You’ve found a place to live and the property owner is ready to sign you up. You get the lease and think, what are you getting yourself into? What is all this legal talk and fine print? How do you know if what’s in the lease is even legal? While renting your own place is a serious responsibility, you are not without protection. Most tenants in Washington State are protected (and regulated) by the Landlord-Tenant Act.
A rental agreement between the property owner and tenant sets down the terms which will be followed while the tenant lives in the rental unit. It’s important to do a “walk through” of the unit with your property owner to determine any pre-existing damage or wear and tear. This insures you won’t be charged for damage caused by previous occupants. If they don’t offer to do a walk through you have a right to ask – many students agree it’s critical to avoid unnecessary charges.
Some property owners will work through a property management company, which will do all the communicating with you. For the purposes of this website, we will use the term “property owner” to mean landlord or property management employees.
Types of Rental Arrangements
There are two common types of rental arrangements—a lease and a month-to-month agreement.
A lease requires the tenant to stay for a specific amount of time—usually one year—and restricts the property owner’s ability to change the terms of the rental agreement. It also sets the guidelines for your responsibility as a tenant. A lease must be in writing to be valid. The prime advantage of a lease for you, the tenant, is that, during the term of the lease, changes like raising the rent cannot be made unless both property owner and tenant agree. If not explicitly stated in the lease, tenancy is terminated on final date of term. At this time you can move out, sign another year lease, or switch to a month-to-month agreement, with the property manager’s approval.
A month-to-month agreement is for an indefinite period of time, with rent usually payable on a monthly basis. The agreement itself can be in writing or verbal, but if any type of fee or refundable deposit is being paid, the agreement must be in writing. A month-to-month agreement continues until either the property owner or tenant gives proper notice to end it—20 days before the end of the rental period. Be aware that a month-to-month agreement allows for changes like raising the rent to be made at any time, provided the property owner gives the tenant 30 days proper written notice.
Most property owners are not out to take advantage of their tenants. However, they may inadvertently include illegal provisions in their leases out of ignorance of the law. So even if you like a property owner and love their rental, make sure you take the time to thoroughly read the lease to ensure that it doesn’t contain any provisions that:
Waive your rights as set forth by the Landlord-Tenant Act
Waive your right to defend yourself in court against a property owner’s accusations
Limits your property owner’s liability in situations where s/he would normally be responsible
Allow your property owner to enter your rental without proper notice
Require you to pay for all damage to your rental, even if you didn’t cause it
Require you to pay your property owner’s attorney’s fees under any circumstances if a dispute goes to court
Allow your property owner to seize your property if you fall behind in rent