Tenant Tip: Financial Fitness Day!

On March 31, 2012 from 10am-2pm, the Seattle-King County Asset Building Collaborative and several community agencies – including Solid Ground – are partnering to provide a day of workshops related to finances, money management and other community resources such as job search, housing, personal budgeting and more. Financial Fitness Day will take place at the Rainier Community Center at 4600 38th Avenue S, Seattle, WA 98118.

The event will feature a series of free workshops as well as one-on-one help with filing income taxes, credit and mortgage counseling, financial advising, and information on receiving public benefits.

This is a great resource fair for renters interested in getting a free credit report, free counseling on debt management, and credit repair tips. It can help renters understand the information that is often listed on screening reports and know what to expect when completing rental housing applications.

It will also be a useful event for homeowners seeking mortgage counseling and resources as well as anyone looking for financial tips, business startup and consumer rights information, and much more. The flyer below provides a list of participating organizations and some of the services that will be offered.Financial Fitness Day, 3/31/12, 10am-2pm

 

Tenant Tip: Help pass the Fair Tenant Screening Act!

Current Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Law creates some serious housing barriers for domestic violence (DV) survivors and people living on low incomes – such as a requirement to pay separate screening fees for each new rental application. The Fair Tenant Screening Act (FTSA), going before the WA State Senate Rules & Means Committee next Wednesday, February 14, would eliminate those barriers.

Contact your Senators to let them know that FTSA will help keep families housed and prevent homelessness! Below is a brief overview of FTSA by the Housing Alliance detailing why it is important for these bills to pass in order to address serious barriers to housing. You can follow this link to the Housing Alliance’s website and send an email to your senators to ask them to keep them moving in the Senate. You can also call 1.800.562.6000 and ask your senators to support SSB 6321 and SSB 6315.

Substitute Senate Bill 6315 (SSB 6315) will address the high cost of tenant screening reports by asking a work group of stakeholders, including tenants, landlords and tenant screening companies, to examine how to make a portable report work in Washington, or otherwise drive down the high cost of tenant screening reports. It will also require adverse action notices when a landlord decides to not rent to a tenant and will allow a tenant to know the criteria that will be used to determine whether or not to rent to them.

SB 6321 provides tenants who have prevailed in court and survivors of DV an opportunity to ask the court to seal or redact their record so that their future housing prospects will no longer unfairly be diminished.

Currently, the reports generated to landlords can contain misleading, unfair and inaccurate information. They report merely if a tenant has been named in an eviction lawsuit – not the outcome, not if the tenant was wrongfully named, not if the tenant prevailed, not if the tenant’s eviction was the result of a bank foreclosing on their landlord – but nothing about the circumstances is provided.

No matter the circumstances (even when they’ve won in court), a tenant is treated guilty for years to come and they struggle with a mark on their record that will cause many landlords to reject their application. This creates an extremely chilling effect on a process that ought to be accessible to tenants who want their day in court, and instead many are deterred from arguing their case while they meekly seek new housing to avoid the progression of an eviction lawsuit.

Additionally, domestic violence protection orders can be listed in these reports. It is unthinkable that this information could be considered viable in fairly determining someone as a good tenant.

For more detailed information on the Fair Tenant Screening Act and to ask questions or share your story related to these bills, you can leave a message on Solid Ground Tenant Services Advocacy line at 206.694.6748, or email your story to tenantwa@solid-ground.org.

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided here should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767 Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Changes to state law – Receipts for Payments

blank rent receipts

receipts

RCW 15.18.063 of the Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act was changed to require landlords to give tenants a receipt when they pay rent in cash. Previously a landlord was only required to provide receipts if the tenant asked for one.

Under the new law, tenants still need to ask for receipts if they pay with methods other than cash, such as check or money order. It is generally a good idea to ask for receipts to be dated and signed or stamped by the landlord or the management company.

You may also want to print out bank statements detailing rent payment and save them along with other documents related to paying rent. By keeping an organized folder with documents related to your tenancy and payment activity, a tenant can better protect themselves from a landlord who may claim that rent was not received on time or is missing.

This issue comes up more often with management companies that have high employee turnover. Additionally, tenants are sometimes faced with having a new property manager claim that a previous manager did not document a rent payment.

Bookkeeping errors can also be reason enough for a landlord or an apartment manager to claim that the tenant may not have paid rent. In these situations, it is much easier to present the landlord with a receipt that proves payment than it is to challenge the bookkeeper. Without proper documentation and receipts, a tenant may have to double pay for previous months’ rent and face unnecessary confrontations with the landlord.

It is also a good idea to save receipts for utility payments, especially where the tenant is provided with a third party utility bill from the landlord. While the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act does not cover utility billing, tenants can still take proactive steps by documenting their payments for utilities. An example of a situation where saving receipts can be helpful is when a utility bill is drastically higher than previous ones.

RCW 15.19.063’s receipt requirement is for any payment the tenant makes to the landlord, which can include paying the landlord for third party utility billing. In some cases the tenant has made no changes to their daily habits, and electricity or water usage has not increased, however the landlord may be asking for a much higher amount in utility payments.

This is especially important in cases where the utility bill increases for the tenant due to a repair issue that the landlord needs to address, such as a leak in water pipes. In these situations having a “paper trail” of receipts and documents may also be helpful. In addition to receipts, tenants can also take proper steps in addressing the repair with the landlord.

For information on repairs, tenants can review a previous Tenant Tip on Requesting repairs from your landlord as well as visit the Tenant Services Repairs webpage.

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided here should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767  Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Housing barriers for people living with disabilities

Editor’s note: This post was submitted by Jennifer Valente, a case manager with Solid Ground’s Homeless Prevention Programs. Thanks also to Jeanne Winner for her help with the article.

Man in wheelchairImagine, you have just lost your housing – not to any fault of your own, you’ve been an excellent tenant – but your apartment is being renovated. You are wheelchair bound, you have no family or friends to help you, and you’re out of resources. You need housing immediately. As a last resort, you call King County 2.1.1 and are directed to Solid Ground’s Housing Stabilization Services program. You ask for help.

Basic knowledge of social services would lead one to believe, to hope even, that between the many Fair Housing Laws and benefits of the Americans with Disabilities Act, someone in the above situation would have a number of options available to them – that they would not end up in this predicament.

Unfortunately the above scenario is far too common, and the case managers with Housing Stabilization Services at Solid Ground are often faced with trying to help clients secure housing against unfavorable odds. Specifically with regard to handicap-accessible apartments, it is not that suitable apartments do not exist – but there are too few to support the growing demand, and long waiting lists act as barriers for those in urgent need. Clients too often hear the words, “Sorry, but…” and grow frustrated and discouraged.

Indeed, an October 2011 press release describes testing that confirms discrimination does exist for people living with disabilities (as well as for African Americans) in far higher percentages than expected, and the Seattle Office for Civil Rights is taking action by prosecuting six property owners. The release states that more than half of all properties recently tested showed evidence of illegal housing discrimination.

While the battle against discrimination is ongoing, Solid Ground is committed to being an ally to those in need. By acting as a resource hub to current and prospective tenants and providing direct case management to clients like the one above, Solid Ground serves as an advocate and friend to individuals and families who have nowhere else to turn and may otherwise end up in shelters or on the streets.

Tenant Tip: Tenant Screening

Landlords typically screen prospective tenants to decide their eligibility to move into a rental unit. Often landlords hire a screening company to decide tenants’ suitability. Screeners investigate potential tenants’ credit, rental history, employment history, criminal background, previous evictions and court records. RCW 59.18.257 is the section of the Washington Residential Landlord-Tenant Act which provides information on tenant screening. The screening process can be burdensome, costly and unfair for tenants, especially if they have wrongful evictions on their record or because of their status as domestic violence survivors.

One of the main challenges is that the tenant is responsible for paying the cost of screening fees which may range from $30 to $75 per application. Even if the landlord decides not to offer a unit to the tenant, the tenant loses their screening fee. Currently, tenants can be denied for any number of reasons, causing them to pay many screening fees. Often people with poor credit or evictions on their record are faced with spending hundreds of dollars on screening fees without ever being offered a unit. These fees can prevent low-income tenants from being able to afford move-in costs and can leave tenants facing homelessness.

A report released this month by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) indicates that housing discrimination based on race or disability occurs frequently in Seattle. In their investigation, nearly 70% of landlords showed some sort of race-based discrimination in which inconsistencies favored white applicants. Disability-based discrimination tests revealed that 38% of the properties used practices that created barriers for people living with disabilities to get access to housing. Read the full press release on the SOCR webpage. These issues of discrimination in tenant screening are happening outside of Seattle as well. We receive calls on our Tenant Services Hotline from all over Washington State from tenants who face housing discrimination based on race, ethnicity, criminal history and disability status.

In addition, mistakes contained in the screening reports or credit reports used to decide tenant eligibility can also cause tenants to be wrongfully denied housing. Tenants may never even see a copy of the report to find an error and dispute the inaccuracy. These inaccuracies may include wrongful evictions that were filed illegally or incorrectly. Once an eviction, or Lawsuit for Unlawful Detainer, is filed with the courts, the eviction record remains on the tenant’s public record for life. Even if the judge rules in the tenant’s favor and they win the case in court, potential landlords are still able to see the eviction on their record and deny housing.

Domestic violence survivors also face discrimination in the tenant screening process, and they are often denied housing because of a protection order on their record. Even though RCW 59.18.570 states that it’s illegal to deny housing based on an individual’s history as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, many landlords will deny housing to these people without providing a reason. Stronger protections are needed for survivors so they do not have to face discrimination in trying to meet their basic need for safe housing.

Tenant Advocates are working to improve laws to help tenants when going through the screening process in search of housing. The Fair Tenant Screening Act proposes to address the following issues within the screening process:

  • Wrongful evictions
  • Inaccuracies on screening reports
  • High screening fees
  • Additional protections for domestic violence survivors

In order to make these changes, state legislators need to hear from renters throughout Washington State who are directly affected by this serious issue that creates so many housing barriers. If you’d like to share your story and be part of the advocacy effort to support the Fair Tenant Screening Act, please call our Tenant Advocacy Line at 206.694.6748 and attend the Access to Housing Forum to learn more about the Fair Tenant Screening Act and how you can help.

