead based paint on the property or what insurance and protections the landlord has in place for the property.
Landlord’s Duties after Move-In
Once the tenants have actually moved on to the property, a landlord owes them an obligation to keep the property in sufficiently good shape. This is known as the implied warranty of habitability. It means that the landlord must keep the property in a condition sufficient for a human to live in.
The property must have sufficient heating or cooling as necessary (depending on the environment where it is located), must not be infested with pests, and must be safe. Issues such as broken appliances, exposed wires, or other dangerous conditions must be dealt with promptly in order to avoid injury to the tenant.
In some situations where a landlord fails to make necessary repairs after being notified of issues by a tenant, the tenant may withhold rent from the landlord until these repairs are addressed. This is a tricky issue, and in order to avoid legal problems, tenants and landlords may want to consult with an attorney if disputes about repairs begin to arise.
During the time that tenants are in the apartment, landlords also owe them a duty of privacy. This means that landlords cannot unexpectedly barge into the property, without notice to the tenants, in order to fix things, address issues, or inspect the property. Instead, the landlords must give the tenants sufficient notice of their intended entry so that tenants can prepare.
Ending the Landlord-Tenant Relationship
Inevitably, most tenants eventually move on to a different location, or landlords decide that it is time to sell a property. While both landlords and tenants have the right to terminate their relationship, they must make sure to do so in a way that is consistent with the terms of the lease and Washington’s laws.
In Washington, landlords may not abruptly terminate tenants or force them to move out without sufficient notice. Instead, landlords are required to give at least twenty days’ notice and, under many leases, even longer before forcing a tenant to move out.
After ordering a tenant to move out, a landlord must promptly return a security deposit unless there is sufficient basis for withholding the deposit. Washington requires deposits to be returned within 14 days of after the tenant moves out.
Should landlords decide to retain part of the security deposit, Washington law also requires them to provide explanation for why the security deposit is being retained and how it is being used. It is advisable that both tenants and landlords use a check-out process and take photos of the current state of the property at checkout in order to minimize disputes about security deposits.
Washington Attorneys Ensuring a Smooth Landlord/Tenant Relationship
Whether you are a tenant, an individual landlord, or part of a larger property management group, it pays to understand Washington’s landlord tenant laws and what they require. Knowing a landlord’s obligations up front can help to minimize headaches and costly disputes down the road.
If you are just starting out as a landlord or have years of experience under your belt, you will find that you frequently have questions about how best to address a certain situation, what written documents are required, and what to do when things don’t go the way you anticipated.
At Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S., our real estate attorneys have a deep familiarity with Washington’s landlord tenant and real estate laws and can help you to put policies and procedures in place that comply with the law and minimize your risks. When disputes arise, we can help you to deal with them in a manner that is efficient and cost-effective. For more information, contact us online or at (253) 272-2997.