Landlord Tenant Law

As attorneys focusing in debt defense, our landlord tenant practice is limited and focuses upon debt and deposit issues relating to residential and commercial tenancies.  We refer out discrimination, habitability, and related claims to governmental, pro bono, and low bono organizations so that you can obtain free or low cost representation.

Cases that we take include:

  • Bankruptcy to resolve significantly large past due rents or damages to a rental
  • Collections related to post move out charges
  • Deposit return cases
  • Settlement as to past due rents and damages

Cases that we do not take include:

  • Generally anything not listed above
  • Discrimination
  • Habitability and mold claims
  • Lease break for non-economic reasons
  • Lease questions, rights, and remedies outside of financial and debt questions
  • See our Tenant Resource Page for referrals

Useful Links & FAQs

To Schedule

  1. Make sure you have a type of case that we take: collection defense, deposit return, settlement, or strategy
  2. If you do, fill out this intake form: Tenant Intake Form Link
  3. Email the form to info@wadebtlaw.com.  Let us know a phone number to call you back to schedule at and a time range during regular business hours that would be convenient

 

 

Covid Update:

We are open during the pandemic but are taking cases virtually only.  If you have questions about the governor’s proclamation, how to handle past due rents and charges, need to negotiate with your landlord, and/or want to understand your rights or options to settle or discharge past due rents call for a free phone consultation.  Click here to review the governor’s eviction moratorium.  The eviction moratorium is presently extended until October 15th, 2020.

 

Tenant Services

Limited to Collection Defense, Counter Claims, Deposit Return, & Settlement

We are attorneys who focus on debt issues.  We do not offer general tenant services such as discrimination, mold, habitability, or other non-economic claims.  If you need general tenant services, please see our Tenant Resource Page for links and referrals.

However, if you need assistance dealing with a landlord’s collection claim or resolving unpaid rents or damages, we can help.

How we can help

We focus on dealing with landlords when it comes to deposit returns, collection claims, and negotiations.  We start by verifying that the landlord’s claims are legally valid and within industry standard.  We next identify any counter claims and leverage.  We then review your legal options from a litigation, settlement, bankruptcy, and out of court perspective.

 

Case Example

A landlord wanted $3,000.00 for a carpet replacement while the move in carpet condition was stained and 5-7 years old.  We argued that the landlord was only owed the value of the older carpet in its move in condition and accounting for natural wear and tear.  We showed that estimates for a unit of that size ranged from $1,000.00 to $2,000.00.  We demanded receipts.  The receipts showed about $1,550.00 for both parts and labor and we settled for much less.  Not every claim by a landlord is meritorious or supportable by admissable evidence.

 

Washington State Law Regarding Deposits: RCW 59.18.280

For a landlord to retain any portion of your deposit, they must:

  1. Have placed your deposit into an escrow account separate from your rent
  2. Have an initial walkthrough signed by both you and them (or their agent)
  3. Have sent an itemized list of charges they intend to keep within 21 days of move out (time can very by agreement or if you are under the older 14 days standard)

Violations of the above enables you to sue for up to TWO TIMES the deposit amount and obtain attorney fees.  However, this amount can be offset by legitimate damages to the property or lost rents.  Accordingly, we advise caution before bringing suit and have the below rules of thumb that we use to accept clients.

  1. Is the total amount that your landlord is retaining of your deposit below $1,000.00?  In general, cleaning and carpet fees plus modest painting will often time be between $500.00 to $1,000.00.  If you bring suit and the charges are legitimate and defensible, you may have to pay their fees.
  2. Is your landlord charging you for more than two months of lost rents? In general, it takes a month or two to re-rent a unit.  If it takes three or more months, there needs to be a good reason.  This is generally going to be held to be commercially reasonable.  You may want to check the unit to ensure it was re-rented and if the landlord is double dipping.
  3. Are parts and labor all listed as round numbers (meaning no tax added)? This is a hallmark of potential fraud.  Sometimes estimates alone may be used as a basis for recovery but usually it means they didn’t actually pay for it.
  4. Are the parts and labor amounts above market?  Price things out yourself and call vendors to see what is commercially reasonable.  Ask the landlord for receipts.
  5. Are the things they are claiming that need to be replaced old?  They don’t get to replace 10 year old carpet that is beyond expected life with fresh new carpet.  The landlord does not get to charge for wear and tear or refurbish the unit on your back.
  6. Is the landlord charging both liquidated damages (lease break fee) and lost rents? Its one or the other, not both.  If your landlord is charging you for both, it represents a potential breach of contract and possibly a consumer protection violation.
  7. Is the landlord claiming your deposits are forfeit?  This is not allowed under Washington law and must be applied against charges, not just zeroed out as if it never existed.

If the amount the landlord is keeping exceeds $1,000.00 and there are one or more potential red flags, suing or countersuing may be appropriate.

Even if the amount is reasonable, we can still attempt to settle, use bankruptcy, or other methods to avoid paying some or all of the debt owed.

If you are facing a deposit or collection issue relating to your tenancy, give us a call to schedule a free initial phone consultation to see how we can help.  206-535-2559.

 

Governor’s Eviction Moratorium Proclamation Excerpt

ACCORDINGLY, based on the above noted situation and under the provisions of RCW 43.06.220(1)(h), and to help preserve and maintain life, health, property or the public peace, except where federal law requires otherwise, effective immediately and until 11:59 p.m. on October 15, 2020, I hereby prohibit the following activities related to residential dwellings and commercial rental properties in Washington State:

Landlords, property owners, and property managers are prohibited from serving or enforcing, or threatening to serve or enforce, any notice requiring a resident to vacate any dwelling or parcel of land occupied as a dwelling, including but not limited to an eviction notice, notice to pay or vacate, notice of unlawful detainer, notice of termination ofrental, or notice to comply or vacate. This prohibition applies to tenancies or otherhousing arrangements that have expired or that will expire during the effective period of this Proclamation. This prohibition applies unless the landlord, property owner, or property manager (a) attaches an affidavit attesting that the action is necessary to respond to a significant and immediate risk to the health, safety, or property of others created by the resident; or (b) provides at least 60 days’ written notice of intent to (i) personally occupy the premises as a primary residence, or (ii) sell the property.

