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Did Not Follow RCW59.18 To The Letter ~ Now What?

Discussion in 'Commercial Landlord & Tenant Issues' started by NeedToKnow, Dec 20, 2005.

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  1. NeedToKnow

    NeedToKnow Law Topic Starter New Member

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    I need a little help, if possible, on how the landlord-tenant laws are actually interpreted when it comes to real life situations where neither party follows the law to the letter.

    On Aug 16, my friend rented an eight bedroom house with the intent of renting a few of the rooms. He has a term lease and is the sole lessee. He is also a resident of the rented house (resident/landlord/lessee). I am acting as authorized agent by oral agreement and I am also a resident. I placed ads to rent a few rooms and asked the owner for a lease. He said get a standard sub-lease off the internet. Well, after some research there really is no such animal. Technically we aren’t really giving room renters leases that are subordinate to the house lease. I did find a suitable room rental agreement (a Residential Room Rental Agreement) but it needed to be customized to our specific house share situation and policies if I was going to use it. I started doing more research on leases, sub-leases and landlord-tenant law but I also started renting out rooms without a written lease. I did give room tenants a written extract of the ‘rent’ portion of the Agreement and a receipt for the first rent payment and for the deposit payment. This was signed by the room tenant and myself.

    One person who took our smallest room told us he was starting a new career in computer sales and service. When he viewed the room he told us he was also looking for a storefront and that he had found one only blocks away from our house. When asked how long he wanted a room for, he said six months. He took a room and signed the rent and deposit receipt on Sept 15, 2005. It was my understanding at the time oral agreements were ok and that the tenant is on a month to month tenancy but then I learned that in WA you must have a written lease if you take a deposit and that this agreement must also be signed. I work ~ this is not my full time job, I was trying to fill two more room then my father died in IL without a will so I have had several things going on that needed my time and attention so I did not give tenants leases when I should have. While I was working on customizing the generic agreement we noticed this tenant (I’ll call them “Ed”) was having people come to the house and he was selling them computers. The house is in a residential neighborhood and is not zoned commercial and the house lease specifically states no businesses even if its a legal home business. Ed also had placed a neon open sign in his window which faces the roadway. At first we thought it was decorative but once more and more computer customers came to the house every week we realized this was not decorative. Two Saturdays in a row I happened to be home and counted 5 groups of people at his room door waiting to buy computers. Aside being against our lease and city ordinances I was pretty sure Ed did not have a business license nor did he have any insurance for this and if any one of those little kids were to fall up the stairs and get hurt Ed would not be able to deal with that.

    When I finished the leases, I gave one all tenants including Ed. Since I was now sure Ed was running a storefront from his room, when I gave him his lease I explained that this was against the house lease, therefore, his lease and asked him the status of finding storefront like he told us when he first came here. I was still working on the “in good faith” program at that time. I figured that selling computers was how he paid rent and I didn’t want to give anyone a 20 day notice right before Thanksgiving or Christmas/New Years so the lease I gave him ended on January 14 ~ four months instead of six. Ed claimed that we said he could work from home which we were in agreement that he could repair computers in his room and if he needed to spill out into the rec room he could. But no one told a he could run a storefront open to public traffic. He got angry and took the lease from me and walked away. On that same day, Nov 16, I gave all tenants their first utility bills.

    After about ten days, Ed was the only one who did not pay their share of the utility bills and I checked with the landlord and Ed never returned the singed lease either. I decided it was best to write up what had transpired to clear up any further misunderstanding about the allowable use of the room and the house and the lease. I thought I was being rather lenient about the whole thing considering what I could have done plus the lease was only two months short of what he said he was looking and it was two months until the lease ended. I did state in my letter that if he was not interested in accepting the term of the lease I would forward amendments to make the Agreement a month to month tenancy. I asked him to return the lease and his decision along with payment of the now past due utilities within 48 hours.

