Welcome back to Maintenance Request, a regular column where you email me with your questions about renting in Seattle/King County and I try to get you answers. If you have a question, send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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:
Last time, we talked about why there aren’t enough dog-friendly apartments in Seattle (as the men on Urbanist Twitter are always shouting: SUPPLY AND DEMAND, YOU MORON). But we didn’t talk about pet rent. And I got this follow-up question:
What about pet rent? What's the deal with that? My freakin' cat isn't making money, why do I need to pay a deposit AND monthly rent for her?
Pet rent is exactly what it sounds like: Your landlord tacks on an extra $25 or $50 a month because you have a pet. Often, that comes on top of a pet deposit, which you’ll get back at the end of your tenancy as long as your pet didn’t do any damage. But with the insurance of a deposit, charging pet rent in addition seems like a scam. What do landlords have to say for themselves?
Brett Waller, director of government affairs for the landlord group the Washington Multi-Family Housing Association, says the two charges cover different costs. Pet deposits cover potential damages caused by dogs or cats. Rent supposedly covers damages, too, but also for ongoing costs. “Pets cause damage to apartments like puppies peeing and chewing molding and cabinets, and cats peeing and throwing up on carpet,” Waller said in an email. “There is also cost in cleaning animal dander from an apartment, so the next person that moves into the apartment doesn’t have to suffer allergies because the prior resident had pets. Pet rent covers damages to the common areas by pets, maintenance and operation of pet amenities (cat rooms, dog runs, washrooms, poo bags) and repair and maintenance of landscaping damaged by pets.”
Waller says pet rent is common among his organization’s members (mostly larger apartment buildings) and usually starts around $25 a month. For those of you living here in Seattle, the city’s new move-in fee law allows pet rent but prohibits one-time, non-refundable, move-in fees for pets. The law also requires landlords to allow you to pay pet deposits in three monthly payments and limits pet deposits to 25 percent of the first month's rent. You may be stuck paying that monthly rent, but, as always, thoroughly document the condition of your home when you move in for the best hope of getting your pet deposit back.
We live in a 12-unit apartment building. As tenants' leases end, the landlord jacks up rents, waits for tenants to vacate, remodels the newly vacant units, and rents the remodeled units at a premium. As a result, the building has been in a constant state of construction for more than sixth months. I know none of this is illegal, but my question is about about water shut-offs that are a side effect of the construction. We've had 5 planned water shut-offs in the last 3 weeks. Most of these last from 9 am-5 pm, but one was 8 am-10 am, and another was 8 am-5 pm. In addition, we've one emergency water shut off and another day of no hot water (both presumably due to construction). On another occasion, the email notification of a planned water shut-off listed the wrong day. I'm tolerant about the need for occasional repairs, but this seems excessive. When do these water shut-offs, even when announced in advance, cross the line from inconvenient to illegal? Is it relevant that the water shut-offs are being used to facilitate discretionary remodels, rather than to do repairs on my unit? Is there a point at which I have legal grounds to tell the landlord to cut it out, or at least hire a more competent plumber?
State law says landlords can turn off your water (or heat, electricity, or gas) for “a reasonable time in order to make necessary repairs.” They’re required to give you 48 hours’ notice. But what is “reasonable”? Who the fuck knows!
I put the question to the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections, which deals with this kind of stuff. How do they define “reasonable?” “We don’t have a definition for ‘reasonableness’ because each situation is unique,” said SDCI spokesperson Wendy Shark. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
If this nonsense with your landlord continues, it's worth asking SDCI to send an investigator to check things out and find out if what's going on is considered "reasonable." You can do that using this form or by calling (206) 615-0808.
I met my three roommates through Craigslist. All of us get along. Well all of us except for me and Frank (a pseudonym). We have had a number of clashes, but our biggest source of tension involves my use of a space heater. (Well, there was also that one time he boiled all my eggs.) See, I am the only tenant who lives in the basement of our unit. I pay less in rent, but my room is also smaller and does not have a window. It also floods when it rains heavily. Finally, and this is key, it’s much colder downstairs than it is on the main floor, where my other three roommates (including Frank) live. During this winter, we’ve seen a small spike (think in the tens) in our electric bill, and I acknowledge my space heater probably has to do with that increase. Frank isn’t having it. He’s asked me to stop using the space heater and purchase a pair of long johns or pay a bigger share of the electric bill. I don’t think I should have to do either. Who’s right here?
Readers, I’m a believer in wealth redistribution. Just 42 people hold as much wealth as the poorest half of the world's population. We need to tax the hell out of the .0000042 percent and many other rich people and use that money to fund services for everyone. In this case, “the rich” includes this weirdo munching on stolen eggs from the comfort of his warm, dry, windowed room.
You’re paying a little less in rent, sure, but you’re also being asked to layer up—AND ENDURE FLOODING WHEN IT RAINS?!—just to live in the house you also pay for. All so this guy can save a few bucks a month? You’re not asking for much here. Your contribution to the bill helps keep them warm and theirs should help keep you warm. The electric bill, including the extra costs due to your space heater, should be split evenly between you all.
About that flooding, though. Washington state law requires landlords to keep apartments in “reasonably weathertight condition.” Like the earlier issue about “reasonable” interruptions, we may not have a perfect definition of “reasonably weathertight condition,” but frequent flooding sure doesn’t sound reasonable to me. If your landlord refuses to do something about it, seek help from the Tenants Union of Washington State, Solid Ground, or the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections.