Features Dec 18, 2013 at 4:00 am

My Standoff with a Landlord After I Kept Getting Rent-Increase Notices in Violation of My Lease


Jesus fuck, how awful.
renting on the hill has become a nightmare.
This type of behavior from Landowners is a cancer infecting all of Capitol Hill. It's sad, but true. Pacific Living Properties are doing the same thing on Queen Anne right now.
I used to serve evictions as a process server for a couple years, a while back. Ultimately, the likelihood of a potential landlord checking the court history for any rental disputes is not high. Hell, I've been renting in Seattle since '99, and have NEVER had my rental history checked by any landlord.

And the major issue here is that PLP was completely in the wrong, and you could have - if you went to court- asked for up to 3 times your deposit in penalty fees from your landlord for violating the LTA. Not to mention they were over 2 weeks late in returning your deposit, which would ALSO have warranted penalties, etc.

Property management companies in this town are fucking vultures. It completely astounds me that they hire property managers who have NO CONCEPT of the LTA, or are coaches to ignore the law to wrangle money out of renters.
A list of PLP-owned properties so they could be avoided would be nice.
I wouldn't rent from that company, but your experience doesn't sound nearly as terrible as I'd expected. I guess my expectations have hit rock bottom.
@lucyboots Here are the Seattle apartments managed by Pacific Living Properties


Be sure to leave PLP a review of your experiences on Yelp or Google+:



And, if you'd like to apply for a career with Pacific Living Properties:

Well,it works like this:if you rent from these asshole landlords,they work for corporations that do other services... For example,I personally live on captiol hill under "pioneer housing services"... But,they are a INDUSTRIAL/FOOD/DRUG TREATMENT/MENTAL HEALTH services as well as housing and they work DIRECTLY THROUGH THE STATE and have the cops and court system on their side...this multi tasking corporation has the right to change it's services how it sees fit because it is NOT JUST a low income housing service...that allows their landlords to do dirty shit like this and raise rents or fuck anyone over...
They can lie and bullshit and say they are doing a good service to the state and get $$$ from multiple corporations while fucking over the poor little renters and they work directly through law enforcement through drug treatment and mental health services...the landlord in my building has bug inspections EVERY MONTH and raises the rent $14 every year...ive lived here on the hill for 14 years and it has shot up $140+...and NEVER ONCE I was notified personally...I only received the notice just like the woman in the story:Taped to the door...
@8, I agree. I was expecting to hear about utility stoppages, unannounced "renovations" to the apartment that leave important things inoperable for days (sinks, toilets, showers, appliances), and court actions. That *is* sad.

However, the strategy of raising rent (legally or illegally) is a favorite of management companies to evict tenants "in kind." They prey on the ignorance of those they're stuck with (those with long-term leases) to try to price them out faster ("oh, you can't pay this...well, if you agreed to forfeit your security deposit and move out by the end of the month, we could break your lease") and oust those who are MTM with often-legal rent increases (in the low, low amount of time of 60 days, you can be legally gone). I'll admit to having done it (100% LEGALLY, with PROPER NOTICE (actually, a bit more than required...about 75 days) and AT THE END OF THE LEASE TERM) to a tenant I didn't particularly like. While, in theory, I am free to not renew a tenant (again, with proper notice at the end of a lease term) for no reason at all, in practice, around these parts, doing so often gets the landlord sued, which at least wastes your time and, often, results in judgement against you...and if you know they can't afford a 10% rent increase...

Anywho, now having been on both sides of the coin in numerous states, here's some advice:

READ YOUR LEASE BEFORE YOU SIGN IT. Mine is 6 pages of single-spaced 12-point font. I'll happily sit there while you read the whole thing (in practice, after accepting a tenant, I usually email it to them in advance of meeting to sign it). ASK QUESTIONS IF THERE'S SOMETHING YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND. DO NOT ACCEPT "OH YOU DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THAT" OR ANY OTHER BS AS AN ANSWER. If there's something you don't understand and the landlord cannot give you a complete, satisfactory explanation, wait and at least Google it, if not consult a lawyer. BE PARTICULARLY CAUTIOUS OF ANY TERMS THAT ALLOW RENT INCREASES BEFORE THE LEASE EXPIRES. For example, for "major repairs" or "property improvements." Ask for clarification on these items. If you break something and it needs major fixing to get it back to MOVE-IN condition, that should either be coming out of your security deposit or a one-off payment, not justify a permanent rent increase. You should be able to decline major improvements to the property during your tenancy (yes, that should be in writing), except those required to comply with laws and codes. If you agree to any improvements or any are required to bring the place up-to-snuff, you should demand to know what they want in additional rent beforehand, demand receipts, and demand a negotiated early termination if you can't afford the new price or don't think it's fair rent anymore.

If you receive any notices that you believe violate your lease during your term, RESPOND TO THEM IN WRITING, VIA SNAIL MAIL (CERTIFIED IS BEST, BUT JUST A RETURN RECEIPT IS GENERALLY SUFFICIENT). Cite the portion of your lease you believe is being violated word-for-word. Demand an explanation of how the notice complies with your lease and applicable landlord tenant laws, IN WRITING, AND GIVE THEM A DEADLINE (10-14 DAYS IS USUALLY GOOD). If they call or email their response, record the date and time of the communication, all specifics (who you talked to, what they said), BUT DO NOT SAY ANYTHING. On the phone, get the facts (name, position, reference) and then say "please send me a letter with your response." Via email, reply and say the same thing. Don't hesitate to talk to a tenant advocate, landlord-tenant clinic, or lawyer from the get-go.

If you find yourself moving out early, beyond getting a written statement of the terms of the early termination, know that the landlord must make a good-faith, continuous, and immediate effort to rent the apartment and they CANNOT charge you rent for any time after the apartment is re-occupied. If they choose to leave the apartment vacant (to make renovations, to convert to for-sale units, or FOR ANY OTHER REASON), you don't owe them A DIME of continuing rent. If they turn down qualified tenants, YOU DO NOT OWE THEM A DIME. If you bring them qualified sub-lettors, and they decline them without cause, YOU DO NOT OWE THEM A DIME.

Go read the landlord-tenant laws for your area. You may not understand every word of them, but they're generally basic enough that you'll walk away with a decent understanding of your rights and responsibilities. I say that as a NON-LAWYER (one who, I might add, has successfully sued one landlord and one roommate without representation).

Finally, know that most landlord-tenant cases are handled in small claims court or special landlord-tenant court. The rules in these fora are easier to understand and less rigid. Most places, these are staffed by magistrates and not judges, and even offer arbitration in many cases. It's more of a negotiation than a trial. Also remember that the burden of proof in such fora is, almost always, "the preponderance of the evidence." You don't have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your landlord violated your lease or rights, only that it's more likely they did than not. It still pays to be prepared, and to consult a professional (paid or free, most places offer some free help to tenants and claimants in small claims court) if the case is significant or you're confused. Also, filing fees are usually low (they're $15 here, I've seen them as low as $5 and as high as $50), so don't stand for someone trampling your rights. Here, you can even pick your court date as the complainant.
@4 - I am a resident manager for an apartment building in West Seattle and I ALWAYS check past rental history. Every time. And lying about it has cost some prospective tenants the opportunity to rent there. I always tell them that I can handle a "weird" rental history but I have no tolerance for an inaccurate (deliberately so) rental history. I am only saying this so someone doesn't think that NO ONE checks rental histories, even if that has been your experience.

That said, this management company should be taken to court. I cannot believe that they got away with treating people this way. Here is another good resource if anyone finds themselves in similar circumstances: http://www.tenantsunion.org/
Also, I should note that once said tenant I "ousted" with an obscene rent increase notified that she would not be staying, I dropped the rent right back down to where it was when I advertised. I wasn't trying to get rid of her because I thought I could get more or anything else "greedy," I just got annoyed with:

*her persistent calls for "an emergency" (no further details left on my voicemail). Only to show up and find that the garbage disposal needed reset (yes, I showed her how to push the button times innumerable, and no other tenant before or after had *quite* so much trouble with it tripping...hmmmmm...) or she had forgotten how to use the programmable thermostat and it was chilly because she was home on a workday and "didn't know" how to override the setting SHE programmed (also demonstrated this multiple times, including how to just set the temp the same at all hours);
*her persistently insisting that the "postmark" date counted as paying her rent on time. She'd always send it on the last day of the grace period...and, yes, I offered to let her pay electronically or by dropping the check by my house only 2 blocks away in person...and, no, she wasn't poor...and, no, that's not enough to make me try an eviction - those are hard and I wouldn't bet that the magistrate would see anything but a "good faith effort" to pay the rent:
*and constant complaints from the neighbors that she was very rude about everything. Apparently she'd called the cops on everyone in the building about one thing or another (never any charges...HUH? wonder WHY?), would slam the front door in other residents' faces if she was going in at the same time as them and say "if you REALLY live here you have your own key," and would leave notes asking people to "stop cluttering up the hallway with their boxes" if something was delivered to someone's door by the mailman.

So...I guess that's also instructive in how to not be an asshole tenant. I am in no way ashamed by taking "the easy way" of getting rid of her via a large proposed rent increase. You just KNOW someone like that would sue over every little thing if I outright declined to renew her. Thankfully she was replaced by a friend of mine who can stay as long as he wants (assuming the association doesn't raise the fees appreciably and there are no unforeseen other expenses, I make plenty off the rent, so I have no need to raise it). I not only get a great, responsible tenant, but someone I can happy hour with on a moment's notice. :)
I also have to second @13. I run a credit check and public records check on prospective tenants and call their last landlord. People who are honest about "unusual" circumstances don't get dinged much. I had a lovely tenant for a year whose credit was trashed because she had recently short-sold the home she owned where she used to live. However, she was upfront about her circumstances as soon as I mentioned the credit check, and able to show me that she always made her mortgage payments (the lender, as they are, reported it as "in redemption" after the sale, though she never missed a payment; she also moved hundreds of miles for a good job at the worst of the housing crisis), hadn't missed ANY other payments, had the income and assets to afford the rent, her previous landlord gave her a glowing review, and she believably argued that she was only looking to move from THAT apartment to mine because it cut her commute from an hour to 15 minutes. She walked out of my apartment the OWNER of a nice condo, since she was able to quickly recover through her responsible actions (and I actually ended up giving her props since her lender for that home was one of the more flexible ones and called me for a reference when she applied for the mortgage). Honestly, you can tell (she seemed honestly embarrassed to even be renting...she had been a homeowner for YEARS before the crash and move). People who go through something, but are upfront about it and eager to prove that whatever happened isn't "them" are generally okay folks. People who are shifty and claim their former landlord "just didn't like them" (and then when you say "oh, that's too bad...what about the one before that?" say "oh, HA...um...I don't even know how to contact them...") are put at the bottom of the list.

I guess I empathize because that was me when I first started renting in "the big city." I had been a poor college student, so I missed a credit card payment here and there and my credit was okay but not outstanding. BUT I could give landlords a long list of OTHER landlords who could attest that I ALWAYS paid my rent on time and took good care of my home. Obvs people with good credit and references don't have to worry about much. Those with blemishes would do well to provide the best explanation they can, while being upfront and honest.