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided here should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767  Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Access to Housing Forum

You are invited to attend an open forum to learn more about opportunities to increase access to housing, address discrimination in the tenant screening process, and work to break down other barriers that low-income renters and domestic violence survivors face in finding housing. Please join the Race & Social Justice Initiative, the Seattle Women’s Commission, the Tenants Union and the Housing Alliance for:

Access to Housing Forum

Thursday, November 10, 2011, 6:30pm
Seattle City Hall, 600 4th Ave
in the Bertha Knight Landes Room

Snacks and Childcare provided. To request childcare, please click here.

Join tenants, advocates and invited elected officials to discuss how we can break down barriers to housing.

Panelists include:

Eric Dunn, Staff Attorney
Northwest Justice Project

Linda Olsen, MA, MSW,
Housing Program Coordinator
Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Laurie Lippold, Public Policy Director
Children’s Home Society

Tenant Tip: Holding Deposits

A holding deposit is money a landlord can ask a tenant to pay to take a unit off the market until the tenant moves in at a later time. This typically happens when a tenant sees a unit that they like but they are not able to move in right away. By paying a holding deposit, the tenant secures the unit and the landlord agrees that they will not rent the unit to any other prospective tenant. RCW 59.18.253 addresses holding deposits, and tenants can refer to this section of the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA) for exact language of the law including the changes that took effect in July 2011.

The following tip is general information that tenants may find useful in addition to reviewing the exact language of the law.

In order to take a holding deposit from a prospective tenant, the landlord needs to provide:

  • A receipt to the tenant upon payment of the holding deposit.
  • A written statement of conditions in which the holding deposit may be retained.

When the tenant moves in, the landlord must apply the holding deposit towards the tenant’s security deposit amount or first month’s rent. If a tenant chooses not to move in, for example if they change their mind and find a different place to rent, the landlord can keep the holding deposit. It is important for tenants to understand how holding deposits work before paying one to a landlord, because it can be costly to have it withheld if the tenant chooses not to move in. Continue reading

Tenant Tip: Changes to the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act—Landlord Entry

The following tip will address landlord entry detailed in Washington State law, in particular, subsections 5-9 of RCW 59.18.150 of the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act. These subsections address landlord right of entry and the recent changes that were made to this section of the law. This is important information for tenants to understand, because landlords often violate this section of the law, and it seriously impacts the privacy of the tenant.

Sections 1-4 detailing information about search warrants, fire officials’ right of entry, and written notice requirements will not be covered. For information about search warrants and the responsibility of the landlord and tenant pertaining to this issue, you can read the entire section of the law and seek legal advice from an attorney.

The following information is a general summary of the law and the changes. It does not interpret or analyze what the law states. For exact language of the law, tenants can access RCW 59.18.150 in the WA State Legislature’s webpage where a link to the Bill of Changes will also be available.

In order to enter a tenant’s unit, landlords are required to provide tenants with written notice. The notice needs to include specific dates and times that the landlord intends to enter as well as a phone number for the tenant to contact the landlord in case the dates and times listed do not work for the tenant. This notice is meant to inform the tenant ahead of time as well as to give the tenant time to contact the landlord in case there are time conflicts. Previously the law stated that the landlord could give verbal notice. It is now required by law that the landlord give written notice.

Some reasons why a landlord can enter a unit after giving at least 2 days’ notice in writing are:

  • to make repairs as requested by the tenant
  • inspections (often specified on the rental agreement)
  • other agreed upon reasons

In addition, the landlord can enter the unit by giving the tenant 24 hours notice in writing to show the unit to a prospective tenant or buyer.

In cases of emergency or abandonment, the landlord can enter the unit without notice. A landlord cannot interfere with a tenant’s right to enjoy their dwelling unit or abuse their right to access the unit to harass the tenant.

Tenants often ask about the landlord’s right to enter common areas such as a yard, a porch or other areas in close proximity to a tenant’s dwelling unit and if the landlord is required to give notice for such entry. Because every situation is different including complicated situations where a landlord and tenant share the same house and common areas, tenants with these questions may want to consult with an attorney.

If the times a landlord has listed in writing do not work for the tenant, then they can address their concerns with the landlord. While the landlord is required to list a phone number in the notice to enter, tenants can choose to respond to the notice in writing to address the conflicts they may have with the times and dates given by the landlord. The tenant can keep a copy of the letter for themselves for documentation.

A tenant may not be unreasonable in withholding entry to the landlord. If a tenant does not make reasonable efforts to allow the landlord entry, the landlord can recover damages in court including attorney fees. A tenant can choose to provide the landlord with alternate dates and times that will work for the tenant in order to give options so that they address potential concerns of unreasonably refusing to allow the landlord to enter.

Likewise if the landlord unreasonably abuses their right of entry, the tenant can pursue legal action such as Small Claims Court to recover damages. If a landlord has entered without proper notice or is in other ways violating this section of the RLTA, the tenant can send a letter to their landlord to address the violation. If the landlord continues to violate the law after the letter is sent, the tenant can take the landlord to Small Claims Court for $100 per violation.

Because this is a very brief and general overview to a very complicated section of the law, tenants who have questions about privacy and landlord’s right of entry can contact the Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767 on M, W or Th from 10:30 am-4:30 pm to receive more information, including sample letters and potential referrals to free legal services.

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767  Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Having trouble renting with a service animal?

Many renters who have a disability and use a service or companion animal experience difficulties finding stable housing. This is true for some of the people who come to the Housing Stabilization Services program at Solid Ground. HSS supports families and individuals who are at imminent risk of housing loss so they can secure stable housing and prevent homelessness.

HSS case managers negotiate with prospective landlords on behalf of people who face housing barriers such as: economic, credit and background issues, or other risk factors preventing housing stabilization. People who have a disability and use a service animal may have been wrongfully denied housing many times and have a much harder time finding housing. While denying someone based on this status is discriminatory according to Federal and State laws, it is an all-too-common problem.

Individuals who use a service or companion animal are a protected class. Refusing to rent to them is discrimination and is illegal. Both Federal and State laws prohibit discrimination based on the use of a service animal. Discrimination in housing is detailed in the Fair Housing Act and Washington State Law.

When landlords deny housing to individuals with a disability, oftentimes their explanation has been that they have a “no pet policy.” According to the law, a service animal is considered to be a working animal, not a pet. The service animal must be permitted to accompany the person with a disability to any area where the public is allowed.

Moreover, housing providers must accommodate a person’s disability and her or his needs. A landlord or property manager cannot ask you for any details about what your disability is, nor seek proof of a service animal’s status. They may ask for a healthcare provider’s statement indicating that the tenant has a disability and will be assisted with a service animal. However, the type of disability doesn’t have to be disclosed.

You can find contact information for Fair Housing agencies through the City of Seattle’s website.

If you think that you have been discriminated against due to having a disability or based on other protected classes, please contact a Fair Housing agency in your community and ask how to file a formal complaint with them. Oftentimes Fair Housing agencies are able to provide detailed information about their complaint, investigation and fine processes before you file a complaint.

You can also access a recent Tenant Tip written by Solid Ground tenant counselors to find out more information on Fair Housing laws as well as resources to deal with discrimination. You may also access information about your rights as a renter by visiting Solid Ground’s Tenant Services website or by contacting our Tenant Services Hotline to speak with a tenant counselor about your specific situation. The tenant services hotline is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm.

(Editor’s note: This post was a collaborative project between Solid Ground Tenant Counselor Edlira Kuka and HSS Case Manager Pamela Calderon.)

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767  Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Changes to the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act

Washington State capitol building

Washington State capitol building

Several sections of the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA) recently changed and took effect as of July 22, 2011. The changes to these sections of the law came about through a consensus-based process between landlord groups and tenant advocates working with state legislators in passing this bill. Because of the consensus process, there are many more changes that tenant advocates would like to see made to the RLTA, however many of those changes did not take effect during the last legislative session.

The next several tenant tips will discuss these changes, give a brief overview of what they mean for tenants, and describe how they may be different from the laws prior to this bill passing.

Because the tenant tip is not legal advice and cannot be regarded as such, this general information can be used for tenants to learn about the law changes and understand how they may affect someone’s particular situation as well as what steps to take in asserting renters’ rights based on the law.

The law changes include:

  • new sections added to the RLTA .
  • language that was removed or added to existing sections.
  • clarifications to some definitions.

While several tenant tips to follow in the next few months will address each change and give more detailed information, tenants can access the state’s legislature website to read on Substitute House Bill 1266, which includes the changes to the RLTA.

The information contained in these Tenant Tips or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767  Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Legislative advocacy

Tenant Services is part of a group of Housing Advocates working to help shape policy and decision making at the city, county and state levels in order to make changes in housing laws impacting thousands of tenants in Washington State. Our biggest focus is to address and eliminate housing barriers that many individuals and families face.

Our legislative agenda priorities are:

  • Change the law to protect individuals who are denied housing due to wrongful and unlawful evictions on their records.
  • Eliminate repeated costly application and screening fees that force tenants with low incomes to choose substandard rentals or prevent them from getting housing.
  • Address an alarming concern that domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault survivors are illegally denied housing based on their status as survivors.

We are happy to discuss these issues in detail with community members who are interested in becoming involved in our advocacy efforts and who want to learn more about how they can share their stories to help change the laws. While our advocacy efforts are strong and we are working directly with state legislators and community advocates, the most influential stories are from individuals who have been and are still being denied housing and want to voice their concerns.

Tenants who are interested in sharing their stories with legislators can contact Solid Ground’s Tenant Services staff directly to learn more about our legislative advocacy work and ask questions about how they can become involved. Our program can help prepare individuals to share their stories and engage legislators in listening to all tenants who face these issues.

