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. You can also come talk to me about all this stuff in our new Facebook group right here. 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:
Some friends and I have been renting the same house for a few years and I really want to get a dog. My friends are in favor of having a dog in the house, but they’re rightfully a little nervous about going against our lease. Our lease doesn’t allow dogs, but I have never met or communicated with the homeowner and we see the landlord just once a year for the renewal inspection. We’ve watched friends’ dogs in our house for several days at a time and I think we could totally get away with having a dog as long as we hid the evidence during the yearly inspection. My biggest fear is that our landlord would somehow find out and evict us. I could handle packing up my stuff and finding a new place with my dog if absolutely necessary, but I would feel awful if my friends had to move out too. Could they evict us or would they just take away our security deposit and give us a warning or something? It seems that we could just say that we were dog sitting, but maybe I’m overconfident. What do you think? Should I get a dog and ask for forgiveness later if necessary or should I wait until I move out of the house in another year or two?
When you never see your landlord, it can be tempting to assume they won’t notice when you start flagrantly violating the rules. But if I’ve learned anything from the entirely anecdotal evidence provided by a bunch of people I’ve never met on Twitter, it's that you will absolutely 100 percent for-sure get caught. DO NOT DO THIS.
Here are a few of the things people told me when I asked if they’d ever gotten a pet despite a no-pets lease:
Housemate hid the (noisy) cat every time the landlord came over. Fridge broke, and we basically didn't get it fixed for 2 weeks because of the cat timing issues.
— Andres Salomon #DreamActNow (@Andres4Seattle) March 7, 2018
My college roommate got an iguana from his fiance. He wasn't supposed to have it. Fucker always whipped him when he tried to interact with it in anyway. No one found out about the iguana, but don't do it because your pet might be a shithead anyway. (Also dogs are harder to hide.)
— Zachariah Bryan (@ZachariahTB) March 7, 2018
Yes, I had forbidden cat. Landlord came around once a month to change AC filters (this was AZ). Sitcom hijinx to keep cat secret every month ensued. Thought I pulled it off. When I moved to SEA, new landlords called for reference for me; old landlord mentioned cat was good tenant
— LQ Seaton (@LQSeaton) March 7, 2018
I was evicted.
— Scott Francisco (@scottfrancisco) March 7, 2018
Granted, a few people got away with it:
I did. Corner of Summit and Belmont. My building manager didn’t care but a neighbor complained (over a 7 pound dachshund) and the Manager was kind enough to let me out of my lease without penalty.
— Ryan (@ryanhealy) March 8, 2018
Yes. Landlord was chill in both instances (though I wouldn’t test a rental company — my buildings were family owned)
— Jonathan Glover (@glovetrain) March 7, 2018
But holy shit getting caught sounds stressful:
Yes I had a cat in a “no cats” apartment. And then there was an earthquake. And the earthquake broke the wall. And the scared cat jumped inside the wall. And the cat fell down one floor, inside the wall of the landlord’s apartment. So they found out about the cat. I moved out. https://t.co/MDnHgqNmCb
— porter_esq (@porter_esq) March 7, 2018
I’m sorry, but, ARE YOU KIDDING ME???? NO DOG OR CAT COULD BE WORTH THIS!
Anyway, yes you could be evicted. But also yes, you could get lucky and have a landlord who simply asks for more money or gives you time to find a new situation while letting your roommates stay. That all depends on your landlord!
If this was just you, some loner free-spirit willing to pack up your air mattress at a moment’s notice, maybe it would be worth it. But you have roommates, and it doesn’t sound like they’re as sure about this idea as you are. If you’re all on the same lease, an eviction would affect the whole house. So you're either putting them in the position of having to be the dick who says no to a dog or of potentially losing their housing because of their idiot roommate who just had to have a dog.
One bright spot is that in order to evict you, the landlord would first have to give you 10 days’ notice. During that time, you could leave the house or get rid of the dog. But think about that, really. In Seattle’s hot rental market, how sure are you really that you and a dog could find a new place in 10 days? (If your plan is to give that dog to a shelter if you get a 10-day notice, hey buddy, fuck you.) It’s also worth considering that while an eviction might not seem that inconvenient now, it can affect your credit. Evictions can also end up on your record, even if they’re resolved out of court.
Given all that, why risk it? Wait a bit and find a dog-friendly place. If you really can't wait, consider just asking your landlord to amend the lease.
(Note: All of the above is assuming you want a pet, not that you need a service animal. If it’s a service animal, the landlord has to make an accommodation.)
How does the first-in-time rule work at open houses where everyone is applying at the same time?
If you’ve looked for housing in Seattle in the last three years, you’ve probably had that experience where you show up to an open house to find 25 people already crammed in the tiny studio apartment kitchen all filling out applications for the same apartment. It used to be the case that the landlord could stand around chit chatting with all the applicants, then use their “gut check” to pick whoever they vibe with. Not anymore. Seattle law now requires landlords to rent to the first qualified applicant. The law, known as “first in time” aims to address unconscious bias that might cause a landlord’s “gut check” to prefer straight, cis, white people without disabilities and disadvantage everyone else. (Landlords, ever benevolent, are currently challenging the law in court.)
It’s obvious how this law should work when a landlord is seeing applications trickle in by email: They use the time stamp on the email to know who applied first. It’s less clear at an open house where everyone is applying at once.
The city’s rules instruct landlords to “use a fair process for noting the date and time of completed applications that are received at exactly the same time." A spokesperson for the Seattle Office of Civil Rights says it's "hard to describe what a fair processes means." Landlord representatives from the Rental Housing Association of Washington and Washington Multi-Family Housing Association advise landlords is to either a) use an online application system that handles the time-stamping, or b) have tenants line up and then time-stamp their applications as they’re handed in.
For tenants, this means our best shot at being first in line is really not so different from what it’s always been: Show up early and have your shit together.
Do you have a question about renting? Email me at email@example.com.