Hi and welcome to a new regular column where you email me with your questions/sagas about renting in Seattle/King County and I try to get you answers. We’re calling it Maintenance Request, though we reserve the right to change the name if we think of something better.
I’m starting with the questions that came in from this Slog post, but I’m looking for more. If you have a question, send it to me at email@example.com. Please specify whether you’re in Seattle or elsewhere in Washington, since the answer may vary based on your city’s laws. Also, please include your neighborhood and name or pseudonym. Remember, I’m not a lawyer. It’s always best to talk your situation over with a tenant advocate or a lawyer. You can find one using my answers to the first question.
Now, let’s get into it:
Are there any reduced or pro bono legal services available for tenants in Seattle who have been treated illegally by their landlords? For example, do any organizations offer legal advocacy for renters who have faced racial housing discrimination or illegal eviction?
There’s good news and bad news. The good news is you have a lot of options. The bad news is that there’s a ton of demand for this type of help. Because of that, some organizations are forced to prioritize tenants who are at immediate risk of losing their housing.
For legal advice: Neighborhood Legal Clinics offer a free half hour of legal advice regardless of income. They offer a sliding scale after that. (Find hours and locations here.)
If you make too much money to access pro bono services but still need help: Check out the Washington State Bar Association's Moderate Means Program.
If you live in public housing or have a Section 8 voucher: The Northwest Justice Project.
If you're a University of Washington student: Student Legal Services.
We are being pushed out by our landlord 14 months after moving in because she wants to move a family member into our house. How is this legal?! I suspect that, like some of my friends in the past few years, we are being pushed out because she wants to raise the rent higher than she legally can, and that she has no intention of actually moving a family member into the house I’d love to see this issue addressed. We are model tenants. She has absolutely no other cause to kick us out.
The short answer: If you’re on a month-to-month lease, yeah, your landlord can probably kick you out. (I know, right?) If you’re on a longer lease, your landlord can’t terminate the lease to move in a family member until the lease is over.
The longer answer: In most cities in Washington, your landlord can end a month-to-month lease for any reason as long as they give you 20 days notice. In Seattle, you have a bit of extra protection because of our just cause eviction ordinance. Unlucky for you, one of those “just causes” is that the landlord wants to move an immediate family member into your rental. City law defines “immediate family” as “the owner’s spouse or the owner’s domestic partner, and the parents, grandparents, children, brothers and sisters of the owner, the owner’s spouse or the owner’s domestic partner.” If the family member meets that definition, the landlord has to give you 90 days notice. The family member must then occupy the rental unit for 60 out of the 90 days following your move out. (The Tenants Union and others are trying to get state lawmakers to pass these types of “just cause” protections statewide. If you want to get involved in that campaign, start calling your state senators and representatives or email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
If you think your landlord is violating these rules, fill out a Department of Construction and Inspections complaint form or call SDCI’s complaint line at (206) 615-0808. The department can make the landlord sign a certification stating their intent to move in a family member. But "unfortunately, as with so many tenant protections in Washington state, the only remedy if the landlord ultimately does violate this ordinance is for the tenant to seek a private court action," says Kate Dunphy, deputy director of the Tenants Union of Washington State.
Dunphy also offers one strategy to try to slow-play your move-out. Find out if your landlord has registered with Seattle’s Rental Registration and Inspection program. (Click here. On the right side, under “find status and activity,” type in your address. Then, select the blue pin that says “Registered Residential Rental Properties,” scan the map for your address, and click on it.) If the landlord hasn’t registered like they’re required to, talk to an advocate, lawyer, or someone at SDCI. Dunphy says “this can sometimes serve as an affirmative defense against eviction and at least extend the length of time the tenant can remain in the unit.”
P.S. About your comment that your landlord wants to raise the rent higher than they’re legally allowed to: Washington State has no caps on rent. In Seattle, landlords can’t raise rents in buildings with major code violations (the stuff with an asterisk on this list). They also have to give 60 days notice if they raise the rent more than 10 percent. But the lack of broader protections is why some people are advocating to repeal the state ban on rent control.
I think I committed myself to renting an apartment from mild slum lords. Anyway, I’ve had a series of problems since I moved in last month. Presently, my bathroom sink leaks (has since I moved in) and they haven’t fixed it yet. That's annoying, but it's not even the worst problem I have. Here's the worst problem I have: The apartment has carpet beetles. The previous tenant was apparently super gross? I dunno. They said it was in bad shape, but they ripped everything out including the carpet and painted and sealed the floors. They laid the new carpet right before I moved in. Then, I started noticing these bug. I freaked out because I was like, OMG are these bedbugs? I was going to light my stuff on fire and just be done with it. But they were not. This was also like fourth on my list of horrible things happening at the time so I almost had a complete melt down (I sort of did). Anyhoo, I told them via email because that’s how I was told to report things and I like “paper trails” and I got no response, then a couple days later my manager writes me back to say she’s on vacation and that I should call the office. I did and they said they’d have someone come out and bug bomb the place the next day. So, I had to go home and repack all my shit and cover anything I didn’t want to wash and it was like 8 hours of solid work and I collapsed into sleep. The next day I came home and aired out the apartment myself and collected the things and threw them away and I started the tedious, re-unpacking and cleaning of things left out. I’ve had to do multiple loads of laundry and clean things. And I still haven’t finished cleaning all the gross places from the previous tenant. Also, the bug bomb doesn’t actually work for the bugs I saw. Those are larvae stage. The bug bomb is for the adult beetles. Which is good to try to kill because they lay eggs and the cycle persists. But it does nothing for what’s there now. I keep finding them all over, mostly in the cupboards and especially under any sink. The cabinets are open to the wall in places and each other so I can’t actually rid myself of the bugs? Like I can clean and be clean and vacuum and put down borax, but they have places to live and flourish. They eat fibers, so they can live on my carpet forever and any old thing like hair, skin, wool, etc. etc. They can live 60 days to a couple years as a larvae before they become a beetle, so I can literally just cycle through this repeatedly. I’ve come to suspect they were there before I moved in. Maybe best/worst case they came in on the carpet as eggs? But I suspect they previous person had them and they either didn’t tell me when I moved in or assuming benign behavior did not notice. Can I use that to break my lease? Or get something from all the crap I’m having to do?
Um, yikes. After Googling “carpet beetles" (honestly kind of cute but apparently a total nightmare, especially for museums??), I put your question to some experts.
They agreed with your instinct to get stuff in writing. “We always like to think ahead,” says Vanessa Cobbs, a tenant counselor at Solid Ground. “If you had to go to court, they will want to see evidence you tried to remedy situation on your own first.” And the court would want that evidence in writing. Emails and texts are not always considered written notice, so if you want to be safe, it’s best to request repairs by certified snail mail. It’s also a good idea to take photos to document any infestation.
If you live in an apartment, state law requires your landlord to “provide a reasonable program for the control of infestation by insects, rodents,” and other horrifying little creeps unless you caused the infestation yourself. Outside of Seattle, single-family homes are exempted from that provision.
If the landlord fails to get rid of the bugs, you may be able to break your lease. But before doing that, get a lawyer. Cobbs says she always advises people looking to break their lease to seek legal representation in order to make sure they have all the evidence they need.
If you believe the conditions in your apartment violate the city’s housing code, you can file a complaint using the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections’ complaint form or call their complaint line at (206) 615-0808. Want to try mediation? Contact the Dispute Resolution Center of King County to try to get your landlord to sign a written agreement about fixing the problem or breaking your lease.
Have a question about renting? Email me: email@example.com.