And, FWIW, I don't slam that tenant I ousted. I carefully say that she was never officially deficient in her payments ("I did not have to make deductions from her security deposit for late or missed payments"), she kept the property in good order and I did not have to make major repairs at her fault during or after her tenancy, and "it's my impression that she might be happier in a single-family residence or one where she does not share common spaces with other residents." AFAIK, she now lives in a unit with a private street entrance (prospective landlord: "oh, there's a separate entrance to that unit...so, is that what you meant?" me: "that would probably be more to her liking"), so maybe she really got what she wanted.
Another former resident of Marti's building here, one of the last 4 to move out (having been one of the most recent to move in prior to PLP buying the building). Marti's characterization of PLP's bullying is spot on, but it wasn't *just* the rent-related notices that made living there an absolute hell. In the end, my rent increased by nearly 50% and I moved out, but for months I had to deal with frequent water and heat shut-offs, two holes busted through my wall (while they were doing construction on my empty neighboring units), a flooded bathroom (from improper plumbing on the unite above me), weekly notices-of-entry for unexplained reasons, unbelievable amounts of noise and construction debris ... and the list goes on. And, like Marti, my phone calls and emails to Lorie Bowen and Jason Alldredge went unanswered every. single. goddamn. time.
Oh god lord, Seattle really needs a tenant rights act. Forget about rental control, a tenants rights act is a first place to start.
Rich people gots too many special rights.
What a bunch of NIMBY's
If you are not sure of your rights as a tenant or if something your landlord is doing is legal, calling King County 2-1-1 can be a good first step. We have referrals for tenants rights organizations and other legal resoures for housing situations.
The Seattle Solidarity Network takes on cases like this all the time - and often wins. Check 'em out at seasol.net
@21 and @22 - I, and others in the building, did a ton of research for tenants resources and reached out to the city (specifically Jim Metz, mentioned in the article), Tenants Union, SeaSol, several media organizations, and other organizations. We either never heard back, or were told that nothing technically illegal was being done, so there was nothing we could do. Or that the corrective actions needed to be initiated by PLP - yeah right. The city DPD sent out an inspector to look at the holes in my walls, and construction halted for 3-4 days shortly afterward, but it was never clear why/if the two were connected. One construction worker said the work stoppage had to do with getting the permits "in order."
"I did move out on my own accord, even if it's because I was exhausted by the repeated and powerfully stressful sessions with PLP that threatened my housing and left me scrambling to prove my innocence or face serious consequences."

Perhaps Mr. Miller isn't aware, but that's practically a textbook DEFINITION of bullying. Which is exactly what the author suffered under his company's (mis-)management of the apartment, there's no tapdancing around that.
For tenants who are facing similar situations in Seattle or King Count, in addition to the wonderful people at DPD like Jim Metz and Dulce O'Sullivan, the following resources are availible for tenants with landlord-tenant concerns:

1) The Legal Action Center @ (206) 324-6890 provides free counsel and advice and free representation to low income tenants facing eviction and to tenants whose landlords are in foreclosure;

2) The Housing Justice Project has a "walk-in" only clinic each morning from 8-10:30 am at both the Seattle Superior Courthouse on 3rd and James, and the Kent Regional Justice Center in Kent;

3) The Seattle Tenants union @ (206)723-0500 provides tenants with resources and information regarding landlord tenant laws in WA and Seattle;

4) Solid Ground provides tenants information services; and

5) Calling 2-1-1 may lead you to a list of providers that assist tenants in landlord-tenant related issues.
As an attorney that has spent my career representing tenants it is all to clear to me that tenants are constantly under the thumb of attorneys. Landlords only are interested in making money and preserving property while tenants are trying to fulfill a basic need. Landlords can control a tenants ability to find housing in the future. what we really need is a special housing court so that tenants can get in front of a judge to enforce their rights quickly, just like landlords have the ability to get an eviction order on an expedited court schedule.
This is a story, apparently, about how very little you know about your legal protection and resources, provided FREE, to all renters in Seattle.

And you write a column?

Sister, you missed the boat here, they would have been crucified and you were guaranteed treble damages.

PLP is the worst! We lived in one of their buildings in the Roosevelt neighborhood and it was the worst apartment I have ever lived in. The first 6 months we lived there we lived in a construction zone because they were renovating the apartment below us and next to us. We had a parking spot that we paid for but could never park there because it was either being blocked or a construction truck was parked in it. The walls are thin and so are the floors, you literally hear every noise! They also claim that the building is smoke free but let anyone related to the owner smoke in their apartment. I wouldn't recommend a PLP building to my worst nightmare and the people they have working for them are worthless.
If this landlord tried to evict this tenant on these facts, they would lose. The statute, the contract and washington common law all provide that this is a reason to award the tenant their reasonable attorney fees. If you follow through, and make the Court enter an order that awards fees and finds that the landlord had no basis to file this, you can send copies of that order to the credit reporting agencies and make them update their records to reflect the actual outcome- namely, that the tenant was not evicted.