Landlords, property owners, and property managers are prohibited from seeking or enforcing, or threatening to seek or enforce, judicial eviction orders involving anydwelling or parcel of land occupied a s a dwelling, unless the landlord, property owner, orproperty manager (a) attaches an affidavit attesting that the action is necessary to respond to a significant and immediate risk to the health, safety, or property of others created by the resident; or (b) shows that at least 60 days’ written notice were provided of intent to (i) personally occupy the premises as a primary residence, or (ii) sell the property.

Local law enforcement are prohibited from serving, threatening to serve, or otherwise acting on eviction orders affecting any dwelling or parcel of land occupied as a dwelling, unless the eviction order clearly states that it was issued based on a court’s finding that(a) the individual(s) named in the eviction order is creating a significant and immediaterisk to the health, safety, or property of others; or (b) at least 60 days’ written notice were provided of intent to (i) personally occupy the premises as a primary residence, or (ii) sell the property. Local law enforcement may serve or otherwise act on eviction orders, including writs of restitution, that contain the findings required by this paragraph.

Landlords, property owners, and property managers are prohibited from assessing, or threatening to assess, late fees for the non-payment or late payment of rent or other charges related to a dwelling or parcel of land occupied as a dwelling, and where such non-payment or late payment occurred on or after February 29, 2020, the date when a State of Emergency was proclaimed in all counties in Washington State.

Landlords, property owners, and property managers are prohibited from assessing, or threatening to assess, rent or other charges related to a dwelling or parcel of land occupied as a dwelling for any period during which the resident’s access to, or occupancy of, such dwelling was prevented as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Except as provided in this paragraph, landlords, property owners, and property managers are prohibited from treating any unpaid rent or other charges related to a dwelling or parcel of land occupied as a dwelling as an enforceable debt or obligation that is owing or collectable, where such non-payment was as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak and occurred on or after February 29, 2020, and during the State of Emergency proclaimed in all counties in Washington State. This includes attempts to collect, or threats to collect, through a collection agency, by filing an unlawful detainer or other judicial action, withholding any portion of a security deposit, billing or invoicing, reporting to credit bureaus, or by any other means. This prohibition does not apply to a landlord, property owner, or property manager who demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence to a court that the resident was offered, and refused or failed to comply with, a re-payment plan that was reasonable based on the individual financial, health, and other circumstances of that resident; failure to provide a reasonable re-payment plan shall be a defense to any lawsuit or other attempts to collect.

Landlords, property owners, and property managers are prohibited from increasing, or threatening to increase, the rate of rent for any dwelling or parcel of land occupied as a dwelling. Except as provided below, this prohibition also applies to commercial rentalproperty if the commercial tenant has been materially impacted by the COVID-19, whether personally impacted and is unable to work or whether the business itself was deemed non-essential pursuant to Proclamation 20-25 or otherwise lost staff or customers due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This prohibition does not apply to commercial rental property if rent increases were included in an existing lease agreement that was executed prior to February 29, 2020 (pre-COVID-19 state of emergency).

Landlords, property owners, and property managers are prohibited from retaliating against individuals for invoking their rights or protections under Proclamations 20-19 et seq., or any other state or federal law providing rights or protections for residential dwellings. Nothing in this order prevents a landlord from seeking to engage in reasonable communications with tenants to explore re-payment plans in accordance with this order.

The preceding prohibitions do not apply to operators of facilities licensed or certified by the Department of Social and Health Services to prevent them from taking action to transfer or discharge a resident for health or safety reasons in accordance with the laws and rules that apply to those facilities.

Terminology used in these prohibitions shall be understood by reference to Washington law, including but not limited to RCW 49.60, RCW 59.12, RCW 59.18, and RCW 59.20. For purposes of this Proclamation, a “ significant and immediate risk to the health, safety, or propertyof others created by the resident” (a) is one that is described with particularity, and cannot be established on the basis of the resident’s own health condition or disability; (b) excludes the situation in which a resident who may have been exposed to, or contracted, the COVID-19, or is following Department of Health guidelines regarding isolation or quarantine; and (c) excludes circumstances that are not urgent in nature, such as conditions that were known or knowable to the landlord, property owner, or property manager pre-COVID-19 but regarding which that entity took no action.

FURTHERMORE, it is the intent of this order to prevent a potential new devastating impact of the COVID-19 outbreak – that is, a wave of statewide homelessness that will impact every community in our state. To that end, this order further acknowledges, applauds, and reflects gratitude to the immeasurable contribution to the health and well-being of our communities and families made by the landlords, property owners, and property managers subject to this order.

ADDITIONALLY, I want to thank the vast majority of tenants who have continued to pay what they can, as soon as they can, to help support the people and the system that are supporting themthrough this crisis. The intent of Proclamation 20-19, et seq., is to provide relief to those individuals who have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Landlords and tenants are expected to communicate in good faith with one another, and to work together, on the timing and terms of payment and repayment solutions that all parties will need in order to overcome the severe challenges that COVID-19 has imposed for landlords and tenants alike. I strongly encourage landlords and tenants to avail themselves of the services offered at existing dispute resolution centers to come to agreement on payment and repayment solutions.