Sorry, Fido, its a landlords market.
Sorry, Fido, it's a landlord's market. GETTY

Welcome back to Maintenance Request, a regular column where you email me with your questions/sagas about renting in Seattle/King County and I try to get you answers. If you have a question, send it to me at heidi@thestranger.com. Ask me anything about bad landlords, finding a roommate, dealing with noisy neighbors, pets in apartments, etc. Anything about renting in the region. Please specify whether you’re in Seattle or elsewhere in Washington since the answer may vary based on your city’s laws. 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 one of the services listed here. On to this week's questions:

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How come Seattle is such a "dog-friendly" city, but hardly any apartments allow for them as pets?

New rule of the column: If you have a question about dogs, you have to send me a picture of a cute dog. NO EXCEPTIONS!

Now, interesting question. Seattle seems so willing to let dogs just about everywhere—grocery stores, bars—that you might assume landlords would follow suit. But dogs are an extra hassle that some rental owners just really don't want to have to deal with. And in a landlord-friendly market, they don't have to. If the supply-siders are right, though, that could change. Vacancy rates are slowly rising. “If you’re saying no pets, you’re cutting off a large market,” says Sean Martin, interim director of the Rental Housing Association of Washington, which represents landlords. Martin says large property management companies are more likely to accept pets than small landlords. Small landlords may eventually want to move back into their rental unit or may worry about footing the costs of damage done by pets, Martin says. So, if you’re having trouble finding a dog-friendly unit, try one of those boxy new buildings going up everywhere with names like The Blockchain.

One thing worth remembering: While landlords can ban pets or have limits on certain breeds or weights, they can never refuse to rent to you because you have a service animal. There’s a whole controversy about whether it’s too easy to get a doctor’s note saying your animal is a service animal. But if you’ve got the documentation, your landlord has to let you have the animal. Click here for more information about what your landlord can and can’t request.

I am looking to lease an apartment. The landlord says I must get rental insurance in order to do so. Can he do this? Also, is rental insurance worth it?

Yes, your landlord can require renters’ insurance to cover their ass in case you light the place on fire. This is called liability coverage and it's separate from the personal property coverage you might want to protect your MacBook from a thief. But most insurance companies bundle the two together. Say you cause a fire with a burner you forget to turn off. Liability coverage will cover the damage to both your apartment and your neighbor's if the fire damages their unit too. It can also help cover the costs of a hotel if you’re displaced from your apartment. Landlords want you to get this so they don't have to cover these costs. Nationally, more renters are getting renters’ insurance. And here in Seattle, more landlords—especially in new buildings—are requiring it, says Seattle State Farm agent Carol Davis. Most policies cost around $12 a month, Davis says.

Now, is it worth it?

My unqualified opinion: Yes. My policy only costs $11.41 a month. It gives me peace of mind about the whole accidental fire thing. I also know that if someone steals my old laptop that’s no longer good for anything except porn and I've already paid the deductible on my policy, I'll get back the tens of dollars that computer is worth.

The Tenants Union of Washington State’s much more qualified opinion: Also yes.

An actual insurance agent’s opinion: Yes (obviously). “It’s not just because I work at state farm,” Davis says. Davis herself has had renters’ insurance. “It’s that same old thing,” Davis says. “You could have it and not use it. That doesn’t mean you don’t need it. If something happens and you don’t have it, that’s when you really feel burned."

If you stick with the same company, Davis adds, renters’ insurance can also help you get lower rates on other insurance you bundle with it (like car insurance) or on homeowners’ insurance you might get someday after you stop renting. Hahahahahahahahaha, yeah right.

Do tenants living in a house share have the same rights to the tenant relocation act? If not then why not? I recently had to leave a house I lived in and loved for 7 years because of change in use (remodel and jack up the rent).

The Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance is a Seattle law meant to help low-income renters when landlords push them out because they want to renovate the building or rent it to people with higher incomes. Overall, it’s a good program, but it has some loopholes. One loophole is that if tenants are sharing a house and are all on one lease, they probably can’t qualify.

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That’s because the ordinance requires incomes below a certain threshold and renters all on one lease would have their incomes combined for the purposes of figuring out whether they qualify for relocation, according to the Tenants Union and the City of Seattle. If you’re sharing a house and you’re each on a separate lease, though, you might qualify.

To get relocation help, the ordinance requires you to have an income of less than 50 percent of area median income (right now that’s $33,600 for a single person and $48,000 for a family of four). When a tenant qualifies, the landlord pays half of the relocation assistance and the city pays the other half for a total of $3,658. Landlords looking to boot renters so they can tear down, renovate, or change the use of the building have to apply for a Tenant Relocation License from the city and notify the city which renters will be displaced. Renters can then apply for relocation assistance. Once the landlord pays their half of the relocation assistance, they have to give the tenant at least 90 days to move out. Want more info? Click here. Think you might qualify for assistance? Call the city at (206) 615-0808.

Have a question about renting? Email me: heidi@thestranger.com.

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