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Friday, February 1, 2013

Is My Landlord Being Honest Here?

Posted by on Fri, Feb 1, 2013 at 12:37 PM

In this week's paper, I write about my landlord dramatically jacking up rents, beginning major renovations, and essentially forcing out tenants (who can't stand the construction or afford rents up to 92 percent higher). When I was conducting interviews, I wondered if these circumstances trigger the city's Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance (TRAO), which requires landlords to provide benefits for renters being displaced by demolitions, tenants of residential buildings transformed for commercial use, people who live in buildings with property alterations so substantial that they displace the tenant for more than 72 hours, and other circumstances. (More info on the law is here.) Should our landlord be offering benefits prescribed by the TRAO to help tenants relocate?

When I asked Pacific Living Property's Washington regional manager, Jason Alldredge—who oversees the Prince of Wales building—why he did not pursue a Tenant Relocation License, he said it was because "the city does not declare Prince a low-income housing." I could have done more research on his claim, but it turns out my weekend got turned upside down. Upon revisiting this issue, I believe Alldredge misstated the situation. Despite what he told me, there is nothing in the TRAO that requires a building to qualify as low-income housing. That's a misleading argument. From my understanding, TRAO applies to income-qualifying tenants: single-person households making $30,350 or less per year. So even if the property is not low-income housing, per se, there are plenty of tenants who have low incomes that may qualify. Still, that doesn't necessarily mean that the Prince tenants qualify for the relocation assistance (the building is not being entirely demolished and, technically, renters can stay in the construction zones), but the City of Seattle's Housing Ordinance Supervisor Jim Metz says either way, "It'd be the right thing to do."

Because realistically, the Prince of Wales tenants are being relocated and the inconveniences are stunning. For instance, last night when I got home from work, all of the electric outlets had been cut to my unit. I couldn't use my microwave or charge my cell phone, and even my fridge had been cut from power. So all my food, including a ham, got warm and needed to be thrown out. My modem won't run so I have no internet access—I had to go to out and find wifi to write this. And lately, I really don't feel like going out. I notified PLP of the problem yesterday evening and they did not fix it until today, though last night my interim apartment manager responded and was unable to provide help. If these aren't the sort of renovation inconveniences that push out tenants, I don't know what are.

A problem for tenants is when landlords suggest that tenants have no rights to relocation assistance or legal recourse. And, of course, by the time tenants move out, it's too late. (I emailed Alldredge with follow-up questions and have not yet received a response.)


Comments (58) RSS

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Does this mean your landlords- who are collecting full rent for this delightful experience - owe you a ham, and maybe the cost of a coffee at the Starbucks you repaired to in search of WiFi?
Posted by Warren Terra on February 1, 2013 at 12:51 PM · Report this
STMFA - sue the motherfucker already. The tenants deserve compensation for being forced out or living in conditions like that. These companies will do anything they can get away with.
Posted by deign_to_say on February 1, 2013 at 12:57 PM · Report this
i am so glad you are tackling this.
Posted by Adrian Ryan on February 1, 2013 at 1:04 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 4
Basically, Eastern Washington hates Seattle.

