Tenant/Landlord Lawyer recommendation in Seattle - do I need one?

6 Replies

Hello BP -- I own and manage a property in Maple Valley, WA. It was a foreclosure which was remodeled to be able to rent it. After the work and when the house is first lived-in, first tenants usually find little details or retouches needed that I always address.

First tenant, a contractor and only house occupant, moved-in and installed cameras outside and inside the property. I have no problem with it. The problem is getting to a point that he doesn't like to have workers inside the house. So when there were details/retouches (as expected after a big remodel) he preferred to address them himself, instead of having someone inside the house. I made sure and have it on email, that it was his choice because as a landlord I can take of them. He told me that had a very bad experience with robbery that's why he feels that way, and because all his tools for work. 

When the house needed to be painted. Since it was outside, i thought no problem. Although, workers told me that he was always checking what they were doing and wasn't happy that the outside camera got covered, even though it was for the time to apply the paint and then it was removed.

He reported the fridge was dead and also figured that a smell of sewer gas in the MB is due to a P-trap that was not installed when the sinks were changed. He said that he is out of town, but sometimes comes back at night, so I went to the property to get the fridge swapped, to my surprise it was working!. I could have made the P-trap installation quickly on a Sunday, but he said that didn't want anybody on Sundays. I tried to re-schedule, but couldn't get my guys scheduled on a weekday so told him I'll let him know. I think he doesn't like the guys that do the work for me, because he demanded, that i tell him that whoever that comes to his house needs to be license and bonded because he pays premium rent. He has met the guys that do the work for me, but I guess he wants me to just send him companies to do whatever is needed? 

These guys work in construction/remodeling and have been doing all the house maintenance for many years with no problem. I trust them and the work is done guarantee, no stealing tenants belonging, nothing. I replied that which vendors are chosen and used, depends on what's required/available at the time and at the landlord's discretion. Tenants are happy when you address their issues and have a good maintained property - which i do. I think he just freaks out about people getting in the property, or specially the guys that do the work for me. Anyhow, the P-trap is not an urgent issue so i was waiting on confirmation from the guys to do the work. 

He's rude and has exploding temperament -- all on emails. I have offered to break the contract if he doesn't feel he's happy, but to do it right away (since i wanted to take advantage of summer). He didn't reply. Now, he reported the dishwasher is dead, and that still has the gas smell in the bathroom (from the missing P-trap), so he was going to make arrangements to solve the problem soon and deduct it off his rent. I replied: 

"-For the P trap: I wasn't able to get something scheduled, since you cannot do Sundays. I was waiting on confirmation for Saturday, and didn't want to email you before I got it. I have confirmation for Saturday, September 16th ETA 9am. Thanks for your patient. **Please remember that authorization and approval are required in order for you to hire to do any job at the property, and to be able to deduct it from the rent.**

- For the dishwasher: Provide more details so I can pass on the info to be able to asses the problem. Please keep me posted, if it starts working. I don't want to incur in unnecessary charges again, like what happened with the fridge that it was in fact working. I'll keep you posted." 

This is the replied that i got from the tenant: "You have already broken the lease agreement in many ways according to my attorney!! You need to fix the problems and you need to fix them now!! Otherwise I will fix them and charge you for it! Get it...."

Anyhow, I have scheduled a new dishwasher and the p-trap installation for this Saturday with my guys. Planning on emailing the following: "As noted below, authorization is required for you to hire to do any work at the property and to deduct it from the rent.

The P-trap and a new dishwasher installation are scheduled for Saturday, 9/16 ETA 9am. Let me know if you'd be in town, so I can make arrangements if you are not.

If you don't agree, next steps for contract termination will be discussed immediately. Because of obstruction form your part, in order for us to provide maintenance to the property."

He pays market price rent, and if I were to rent now i could probably rent it a bit higher. Although, I have set expectation and train tenants, this one is just too much trouble that doesn't allow me to do my job. I don't see where/how i broke the contract, so would like to check with a lawyer to know if i need to be prepared. Although, i cannot wait for this tenant to be out of the property, so if i can get him out, i'll do it. His temperament and problem with people getting in the property is the main issue, because he does pay rent on time, every time.