Contact our direct advocacy line at 206.694 6748 and leave a brief message with your information and how you have faced barriers to housing. You can also email us at: tenantwa@solid-ground.org to find out more about the different ways to become involved.

Documentary and discussion on tenants’ rights & housing justice

The Tenants Union is inviting tenants, housing advocates and interested community members and activists to attend the viewing of the documentary film The Fall of the I-Hotel on June 29th from 6:30-8:30pm. Following the film there will be a dialogue on tenants’ rights and housing justice issues.

Poster promoting movieThis event will address some of the housing, civil rights and discrimination issues portrayed in the film and focus on Seattle’s own fight to save affordable housing. This community dialog and discussion will include Dr. Estella Habal, author of the book:  San Francisco’s International Hotel: Mobilizing the Filipino American Community in the Anti-Eviction Movement.

What: Documentary screening and community dialogue on affordable housing
When: Wednesday, June 29th, 2011, 6:30-8:30pm
Where: Rainier Valley Cultural Center, 3515 S. Alaska St., Seattle WA 98118
Suggested Donation: $15, (No one will be turned away for lack of funds.)

To find more information about other ways tenants can become involved in grassroots organizing and advocacy around housing justice issues, how to join the Tenants Union as a member, and other ways to show support go to the TU membership webpage.

Tenant Tip: Withholding rent

Do not withhold rent if the landlord is not making repairs.

Tenants must be current on their rent payments to access the repair remedies written into Washington State Landlord/Tenant law. Even if the repairs are extremely severe, withholding rent can leave renters vulnerable to eviction.

For more information on your rights to get repairs made, go to www.walawhelp.org or Solid Ground’s Tenant Services website, or view previous Tenant Tips about repairs.

The information contained in this tip or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767  Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Additional protections for DV survivors

Domestic violence survivors have extra protections under Washington State laws governing tenancy.

Domestic violence survivors cannot be discriminated against because of their status as survivors, or because of damage perpetrators cause to the units survivors live in. Survivors also have the right to legally break their lease to escape an abuser. You can see the specifics about lease breaking for survivors and what documentation is needed as well as other protections by reading RCW 59.18.570 through 59.18.585.

In addition, landlords cannot refuse to rent to you because of your status as a domestic violence survivor. Due to the complexity of domestic violence, tenants who are in these situations may find it helpful to discuss their situation with a Tenant Counselor to get general information as well as referrals to free legal services, domestic violence support and other community resources that are available.

The information contained in this tip or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767  Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Community Resource Exchange, 4/22, 9am-3pm, Qwest Field

Individuals experiencing homelessness and those who have questions about housing search can attend the Community Resource Exchange Day of Hope & Help, Friday, April 22 from 9am-3pm at Qwest Field (800 Occidental Ave S, Seattle, WA 98134).

This free event is offered by United Way and will provide many resources all in one place, including health and dental checks, public benefits, legal assistance, services for veterans and other community resources. There will be information there about Solid Ground programs, including Tenant Services for individuals who want to know more about their rights as tenants and/or need help with housing search, and other information about renting. Also, staff from our Community Voice Mail program will be present to sign people up for free voice mailboxes.

Community Exchange flyer in English

Community Exchange flyer in Spanish

Tenant Tip: Renting a home in foreclosure

In King County, 1,429 homes received a foreclosure notice in February, 2011 alone. According to RealtyTrac.com, Washington homes that received a notice of default, foreclosure filing, auction or a bank repossession notice reached 4,385 in February. For tenants who are renting a home that receives any of these notices, it can be a difficult surprise to navigate through. More often than not, tenants have no idea that their landlord may not be paying their mortgage until they see a note posted on the front door.

Foreclosure is a complex problem and it can have many variables depending on what stage of foreclosure the owner is in, the financial obligations, bank procedures and market trends. During this difficult process, tenants who rent homes in foreclosure may find themselves confused about whom to pay rent to and how quickly they may need to move out. While this tip may provide some basic information and resources for renters in foreclosed homes, tenants who are in this situation may want to consult with an attorney — especially since each foreclosure case can vary depending not only on the owner and the bank, but also on the type of rental agreement a tenant has with their landlord, and their obligations under that agreement.

In response to the ongoing housing crisis, Congress passed the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act in 2009. Under this federal law, the new owner who purchases a home at a foreclosure sale is required to provide tenants renting the foreclosed home with a 90-day notice to move out if the new owner intends to move in to the home. If a tenant is on a lease, the new owner can choose to honor the lease or provide the 90-day notice if they want to move in themselves. If a tenant is on a month-to-month rental agreement, they are still entitled to the 90-day notice.

In addition there is a Washington State law that requires the foreclosing party, such as the bank or trustee that is foreclosing on the home, to send a notice to tenants notifying them that the home they are renting may be sold within 90 days. This notice will also include a reference to another section of the state law that says the new owner has to provide renters a 60-day notice after the sale has been made. To repeat, under the state law, a tenant would receive a 90-day notice before the sale and a 60-day notice after the date of the sale. Under the federal law, the new owner would be required to also provide a 90-day notice after the sale in addition to state law requirements.