But good on you for following up.
Posted by Will in Seattle on February 1, 2013 at 1:08 PM · Report this
loganlorelai 5
Document everything that's happened in your place, demand compensation and threaten to sue if nothing is done. So sorry you have to go through all of this, but thank you for bringing this to our attention.
Posted by loganlorelai on February 1, 2013 at 1:09 PM · Report this
Soupytwist 6
@4 - You're insufferable.
Posted by Soupytwist on February 1, 2013 at 1:16 PM · Report this
Using SLOG for personal vendettas doesn't help the Stranger come of as a legitimate paper
Posted by amsellie on February 1, 2013 at 1:17 PM · Report this
Let me add my voices to the chorus of "sue the fuckers".
Posted by Ancient Sumerian on February 1, 2013 at 1:19 PM · Report this
There weren't comments enabled on your original piece, so I want to type here that it brought back a lot of fond memories of my time spent at the Prince of Wales- despite the sad context. Some of the people you quoted were still there then and were people who I enjoyed interacting with on a daily basis. It was no shock that Katherine was by far the most quoted in the piece. She's a quotable lady (and she has a lot to say.) Back then (it wasn't so long ago), my rent was $560 for a studio and that included a fancy-pants Thanksgiving dinner and occasional gifts left on my door (coats, kaleidoscopes, that sort of thing). The place was something of a community center, from what I recall. Both for the crack fans who'd make use of its cavernous stoop and the community clean-up organization (MADCAP) that would give free coffee in exchange for some litter removal (they even provided extendo-claws for non-back-straining conveniece!) once a month. The place seemed too good to be true, so I left before what seemed to be an impending hike hit. I'll have lots of pleasant memories. I'm sad those folk will be disbursed. Thanks for your reporting.
Posted by Donkey Face on February 1, 2013 at 1:24 PM · Report this
I wish I had some advice to offer, but I live in another state. However, I agree with @5 that you should document everything, date and time, keep notes of any phone conversations,etc. You definitely need to pursue this. Owning a property with tenants isn't like owning a corner store. You have rights, you just need to know what they are and sue the bastards if they don't make it right for you. Sounds like they are purposefully trying to make life miserable for all the tenants to get you out. Fuck them. Turn the tables on 'em. Power of the press!
Posted by Bugnroolet on February 1, 2013 at 1:26 PM · Report this
Oh, and no, your landlord is not being honest.
Posted by Bugnroolet on February 1, 2013 at 1:28 PM · Report this
chinaski 12
Cut your losses and get the fuck out of there. Even if you can find legal rep pro bono or contingency you need to face the fact that your enjoyment of that building is over.
Posted by chinaski on February 1, 2013 at 1:28 PM · Report this
douchus 13
#7 - It doesn't hurt either. SLOG is not the paper. The paper is not SLOG. EATADIK.
Posted by douchus on February 1, 2013 at 1:29 PM · Report this
I found the Tenants Union very helpful when I had landlord problems ( I highly recommend them.
Posted by thatmathchick on February 1, 2013 at 1:31 PM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 15
I sued my landlord for doing this. Not in Washington, though. And I not only won, I got his lawyer thrown out of court! Fight the fucker. And don't trust anyone. Another tenant had asked me to please help him because he was disabled and couldn't afford to move. I promised I'd do everything I could. Turned out, he was a paid spy for the landlord. But I got my revenge on him, too. He showed up at a big party I was at and I announced to everyone there what he had done. He slinked out, totally humiliated.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on February 1, 2013 at 1:37 PM · Report this
meanie 16
How dare someone do what they want to with their property! They should be legal experts at accommodating people at every income level.

Time to put your adult pants on and realize that the cheap below market rent train has come to a halt.

Even if you kept wasting every ones time with a dubious legal option the rents are still going up, and your still moving out.
Posted by meanie on February 1, 2013 at 1:39 PM · Report this

The exact same argument could be used against the Blethen Family vis-a-vis The Seattle Times.
Posted by COMTE on February 1, 2013 at 1:41 PM · Report this
merry 18
@ 7 - Right, because no one else in Seattle will EVER go through this, or HAS gone through this, or has ANY legal advice or perspectives to offer. No one reading this post could POSSIBLY learn anything they could apply to their own situations. This is just Marti nattering on about her very personal life, almost akin to yakking about her sandwich or musical preferences.

Posted by merry on February 1, 2013 at 1:44 PM · Report this
merry 19
@ 16 -


Posted by merry on February 1, 2013 at 1:46 PM · Report this
edie murphy beverly hills have eyes cleary 20
lol, you're getting bad advice in here, except from @16. put on your big girl pants, realize that we've all experienced shit that sucked, and go back outside and take the next step forward.
Posted by edie murphy beverly hills have eyes cleary on February 1, 2013 at 1:47 PM · Report this
@16 Owners have certain legal responsibilities to provide properly habitable apartments and stuff like prolonged and total disruptions of electricity and water means the landlord is not fulfilling their end of the bargain. This applies even to people they are trying to force out with rent increases.

Is that so hard to understand?
Posted by Actionsquid on February 1, 2013 at 1:47 PM · Report this

How dare people who are paying for someone else's property think they have any rights at all. They should be legal experts in knowing all the nuances of property law and landlord-tenant relations, otherwise, they get what they deserve, right?

FOADA, shithead.

And learn to use proper spelling...
Posted by COMTE on February 1, 2013 at 1:49 PM · Report this
echoing @14 - the Tenants Union should have been your first call. they rock.

At the very least, getting your power cut while you are still a tenant in good standing is not ok and you should be compensated for any losses.
Posted by genevieve on February 1, 2013 at 1:51 PM · Report this
blip 24
@16, The owners of a rental property should absolutely understand the law regarding rental property ownership and the obligations it entails (or at least have access to legal professionals who do) but obviously they are not going to shell out money to relocate people if they can avoid it. They're not going to fulfill their end of the bargain unless someone holds them to it.

Hopefully the occupants are able to get together and find legal representation, although from the original piece sounds like Washington State law is not very favorable to tenants' rights.
Posted by blip on February 1, 2013 at 1:54 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 25

What is she supposed to sue them for? I take it you have no concept of what little protections tenants have in Washington state.