Do I need a lawyer/have a case? If so, need to find one asap, recommendations? Appreciate your input/thoughts. 

Wow!! What an intense situation. I have dealt with tenants like these in the past as an apartment manager. Do you have a lease? When is the lease up? Is the tenant on month to month? I am not sure you need a lawyer at this point, but it might be a good idea....

If I were in this situation, I would immediately require that all repairs/maintenance be done by professionals only, and not by the tenant (hopefully per the lease). Note that, with proper written notice (letter), you can enter the property without his permission to perform repairs (although it is much better to have cooperation). (See RCW 59.18.150)

In terms of the major appliances breaking, there are RCW laws that require landlords to commence 'remedial action' within a specific time period. For refrigerators and other major appliances it is within 72 hours. Remedial action, based on my understanding, does not mean it has to be fixed within the time period, but that arrangements to have it fixed must must be made. (See RCW 59.18.070)

If the tenant is on month to month or does not have a lease, you could give a 20 day (at least 20 days) written notice (prior to the end of the month or point that payment is made) that the tenancy will be terminated. (See RCW 59.18.200). If the tenant is on lease still (which it sounds like he is not?), you could notify him that his tenancy will be ending at the end of the lease. 

Hope this helps a bit! Good luck!

@Heather R. yes, the lease was renewed for a second year, ending in March 2018. I don't know if i can stand having to deal with this kind of tenant til the contract ends. It looks like I have to set even stronger limits so he gets the point, to be able to last til the end of the lease, but because he said "according to my attorney" I want to make sure that when doing so I have a lawyer back-up plan --- just in case. Wondering if I could somehow with this situation be able to terminate the contract early. 

I have made it clear to notify me if repairs are out of his expertise or just doesn't want to deal with them, so I can take care of them. Obviously, the fridge and the dishwasher he notified me since he cannot do anything about it. And, also notified the p-trap, which probably he doesn't want to deal with it. I completely understand, and this relies on the landlord's responsibility too. But the other miscellaneous retouches/details (when first moved-in) he did took care of because he preferred not to have anybody in the house and didn't have his cameras set up yet. He didn't ask for payment or discount on the rent. We set that clear, and he preferred to go that route just so people don't get in the house. I have it on email.

For the refrigerator, I did make arrangements within 2 days and the swap was done as scheduled -- when i found out the fridge was in fact working... For the dishwasher this time, i don't think waiting til this Saturday for a new one should get me in trouble, washing dishes is not an urgent issue. 

I haven't sent my reply email to the tenant yet, wondering if it's right/safe to say that if he doesn't agree (because i don't want him going off to do any work without my authorization, and then deduct it from rent!) that the contract can be terminated.

Hoping that there's a lawyer in the community that can give an opinion/recommendation. And, also if I can get a lawyer recommendation. It'll be helpful and greatly appreciated, since i don't want to delay my reply to the tenant. 

Johanna, I'm a PM and deal with difficult tenants. It sounds like you have a tenant you'd like to get rid of. If so ultimately it will come down to what your lease says. If there is anything the tenant has done to violate the terms of the written lease issue the appropriate notice as a 10 day the. If that issue is not resolved you or your attorney can begin eviction proceedings. Is this particular property within Seattle city limits?

@Josh Auxier   We have a contract, and don't see how I broke it, as he states it. He has shown this kind of behavior before (not at the beginning of course, always so proper) but I've always stick to the facts and highlighted the contract when needed. 

But at this point, yes. I'd rather have him out unless he gets the message and complies on how I need to manage the property. So looking to check with a lawyer, and see if I can take the opportunity to have him out. Or even if I have a case. 

The property is in Maple Valley, so no the situation of all the new rules that are been imposed for Seattle now. Do you have an attorney recommendation?