    He did not respond to my request so I wrote another letter asking if he would be signing today or did he want amendments and either way, please be sure to pay utilities today. Again, no response. The landlord told me to make it clear to him that he needed to make a decision now so I sent another notice on Dec 1. On Dec 2, Bob finally replied and tells me, ”Your constant harassment and disrespect of my self and my property will not extort me into signing (or doing) anything.”

    The landlord asked Ed for utility money and the lease and Ed accused the landlord of being a part of some religious cult and the we are all against him because he’s not a part of our cult. He then told the landlord something about people hiding his phone bill, his USP packages and something about someone putting his shoes out in the rain. Although Ed is a 47yo adult, Ed has been acting like a rebellious teenager. We’re trying to hear what he has to say when he actually speaks but we are also trying to stick with the factual issues. No one hid Ed’s phone bill ~ I personally put Ed’s phone bill under his door. And when his second phone bill came marked “open immediately” it was clear that he was not paying that bill either. No one is in a cult and no one is responsible for where the UPS guy put Ed package. No one has a clue what Ed is talking about with the shoe thing either. There are six other adults in this large house ~ one is an attorney, one works 15 hours a day for Microsoft … no one has time to play games with Ed. Ed cannot back any of these things up with any factual data of any kind. Ed has taken the passive-aggressive approach since November but the landlord keeps trying to talk to him anyway.

    I know that a lease is a ‘take it or leave it’ thing so he does not have to take it but on Dec 5th he paid December rent and the landlord accepted the money order but the landlord did not get the signed lease or instead, any agreement to remaining month to month nor did he get any utility money.

    On Dec 6 Landlord asked for the utility money again and Ed said he would pay “tomorrow”. “Tomorrow” came and went but Ed never paid. So On Dec 12, we both served Ed with a 10 day notice to comply or vacate. We asked Ed to pay his due utilities. I also stated in the notice that we took his refusal to sign the term lease as a rejection of said term lease and that staying and paying periodic rent was construed to be a tenancy from month to month. We also gave Ed a notice to terminate tenancy. I gave Ed all the rest of the required paperwork he would not take when I gave him the lease back in Nov and I tried to make it clear that the landlord would not be forced into violating any RCW requirement because the tenant refused to cooperate.

    I don’t really want to go to court ~ I don’t have the nervous system for this kind of thing. I would love forced arbitration ~ Ed pay utilities, Ed leave on x day and we all live happily ever after. Ed seems to feel justified in his actions although we can never get any kind of straight answer as to why. I do know in Seattle, you must have your rent and utilities paid before you seek (word?) uh making your landlord do something. However, if we file an unlawful detainer action it is my understanding (so far) part of the eviction process is a ‘show cause’ hearing. Can he bring up anything of this mess or will he have to stick to the ten day notice to comply issues (paying utilities, tenancy from month to month and leasing process has been completed)?

    Ed claims he was a certified paralegal for ten years but Ed, who threatened to change the door locks (criminal charges in Seattle), is not very good about due diligence before he takes an action so we’re not sure what Ed will do when we file an unlawful detainer action. Since all four parties (owner, landlord, agent, tenant) did not exactly following the law to the letter, what happens in such a case when we go to court? Is it specific point by specific point or do they sort of deal with the whole mess at once so we can just get it settled? Unfortunately I make about $100 a week right now so hiring an attorney cannot be my first course of action. Thanks for any help you can lend.
     
  2. Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler Administrator Staff Member

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    Sorry to hear about your problem. I think part of your understanding of the law here might be mistaken. Legally (and logically), a sublessee's lease is absolutely subordinate to the lease between lessor and lessee. If the landlord only gives you rights 1-10, how can you grant those plus additional rights that even you don't have? You can't. Thus your sublessee/subtenant's lease is subordinate.