If the home you are renting is in foreclosure, you may want to contact the county auditor for the county in which you live. King County residents can search their property on the King County tax assessor webpage to find out information about who owns the property. Tenants may want to recheck this information frequently to make sure that they are paying rent to the right person, especially in situations where a tenant may not have received proper notification about the foreclosure or proper move out notices. Tenants can ask the new owner for a copy of the Trustee’s Deed. To verify the legitimacy of the deed, tenants can access their local county auditor. Information for auditors by county in WA may be found at the Washington Land Records and Deeds Directory.

If you are concerned that your current landlord may be being foreclosed upon, and you have questions about rent payment, one thing to keep in mind is that until your current landlord is no longer the owner of the property, you continue to pay rent to them. While it may seem frustrating that you pay rent to someone who may not be paying their mortgage, that sense of unfairness does not mean that your obligations as a tenant change, and it does not change your duty as a tenant to pay rent.

Tenants who are renting a home in foreclosure should contact an attorney for legal advice and to address questions regarding rent payment as well as any concerns they may have about how the laws apply in their case and how to proceed. For a list of free legal referrals, you can access the Legal Assistance Guide on our Tenant Services website.

This Columbia Legal Services Washington LawHelp webpage is a useful resource for tenants who are renting a foreclosed property and have questions about rent payment, how their deposit is transferred, how to address repairs and how these laws may apply to their particular situation. Tenants who have questions about their rights and need information and referrals may call the tenant services hotline at 206.694.6767 M, W and Th from 10:30am-4:30pm to speak with a tenant counselor.

The information contained in this tip or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel.

Tenant Tip: Dealing with mold

Condensation on a window

Condensation can lead to mold

According the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air is two-to-five times more polluted than outdoor air. We spend 90% of our time indoors where we breathe in many harmful particles, including
mold. As the rainy season continues in the Northwest, moisture accumulation supports mold growth.

Molds are very common outdoors and, to some extent, mold spores are unavoidable indoors, as they spread easily. Mold can cause severe damage to the structure of a building. Rental units, especially those with structural damage that trap moisture and enable mold growth, may become substandard living conditions.

Bringing up mold issues with your landlord
Oftentimes when tenants raise the issue of mold, they are concerned that their landlord will hold them responsible for creating excess moisture and causing mold to accumulate. For instance the landlord may allege that the tenant has not run the bathroom fan, or not turned the heat on in their unit. However, mold caused by structural damages such as leaks and other moisture issues can be addressed in the form of a repair request to the landlord.

The Residential Landlord-Tenant Act mentions mold in RCW 59.18.060. The law requires landlords to provide tenants information at the beginning of the tenancy with the most current information the Department of Health has about the health risks associated with mold. This information can be handed to a tenant or posted in common areas.

As many tenants know, having the information does not directly address the issue of mold, especially in serious repair situations where mold growth is a result of flooding, leaks, or other repair issues that are causing moisture problems in a unit.

By sending a repair request in writing (certified or regular mail; keep a copy for your records), a tenant can notify the landlord promptly about the mold issue. In time-sensitive situations where severe moisture persists in the unit – due to flooding  for example – a tenant may need to first call the landlord to notify them as quickly as possible and also send the notification in writing. RCW 59.18.070 describes the timeline requirements for the landlord to begin repairs. The EPA recommends that flood cleanup begin within 24-48 hours. Mold needs a moisture source to grow; therefore, if cleanup isn’t handled promptly or the area has not been completely dried, mold will continue to grow and can cause structural damage.

Tenants can send a repair request in writing about other repair issues such as: plumbing and leaky pipes, bathroom fan not working properly, drafty windows, gutter problems, water in basement, and other moisture problems that can encourage mold growth if not addressed. Substandard housing may have other moisture sources such as water seeping in rather than sloping away from the house, which can be an issue with the foundation of the building.

Tenants who live in basement units face additional challenges with persistent mold. Basement floors are most often concrete, which is very porous – and basements also tend to be much cooler – hence moisture collects and is very difficult to control. If repairs are not addressed, tenants can take pictures of the mold to document it. When you take the photo, hold a current newspaper up in the picture to show the date the photos were taken. This documentation can be helpful when moving out – especially if the landlord is withholding the tenant’s deposit or trying to charge the tenant for damages due to mold.

Mold can cause many health issues, especially for those who are sensitive to it or have respiratory problems such as asthma. Health effects can be so severe as to require hospitalization, missed days of work and other severe complications. Tenants can consult with an attorney to address cost and health damages they may have accrued. Contact the Tenant Services Hotline (206.694.67667) and refer to our website for more information on repairs and other topics related to your tenancy, as well as referrals to legal aid services and other community resources. Tenants may want to contact their local Department of Public Health for further information about the health risks of mold.

Moisture control 
Tenants can decrease the relative humidity inside their homes and maintain it between 30-60% by ventilating and heating. Seattle residents can contact the American Lung Association for a FREE indoor air quality assessment in order to address issues such as mold and other indoor air pollutants. For those outside the city limits, this service may still be accessible through volunteer services.