Landlords get away with this crap because tenants run away from the situation. There is a case up at the Supreme Court right now concerning whether tenants who prevail in an unlawful detainer should have their case records redacted. If the case record is managed properly, there is no reason to redact. Just be sure you win and that the order requires that you get paid by your landlord. Elizabeth Powell

It is about time we developed law that included prison time for these vultures.
why can't these tenants sue? many attorneys would see this as a six figure case and take it on a contingent fee.

they already have rights, but anyone with rights sometimes needs to find an attorney and fucking sue.

relying on other organizations or the city isn't usually how you win in the bigger leagues. they got put in the big leagues here, it wasn't their choice, but it's their suit claiming a million dollars in emotional distress damages for the hodgepodge of intentional torts they would allege plus fucking RICO treble damages plus attorneys fees that would get the landlords attention, force a settlement, maybe $75K, and THAT would make the landlord stop it for the next tenant. if tenants are too under the thumb of the landlords and never sue it's never going to change.
I agree with 37 - it's time to make some actual laws that actually protect tenants. Seattle's system of tenant rights sucks. Yeah things exist, but it's all bullshit. I've dealt with this same thing - terrible landlords and ownership companies. But the only thing there was for me to do was to hire my own lawyer. No one helped me.

The people at Seattle housing authority are just phone operators that give lip service. It's like bad customer service at Apple or Best Buy. They don't give a shit about the tenants, they just want to get off the phone.
These "ownership companies" know that 99% of the people they're fucking over won't be able to pay for lawyers and actually follow through with getting justice.

The average tenant doesn't have the money or the time to deal with it. We're all too busy working to make money, so we can pay the greedy landlords.

Sadly I don't see it changing any time soon. The system and laws are set up by people who only care about money, to protect people who only care about money.

Average, middle class, hardworking people get fucked over and over. The new mayor won't care. Governor doesn't care. City Council doesn't care.

WHO IS GOING TO CHAMPION THE WORKING PEOPLE? Not just say they are going to do it to get votes. Who is actually going to stand up for people who aren't rich?
Why didn't the tenants sue? Bottom line, none of us could afford a lawyer, nor did we have time or resources to pursue other legal action.

I am a full time graduate student, and I work 30 hours/week. I personally reached out to two free law clinics, and both told me I was not eligible for help: one because I was not affiliated with the law school/university, and one because they do not deal in landlord/tenant issues. I wish I'd known about the SHJ walk-in clinic at the Courthouse - but, I would not have been able to go during a weekday morning.

My fellow tenants and I did what we could - and it was just not enough to counteract PLP's faceless, sustained bullying. For the most part, we were busy people with a lot on our plates, low-income, and extremely frustrated. So we left. We had to.
@42: HJP doesn't charge if you income-qualify. You don't have to sue, my point was if this landlord sued this tenant they would lose and this tenant would win and get fees. I'm not trying to berate you for not trying hard enough!
Sorry folks, but it's legitimate for landlords to raise the rent. They own the property, they have expenses to pay, and for the time being, it's not a criminal act to seek profits. If you don't like it, then move out, or work hard, save up and buy your own place. That might be a good education for you in understanding all of the costs and headaches involved in maintaining real estate.
@44: It is not legitimate for the landlord to raise the rent when the lease (which is a contract to which the landlord agreed) says that the rent is fixed for the term of the lease. When the lease comes up for renewal? Sure, raise the rent all you want. During the term of a lease that says fixed rent? No, you cannot raise the rent.

As for "work hard, save up and buy your own place", how are you supposed to do that when all the landlords keep raising rents to get that money for themselves rather you being able to save it up?
As a property manager that worked in the puget sound over three years, what I am seeing is a company with poorly trained staff at PLP. I replaced staff like that, the no answer is a good answer is hooey. If they were cognisant, they would have replied. I am sad that PLP doesn't give their staff enough accountability for their actions to have training and knowledge and force them to use it so they don't bruise their reputation, like they so clearly are. I enjoy property management, its a people business, its not, for the majority of long term people that work in it, a money grubbing greedy business. Its helping people find homes and keep them so they feel safe and secure, that is the goal, for long term tenants, not to create strife. Apparently, some folks out there do not operate that way, and that sucks. From the end of management, I am so sorry to see people getting fooled with like that, its not supposed to be that way, and there is every right to the tenant to take the landlord to the above mentioned resources, and also the Attorney General, they have your back, they will fight with you when you are being treated unfairly. But also, don't be complacent about your responsibilities as renters and leasers either, do your homework, learn your rights, learn the local ordinances, make a point of it.

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