Here are her options: Put up with nonexistent maintenance for eleven days, pay to fix the problem herself, take the cost out of next month's rent (and risk the landlord evicting her for not paying her full rent and then taking them to court after she's become homeless); Break her lease by moving out and sue the landlord later for her security deposit.

Those are her options in Washington state. Period. There is no government agency, no court enforcement available to force her landlord to abide by their legal obligations to her. Her only option is to "punish" them by moving out.

I live in a market rate apartment, and *I* have a slumlord managing my building. I also have zero options other than eating several hundred dollars in relocation expenses, wasting my time taking my landlord to court to get my security deposit back, and moving into another rental managed by another slimeball management company, because halfway decent landlords are few and far between in this city, because the state and city do exactly fuckall about slumlords.
Posted by keshmeshi on February 1, 2013 at 2:02 PM · Report this
ArtBasketSara 26
Being an "adult" means standing up for your self; educating your self about the law and your rights within it... and not just passively accepting shitty situations. Right? Right. Good for you Marti.
Posted by ArtBasketSara on February 1, 2013 at 2:07 PM · Report this
meanie 27
@19 your retarded

@22 Leases work both ways, if your month to month you have the freedom to move at the end of each thirty day period, but your landlord also has the option to make changes to the arrangement every *60* days. Which is a bit unfair to the landlord, but its the law.

OP is shocked and dismayed that her landlord is using their option under the law to change the arrangement, and implying that if they could get or leverage special class status ( low income ) they would have the right to sue for damages because its all terribly inconvenient.

The first story made it clear that this was your classic run down rental in a bad part of town that people flocked to for cheap rent. Except in the last couple of years the neighborhood has cleaned up and someone bought the building.

Anyone who cared about their own future would have taken that as time to get a new deposit, a lease, or a plan for rent increases, because you know shit like repairs and buying buildings cost money. ( just like property tax )

The tone of this article went the polar opposite into self entitled whiner mode. Its time to accept that this is one of those cases where renting doesn't work out, Yeah its great you don't have to maintain the property and can call someone when your sink backs up, but you also have zero control about what the owners want to do long term.

While villianizing the owners and talking lawsuits, is fun, its not productive, change is inevitable, and even with a lawsuit the only thing you might get is some more time to move out.

Party is over kids.
Posted by meanie on February 1, 2013 at 2:17 PM · Report this
chinaski 28
@26 and in this case after educating herself the OP will realize the sooner she moves out the better.
Posted by chinaski on February 1, 2013 at 2:25 PM · Report this
merry 29
@ 27 -

Posted by merry on February 1, 2013 at 2:27 PM · Report this
meanie 30
@29 obvious joke is obvious…
Posted by meanie on February 1, 2013 at 2:28 PM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 31
WAIT, some one here is not reading her mail, or the landlord is doing something VERY illegal. A landlord can not just cut off your water or electricity because of remodeling with out giving you notice in advance. Did you not get that notice or did you not read it? If they did not post it in the Lobby or some other public place in the building you might call them on that and send them an invoice for the ruined food. If the notice was posted that power would be turned off between such and such a time, then you did not do your part.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on February 1, 2013 at 2:31 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 32

Then explain this:

if your month to month
Posted by keshmeshi on February 1, 2013 at 2:35 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 33

The law says that the landlord can turn off power to make repairs. I see nothing about a required notice.
Posted by keshmeshi on February 1, 2013 at 2:41 PM · Report this
Madskillz80 34
I lived in an apartment building that was crap and all I can say is, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. My building had signs put up with a 30 day water shut-off notice so I called the city and found out that the bill hadn't been paid in 6 months. Starting that day, I called the property management company EVERY DAY and the city EVERY DAY to see if it had been paid. Three days of me being obnoxious got it fixed. I appreciate what you're doing and I think it will empower others to investigate and fight for their rights as tenants. Also, like #31 said, if they didn't give you advance warning about the power outtage, you deserve compensation.
Posted by Madskillz80 on February 1, 2013 at 2:42 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 35
Reading these comments, it seems like Seattlites are woefully misinformed about their rights as tenants. Here's a good rule of thumb: if your landlord is doing something shitty, there's about a 90 percent chance that it's perfectly legal. In the rare event that it's actually illegal, there's exactly nothing you can do about it except break your lease and sue to get your deposit back.

You're welcome.
Posted by keshmeshi on February 1, 2013 at 2:43 PM · Report this
@13: Uh, the story ran in the newspaper. But thanks for your insight.
Posted by bigyaz on February 1, 2013 at 2:53 PM · Report this
McGee 37
@7, 16, and 20; FUCK YOU!
Posted by McGee on February 1, 2013 at 3:09 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 38
Also, like #31 said, if they didn't give you advance warning about the power outtage, you deserve compensation.

In all seriousness, if this is true, could someone provide me with a link to the specific law? My landlord pulls this shit in all their buildings on a regular basis, and it would be nice to have legal recourse the next time they do it to me.

I don't, however, have much hope, because, as I noted in #35, you guys seem to be operating under the incorrect belief that the law protects renters.
Posted by keshmeshi on February 1, 2013 at 3:10 PM · Report this
If what he's doing is legal, then yes, it is honest. Better start applying for that second job and/or some roommates if you want to stay on the hill.
Posted by treehugger on February 1, 2013 at 3:13 PM · Report this
The law also says this: "When responsible for heating rental units, maintain daytime (7:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.) temperatures at no less than 68 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime temperatures at no less than 58 degrees Fahrenheit from September through June.”
Posted by lisalouh on February 1, 2013 at 3:50 PM · Report this
Jesus, the Stranger has promoted another bleater. (For 'surviving' a 'massacre' no less).

Posted by Stranger'sWorstNightmare on February 1, 2013 at 4:23 PM · Report this
merry 42
Yo, mods - is the "Nightmare" bannable yet?

Posted by merry on February 1, 2013 at 4:55 PM · Report this
Can I just say how sad it feels that a paper staffed with smart people for decades that caters to a demographic heavy on renters (and artsy people and nonprofit workers and writers among them who especially need solid cheap rentals) hasn't amassed any sort of institutional expertise on this that Marti can turn to? That readers can turn to?

I mean, it's nice that the pool of knowledge is deep in a way that lets each new e-reader get properly evaluated within the spectrum of those devices, but.
Posted by gloomy gus on February 1, 2013 at 5:17 PM · Report this
gloomy gus, the renters at Prince of Whales have been corresponding with me (I work for Nick Licata and used to work at the TU). the issue of landlords legally avoiding the obligations of TRAO has been a thorn in my side since 1998. There's no easy answer. See here for more:…

basically landlords can excessively raise the rent or do disruptive renovation work to make renters leave "voluntarily" so that they can avoid the requirements of the tenant relocation assistance ordinance (TRAO).

on the excessive rent increase loophole: the legislative fixes we've looked at would runafoul of the state prohibition against rent control. this is the loophole i've seen used most over the years.

on the excessive renovation loophole: "substantial renovation" to trigger TRAO is a vague term and is defined as: "extensive structural repair or extensive remodeling which requires a building, electrical, plumbing or mechanical permit, and which cannot be done with the tenant in occupancy." the use of excessive renovation to push renters out is, to me, a relatively new TRAO-avoidance strategy. there may be a way to tighten this language up legislatively. but doing so wouldn't help these tenants now, but could possibly help others in the future.
Posted by lisalouh on February 1, 2013 at 6:47 PM · Report this
Add me to the list started by @2 and @8! Close the loopholes that have allowed TRAO-avoiders run amok.
Hopefully this will put an end to the destruction of once desirable single-family neighborhoods for developer / landowner greed.
Posted by auntie grizelda on February 1, 2013 at 7:26 PM · Report this
I'm with @42. Ban the fucker.
Posted by StuckInUtah on February 1, 2013 at 7:49 PM · Report this
Amalink 47
My bf (who works for apartment owners in Seattle) says that Seattle law prohibits a rent raise for more than 10% at any given time. He doesn't know how that applies to the renovation issue but ho estate I would look into it. I mean these kind of businesses usually know what they have to do down to the letter of the law. But it just doesn't seem kosher
Posted by Amalink on February 1, 2013 at 10:53 PM · Report this
asteria 48
Attention Seattle renters: There is a lot of information on the DPD's website: Landlord Tenant Information. The "Info for Tenants" and "Housing and Building Maintenance Code" docs are helpful in cases like this. Also the Tenants Union has a lot of helpful information too.

This landlord is not honest, but they are smart enough to not outright violate the Just Cause Eviction & Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinances. If they had, DPD would force them to comply.

Other actions, like allowing your power to be cut for several hours, may be violations of SMC 22.206.180 (Prohibited Acts by Owners). Landlords are allowed to cut utilities for a "reasonable time" for repairs, but it doesn't sound like your power was cut for a reasonable time or for repairs for your unit. You should call DPD about that; according to their website SPD enforces this code.