For tenants who have concerns about black mold or are planning to have an indoor air/mold test in their homes, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Mold comes in many different shapes and colors.
  • Wear protection, such as gloves and a face mask, when scrubbing mold off with soap and water.
  • Spending money on air tests is up to each individual to decide; however, most mold tests will come out positive as almost every home has some mold spores.

Simply identifying that mold spores exist will not address the underlying problem of the moisture source. The key issue is to eliminate the moisture problem and keep the area dry to further prevent mold. Another common misconception is that it is best to use bleach to clean up mold. This might make the situation worse for those who are already sensitive to pollutants. Bleach will turn mold spores white but it will not eliminate them, and it does not address the real moisture problem. See the American Lung Association’s website for safe alternatives to bleach. Repairing structural damages, eliminating the moisture source, appropriate cleanup and maintaining a dry environment are crucial for a mold-free home.

For information about your rights as a tenant please see our Tenant Services website.

The information contained in this article or linked to on the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel.

Accessing the Tenant Services Hotline at Solid Ground

person on phoneSolid Ground’s Tenant Services Hotline is a free, informational resource designed to help tenants throughout Washington State learn about their rights, familiarize themselves with the Residential Landlord Tenant Act in order to assert their rights as tenants, and maintain stable, permanent housing.

To reach the Tenant Services Hotline please call: 206.694.6767. The hotline is only staffed on: Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10:30am until 4:30pm. If you call during those hours and get our voicemail, please leave us a message and we will return your call in the order it was received within seven business days.

Solid Ground uses interpretation services so that we can respond to folks no matter what language they speak. Spanish-speaking callers can leave a message in Spanish by choosing the Spanish option from the voice prompts. People  who speak languages other than English or Spanish should leave a message (or get an English-speaking friend to leave it) on our English hotline, mentioning the language they speak and a good time to return their call. A tenant counselor will return the call with an interpreter in the preferred language on the line. There is no cost for this service.

During open hotline hours, tenants who have questions can call to address topics such as: eviction, deposits, repair, lockout and all other issues that pertain to a tenancy.

Whenever the hotline is open, we get a large volume of calls. So that we can address everyone’s issues in a timely fashion, we ask that tenants only call once. Repeat calls for the same question/issue will not be returned faster. Calls/messages are returned in the order received. For tenants facing eviction, including those having received a three-day notice to pay-or-vacate or a 10-day notice to comply-or-vacate, please choose the ‘eviction’ option from the voice prompts at the start of the call. Please note that our program does not provide rental assistance.

Please leave a clear and short message with your name, phone number and a brief description of the issue you are calling about. Please repeat your phone number clearly even if you think it will appear on the caller ID. We recognize that for many tenants who are in difficult and time-sensitive situations, it can be difficult to contact many organizations and feel that you are unable to get your issue resolved right away. Please note that we attempt to get back to every tenant who calls our hotline. Return calls can take up to a week, however, we try to return calls within two to three business days. If a tenant counselor leaves a message indicating a direct phone line for a tenant to call, please use this number – but it is unnecessary to call more than once. Once you have spoken with a counselor, it is OK to call them back to clarify your discussion – however due to the high volume of callers, tenants are encouraged to call the hotline with any new issues about their tenancy.

In an effort to make best use of the hotline, here are some points to consider before calling:

What Tenant Services provides:

  • Information to Washington State tenants regarding their tenancy.
  • Referrals to community resources, free legal services, fair housing agencies, code enforcement and other state and local county or city entities.
  • We can mail or email packets of information and resources including sample letters.
  • We have materials in other languages as well.
  • We can answer questions and brainstorm ideas with tenants to help them resolve their housing situation.

We do not provide:

  • Assistance to landlords.
  • Legal advice or other legal services.
  • One-on-one case management or long-term assistance.
  • Rental assistance.
  • We do not read or edit letters or documents for tenants. If a tenant needs these services, we will refer to legal services as these are delicate issues that require the assistance of legal counsel.

While waiting for a counselor to return your call, if you are in need of rental assistance or other resources, you can contact the Community Information Line dialing 2.1.1 or 1.800.621.4636.

Another great resource for tenants throughout Washington State is the Tenants Union. Their hotline hours are: Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 11am to 1pm. Call 206.723.0500. Walk-in services are available Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 2pm to 4pm. For walk-in service, please arrive by 3:30pm. No appointment is necessary and they serve tenants throughout Washington. As always, Solid Ground’s Tenant Services website is a useful tool in familiarizing tenants with their rights and providing information prior to speaking with a counselor.

Tenant Tip: Fair Housing and your tenancy

Under the federal Fair Housing Act and local fair housing laws, housing providers must accommodate the needs of disabled applicants and tenants. A landlord or manager must reasonably adjust rules, procedures or services to give disabled tenants equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit or a common space. Housing providers must also allow disabled tenants to make reasonable modifications to their living unit or common areas at the tenant’s expense, if needed for them to live comfortably and safely in their units.

