Landlords: A Strong Lease Can Save Money, A Lot of Money!
Landlords need a strong lease. Too often, they figure that out when it’s too late.
The most laid-back person in the world may regret not having a lease when the person renting his or her house, apartment, or office space stops paying the rent, and there’s no way to evict that person without filing a lawsuit. It could take a year to get the renter to vacate the property.
Even a month-to-month verbal agreement won’t protect the landlord when the tenant moves out and leaves behind a pile of belongings. What to do with the stuff? The law says the landlord has to store it, and give the renter a chance to retrieve it. Without a lease, the landlord may not be able to recoup storage costs.
If the renter trashes the place? Without a lease, good luck getting compensated for the damages. The same goes for a property-condition checklist: the renter has to have one in hand to get his or her damage deposit back, but the landlord needs it, as well, to prove the condition of the property at move-in.
One client I represented had renters badly damage a rental house. The repair bill came to $40,000. Since there had been no lease and no walk-through with a checklist establishing the house’s condition at move-in, the landlord faced paying those costs single-handedly. We were fortunate enough to find a neighbor who had been inside the house before it was rented, and that person testified in court that the house had been good condition. Satisfied, the judge ordered the renter to pay the damages. Whew!
All that hassle could have been avoided, though, had the landlord signed a lease agreement and conducted the walk-through with the renter.
State law favors tenants
In Washington State, the Landlord-Tenant Act offers much stronger protections to the tenant than to the landlord. But a lease can circumvent some of the law’s default requirements. For instance, the act stipulates that in a month-to-month arrangement, at least 30 days’ notice must be given before requiring the tenant to vacate to property (or the same period used to calculate rent, which is often a 30 day period). A lease, however, can change those rules if all parties sign. If the landlord wishes, required notice could be shortened to five days, or even three.
With a strong lease, a landlord can order a tenant to vacate the premises if the renter smokes inside the house or apartment, or if it’s discovered that the tenant has pets — if the lease forbids smoking or pets. Without a lease, the landlord has no power to enforce the rules, or any rules at all. The Residential Landlord-Tenant Act governs.
Written contracts aren’t always easy to understand or execute. That’s where a good lawyer can help. If you’re about to rent out property or you have questions about what a lease can do to protect you and your property, call the Quiroga Law Office, PLLC at 509-927-3840. We can help you start, or place, your landlord-tenant experience on solid legal ground.
Resource: Residential Tenant Act RCW 59.18