Below are just a few samples of questions often asked by landlords, and answer are not to be used as legal advice. Seek out the help of a professional consultant or legal counsel whenever possible. Refer to the RCW Landlord Tenant Act, FHA, FCRA, ADA, HUD for guidelines.
Q. Why is there no record in the database when I know there was an arrest or conviction?
Information obtained may be incomplete or inaccurate for several reasons:
Searches based on names and dates of birth are not always accurate. When arrested, some people use alias names and numeric identifiers, such as names, dates of birth, driver license numbers and Social Security numbers. Therefore, criminal history files may contain incorrect names and numeric identifiers.
The only way to positively identify someone to a criminal record is through fingerprint verification. Information on obtaining fingerprint verification can be obtained by contacting the Washington State Patrol, Identification and Criminal History Section.
Chapter 10.97.050(7), Revised Code of Washington (RCW), requires a record of the requestor, subject, date and details of records disseminated and be retained for a period of not less than one year.
Q. What are Crimes Against Persons?
Effective July 24, 2005 the legislature changed the definition of releasable criminal history information. The Section’s response includes convictions of all crimes and pending arrests of crimes against persons as defined in RCW 9.94A.411. Pending arrests are those less than one year old without disposition. An arrest is not a conviction or a finding of guilt.
Q. Do All Sex Offender records come up on all WA criminal searches?
No. Only level 2 and 3 sex offenses come up in the nationwide database. A level 1 sex offense will show up in the Washington JIS if it occurred in this state in the last 7 years, and offenses remain on record up to 15 years. We strongly recommend that you do a nationwide sex offender search. You may come up with multiple same name (alias) name matches. We review each record to identify possible matches.
Q. How long do I need to keep my rent/landlord business records?
Best Answer: Forever.
The prudent landlord maintains files on each of his rental units, documenting the occupants, rent payment records, maintenance performed, the lease agreement, rejected applications and everything else which pertains to this unit over its history. The question invariably arises as to how far back these records must be maintained and when they may safely be destroyed.
The records are kept in the fear of litigation. Without that fear, there would be no reason to keep them. A ledger card would suffice. For this reason, the typical advice is that they may be destroyed at the point of expiration of statutes of limitations on civil and criminal legal actions, typically three to five years, sometimes longer, but not usually. In reality, this is fallacious. Whoever doubts this statement should, at the next cocktail party he attends with a lawyer present, ask the attorney the following question: “What is meant by attorneys ‘pleading around’ the statute of limitations?” The answer may be surprising, but it will certainly be instructive.
Landlord Frequently Asked Questions on Rent:
Q. My tenants are habitually late in paying their rent. Besides issuing a 3-Day Notice to Pay or Vacate, what can I do to get them to pay their rent on time?
I would give them SASE’s (Self-Addressed Stampled Envelopes) which elimates the main cause of late rent payments. You can also take an extra step and put “forever” stamps on the envelopes so they never go out of date.
Q. My tenant habitually pays late and this month only gave me $500 of the $700 rent. What should I do?
It is best to issue a 3-Day Pay or Vacate as soon as the rent is past due. You should also issue a 3-Day Pay or Vacate for the $200 balance.
Q. My tenant decided to move out four month’s before the lease term was completed. They asked to apply the deposit towards the last month’s rent. This was sudden and they didn’t give much notice. What should I do?
I would send a formal notice/letter to the tenant demanding they comply with the terms and serve a 3-Day pay or quit notice as usual (upon not receiving the rent). Most leases have a clause that states that the tenant may not use the security deposit as last month’s rent.
Q. What can I charge for rent and how often can I increase my rent?
Area rents (and the market in general) are constantly in flux. Do your research by looking at what other landlords are charging in your area with the same amenities (look to Craigslist, the Apartment Guide, newspapers, and “For Rent” signs). You can increase or decrease the rent (if month-to-month) with a 30 day notice. Note: Excluding City of Seattle which has a 10% cap on the amount and frequency.
Other Frequently Asked Questions:
Q. What is an “unlawful detainer”?
An eviction. In Washington state, the term unlawful detainer is used for evictions.
Q. I have a tenant that has been in my rental for over four years. The security deposit that they paid back then doesn’t meet the suggested “equivalent” of one month’s rent standard. What should I do to try to collect extra money.
There’s no law that says you have to increase the deposit. If you choose to make the increase, do this at renewal time or if it is on a month-to-month, provide a 30 Day Notice to change terms of tenancy.
Q. A prospective tenant came and filled out a rental application. They told me that their current landlord cannot be used as a reference because they haven’t informed him yet. What should I do?
Assuming they are not looking to move in next week (which would mean that they haven’t given proper notice to their landlord, and who’d want them!), check out their rental information and match the address on county websites. Always, always verify the current and past landlord. Once you have the landlord phone number, ask the “landlord” to just verify the address of the property the tenants are leaving from. You’d be surprised how many “phoney” reference “landlords” don’t even know their friend’s address or how long the tenancy was.
Q. What can I ask my prospective tenants to bring when I arrange a meeting for the first time?
Assuming that they have passed all your questions on the phone and fall under your residence acceptance policies, ask them to bring a copy of their photo ID (WA DL is best), current pay stubs or tax returns, social security card (note exact name on card) and cash or money order for the non-refundable credit/criminal report.
Q. Can I give my tenant a copy of the results of a credit and/or criminal check? After all, they paid for it.
No, you should not provide a copy of the results to your tenant. You are the “end user” of the report. Generally, you inform your tenant that they “passed” or “failed” your criteria. Give them a copy of the Adverse Action Letter (even if you accept them as a tenant). They can obtain a copy of their credit report for free for up to 60 days. Court records can be obtained through the court system (on themselves), WSP or at the DMV.
Q. I’d like to check out the living conditions of my prospective tenant. Can I ask to inspect their current residence?
You can drive by or check out any “public” information available to you on the web. If you want to look inside the residence, many landlords ask to bring the lease or rental agreement by their home or their place of employment.
Q. I don’t allow pets, but I have been approached by a prospective tenant that has a “companion animal”. Do I have to accept the application and change my policy?
A companion and service animal are not “pets”. Does the applicant have a medical release or certificate for the animal? You should refrain from asking any questions regarding their medical condition (listen to their story). There has been some argument that you cannot charge a “pet deposit” for damages. True. You can still charge the regular damage/security deposit. Do not charge pet fees. The SCAOA office has a sample service animal addendum(s) available to its members.
For more information, visit http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/housing/title8.php
Q. I just found out my tenants moved in a “roommate”. What should I do?
If your tenants informed you that the person is living there and you don’t have any restrictions on the number of people occupying the unit, you may elect to accept them as a tenant. Process them as you would any other tenant by having them complete a rental application (and run a credit/court report). If they pass your Resident Acceptance Policy, have them sign a roommate agreement and deposit addendum.
Q. Do I have to provide my tenant with a Lead Base Paint or Mold Moisture information?
Yes, for the most part…. The lead base paint booklets are for residences built on or before 1978. It is a good idea to provide this booklet even if you know the unit was built after this date, as there may have been old paint, or other hazards around. Providing information on Mold & Moisture has been a law since 2005. If you acquired a unit with existing tenants, make sure they have or were provided with the information (is there a signed addedum?). Protect your tenant and your investment!
Q. Can I require my tenant to have renters insurance?
Sure you can, as long you request and require it of all your tenants. It may be difficult to enforce and monitor (be added as additional insured). Renters insurance protects you and your tenant from loss. If you don’t require renters insurance, it is a good idea to make sure your tenants know that their contents and other losses are not covered. Talk to an insurance representative for a handout on renters insurance.