Housing providers cannot ask applicants or tenants whether they have a disability, ask for details about the condition, or ask to see medical records. If a person requests a reasonable accommodation or modification, a housing provider may ask for proof that the request will address the tenant’s disability needs. Upon request, the tenant should provide a letter from a healthcare practitioner verifying the person has a disability and requires the modification or accommodation. The nature of the disability does not have to be disclosed.

To clarify: “Requesting an accommodation means” that a tenant is requesting a rule change from the landlord due to disability.

Some common accommodations are: Requesting a service animal, having the lease printed in large print, moving to a different unit, allowing a personal care attendant and other requests based on the need of the tenant and the nature of the disability. If you are asking for a modification, it means you are asking to alter the physical state of the property, for example, asking to install handrails in the shower, a wheelchair ramp, or lever door handles and automatic door closers, just to name a few.

How to request a reasonable accommodation/modification from your landlord:

Submit your request to the landlord or property manager in writing and describe the accommodation you are requesting. A landlord may ask for verification of your disability, in which case you can provide a letter from a healthcare provider. Again, both letters do not need to disclose the nature of the disability, just the specifics of what accommodation or modification is needed in your case. The landlord may discuss this with you and may also suggest an alternate route to meet your needs.

You may also submit the request verbally, however submitting it in writing is beneficial so you have a record of the request. While discussing the logistics with the landlord, they may request that the tenant return the premises to their original state when they leave, unless the modifications will not interfere with the next tenant’s use and enjoyment of the premises.

Tenants can contact Solid Ground’s Tenant Services Hotline (206.694.6767; the hotline is answered only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 am – 4 pm)  and ask to receive a packet with information and sample letters on reasonable accommodations/modifications as well as to discuss their specific situation. More information, along with hours of operation, is listed on our website. General information about Fair Housing laws and regulations can be found here, where you’ll also find information about “protected classes,” which can help you understand how Fair Housing laws operate.

You can address questions about requests for reasonable accommodation and modification as well as any concerns you have if you feel you have been discriminated against by contacting one of these Fair Housing agencies to file a complaint or receive more information for your specific situation. If you are not sure which agency to contact, you can call the Tenant Hotline to receive information and referral to the appropriate agency in your area.

Legal disclaimer: The information contained in this post or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel.

Tenant Tip: Accessing legal services

Scales of justice statueAsserting your rights as a tenant often times may require the help of an attorney. Getting legal assistance can be costly, so we have listed legal services that are free of charge, as well as information on how to access these services. Before accessing legal assistance, tenants are encouraged to call Solid Ground’s Tenant Services Hotline first (206.694.6767 on Mon., Wed. & Fri. from 10:30am to 4:30pm) — or visit our Tenant Services website — in order to receive information about their rights as a tenant and attempt to resolve housing matters without the help of an attorney. For issues that may require consultation or the advice of an attorney, tenants who contact our hotline will be referred to legal assistance. Some of these services are listed below:

Neighborhood Legal Clinics—throughout King Co.
These clinics provide half an hour free with an attorney about any legal matter, not just housing issues. However, many attorneys at neighborhood clinics are well-versed in legal issues related to housing, as they receive a high number of tenants accessing their services. To find the nearest clinic location, go to their website.

Half an hour can go by very quickly when getting legal advice, so come prepared with the documents you would like reviewed and be prepared to describe your situation briefly, including the important details and questions you have for the attorneys. There are no income requirements, so any King County resident can access this service. Call 206.267.7070 to schedule an appointment with the closest clinic to you.

Legal Action Center
LAC provides information and legal advice to tenants facing housing issues such as deposit, repair issues, eviction, loss of Section 8 assistance, debt claims and other housing-related matters. This service is available to income-qualified Seattle residents only. You can reach Legal Action Center by calling 206.324.6890 to receive more information about income requirements and appointment availability.

Housing Justice Project
This is a free legal service for tenants facing eviction and other serious housing issues related to eviction. No appointment is required, as this is a walk-in service. Services are available at the King County Courthouse and the Kent Regional Justice Center, Monday through Friday, 8:00am to 10:30am. If you need legal advice about an eviction issue or you have been served with a 3-day notice to pay or vacate as well as an Eviction Summons, you may access this service. Priority is given to tenants right before their scheduled eviction hearings, but tenants are also encouraged to access this service to get legal assistance with responding to the eviction papers and other related legal matters concerning eviction.

Seattle Location:
King County Courthouse
516 3rd Ave W
Seattle, WA 98104

The Seattle location offers additional appointments on Mondays and Thursdays from 4:00pm to 6:00pm.

Kent Location:
Regional Justice Center
401 4th Ave N
Kent, WA 98032

CLEAR—Northwest Justice Project
Provides free, non-criminal legal assistance to WA state residents over the phone — mainly for residents who do not reside in King County and are income-qualified. Call 1.888.201.1014, Monday through Friday, 9:15am to 12:15pm and Tuesday afternoons, 3:30pm to 6:15pm. More info on their website.

Other Legal Services:
Contact your local county bar association to receive information about other free legal services or low-cost attorneys who may be able to provide legal advice.

Washingtonlawhelp.org provides free legal information and self help materials.

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