Even if DPD / SPD can't help you with the power outage, it's a failure of your landlord's duties under both state and city laws. You can always take them to court - small claims court - but you should have documentation to back you up. DPD & the Tenants Union have a lot of info on their websites.

The landlord-tenant relationship is a contract; the landlord has a duty to maintain the dwelling unit according to minimum standards. If they fail to meet these standards, but not to the level of your apartment being dangerous / uninhabitable, first notify your landlord in writing of the violations and negotiate. If you do not come to an agreement, then your recourse is to take them to court.
Posted by asteria on February 1, 2013 at 11:35 PM · Report this
NatL 49
Ditto on all the referrals to the Tenants Union.

It sounds probable that you're facing constructive eviction. Meaning, the landlord is making your residence untenable (ruining your food, cutting utilities). But check with the T.U., they'll be able to point you in the right direction.
Posted by NatL on February 2, 2013 at 7:15 AM · Report this
Amalink, there is no law against any kind of rent increases. There is only a law in seattle that requires greater notice (60 days instead of 30) for rent increases of 10% and greater). State law prohibits any city from enacting any kind of rent control law.
Posted by lisalouh on February 2, 2013 at 9:59 AM · Report this
Poor white girl! She actually thinks anyone gives a shit! Someone hand that fool a list of phone numbers to call!
Posted by Mike McGinn on February 2, 2013 at 10:10 AM · Report this
How much did the rent actually change? On your unit specifically? Because I assume that Stranger writers are Hipsters, and Hipsters hyper-dramatize the most trivial things, I am guessing you are using some fancy mathematics to say that rent has gone up 92%.
Posted by fetish on February 2, 2013 at 2:25 PM · Report this
I'm loving the postings from Licata's lickspittle "lisalouh." As your mayor, at least I have the honesty to laugh in your face and insult you. Licata sends some social worker from his staff over here to hold your hand while telling you that you're shit outta luck. Trust me, poor white girl, he doesn't care one bit more than I don't.
Posted by Mike McGinn on February 2, 2013 at 5:02 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 54

Here's your "fancy" mathematics:

While previous rates for its studios and one-bedroom units ranged from $600 to $900 a month, the new owners are jacking up rents an extra $315 to $670 a month. That's 45 to 90 percent
Posted by keshmeshi on February 2, 2013 at 5:43 PM · Report this
#54, excellent! Anything to keep the hipsters hip! Jack up the rent, keep them on the move and on their toes, the suckers!
Posted by Mike McGinn & Nick Licata on February 2, 2013 at 9:37 PM · Report this
If you take legal advice from your landlord, he is under no obligation to give you anything but his opinion, and guess what that is going to be.

The RLTA is written by landlords, for landlords. Judges are more likely to be landlords than tenants. But that said, there are protections written into the law, and Seattle is pretty tenant-friendly compared to the rest of the State.

First rule is that the landlord is under no obligation to do anything unless or until you tell him in writing what the problem is. That triggers his duty to make repairs. Landlords can't turn off water or electricity for longer than repairs take. If this landlord is making your tenancy so bad that he convinces you it is cheaper and easier to leave rather than put up with his shortcomings then he wins.

Please review RCW 59 18 085, the whole thing. Section 3 was added in 2009, it changes the entire tone of the sub-statute. Seattle *adds* an additional two month's rent to the statutory damages payable to the tenant. There is no low-income requirement in RCW 59 18 085.
Posted by E Powell on February 3, 2013 at 11:07 AM · Report this
I am a landlord but I don't live in Wash. What the landlord pulled with the electric cannot be legal. Yes, you can sue. Chances are that Wash has lawyers who will sue in return for 30 percent of any settlement. I've bought junky property, fixed it up and increased the rent. Not 92 percent thought. More like a 10-33 %. Unlike what some people think I am not sitting there making some huge return on my money. Roofs/plumbing/taxes/AC units/flooring/pest control all cost $$$. Would I sue? No, because 1/you could get countersued and 2/You won't get a lot. I would ask the management company to compensate you for the ham, whatever other food you lost and the starbucks. I would then move out. BTW, IMHO you are better driving around and finding a rental property that is owned and managed by an individual rather than a management co. They will usually work with you on deposits, bad credit etc. I would run a google on them because if they happen to be one of those a*holes who screw people, chances are somebody has written about them on the google. There happens to be one of those guys in my town and he even managed to make his way into the local newspaper for screwing people out of their deposits.
Posted by warren terrah on February 3, 2013 at 4:14 PM · Report this
How long was the power off? A freezer full of frozen food stays cold enough for a looooong time unless it is being opened constantly
Posted by stalin on February 3, 2013 at 6:17 PM · Report this

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