    But that's a minor detail. The problem here is that you want the law to do something when you didn't adequately protect yourself. The reason why many rental agents and landlords require the first and last month's rent be paid and a security deposit (or some variation of the former) be paid up front is because of situations like this. Nobody wants to be out money should you have an irrational deadbeat like Ed and need to remove him. Thus you can use the deposit and potentially last month's rent to cover the outstanding rent, utilities and legal costs.

    Just because Ed was a paralegal doesn't mean he knows anything about landlord-tenant law. My review of procedure in Washington state in general looks similar to other states. The 10 day notice is a requirement before you move to a hearing on the matter whereafter you can get an order for eviction. Ed can say whatever he wants during the show cause but most judges aren't going to listen to those jabberings. They have heard it all and have much more important cases to deal with than someone who feels that they don't have to pay rent because they don't want to.

    Even more challenging about not having a written lease is the question of damages you can collect with just an oral lease. I would ask for attorneys fees, legal costs and general costs and expenses regardless, if it gets that far.

    Good luck to you. In the future, I don't doubt you'll want the money in advance before you allow anyone to move in... LEt us know how it all turns out...
     
  3. NeedToKnow

    NeedToKnow Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Thank You ~ Can You Please Clarify The Following Points

    Thank you so much for your reply. I have a few more questions please, as I’m obviously not understanding a number of critical points.

    I’m only familiar with subleases from having worked for a couple real estate syndication firms that did triple net lease deals. In commercial leasing, subleases were written specifically to be subordinate to the original lease. In the room rental of the rented house situation, I’m not granting additional rights but I do have to prohibit room lessee certain rights of the house lessee. There are conditions in the house lease that are not applicable or would not work for the room lessee as it would for the house lessee. The house lease has conditions such as “tenant shall establish utility services ….” Landlord/lessee had already established services and this is not applicable to room tenants. However, for the room lessee, “utilities are not included in rent and room tenant must pay a per capita proportion, pro-rata” is applicable. Original lease allows for sub-leasing, room tenants lease prohibit subleasing. A room tenants lease subordinate to the house lease would have one conflicting condition after another and be problematic or is this situation “understood” as an industry standard of subleasing? I’m confused, as the room lessee rights and obligations cannot simply be ‘stacked on’ to the house lessee’s. And the room tenants do not even see a copy of the house lease so how can they agree to it?

    As for Ed’s case specifically, Ed did pay one month’s rent as a security for performance, restoration and damage deposit prior to moving in the room. Ed and I did sign a receipt for this deposit at the time the deposit was collected. Ed did not sign a move-in checklist prior to move-in as required by RCW59.18 but received it after move-in but did not sign it. Ed did receive a term lease in writing but subsequent to move-in. Ed refused to sign this lease yet paid rent subsequent to receiving the written term lease. The ad for room Ed replied to even describes the utility split. The utility condition of the written lease Ed received states that utilities are not included with rent.

    I completely understand that no one would be interested in Ed’s tactics of distraction in regards to the ten day notice to comply for not paying his share of the utility bills. I would feel better prepared if I knew the possible extent of what Ed can bring up (excluding accusations of non-sense) in regard to the leasing process that would be seriously considered. If Ed does submit an Answer, Affirmative Defenses, Set-Offs, is “I didn’t sign a move-in check list prior to moving into the room so I’m not paying my share of the utilities” something that is seriously considered against us or would any Answer have to actually relate to the specific issue ~ the checklist is about taking and returning the deposit and we are asking for a cure to the default of utilities and move out.

    Thank you for any clarity you can bring to these specific points.
     
  4. Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler Administrator Staff Member

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    I don't know the court or the application of the rule. From what I've seen in L-T court, there is little room for scofflaws in both directions. Nobody wants to have their time wasted, definitely not by obnoxious deadbeats. The only checklist requirement I saw was for fire and building safety. Unless it's a hard and fast rule, if Ed has no case the judge will let him have it, at least from what I've seen in NY and NJ L&T courts. Good luck and let us know what happens!!!
     

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