Landlords Screwing Seattle Tenants
August 25, 2006 10:01 PM   Subscribe

Rental Situation Gone To Hell

My landlord is a douche. See below.

My rental situation has taken a very dramatic turn for the worst. An apartment that I was assured was 'A Sure Thing' turned out not to be so and at this point I have until Thursday evening to vacate the house I've lived in for fifteen years now. I called up the landlord to ask him for some kind of an extension due to the difficulties of finding a place not only in Seattle, but anywhere in the area and refered him to an article in the Seattle Post Intelligencer today confirming what I've known in the three months I've been agreesively hunting for a new home. His reaction was this: If I am there on Friday morning he will have all my personal belongings removed to the street. Period. What a fucking god damned prick. I am also going to lose my two cats who have been with me for almost ten years now.

Over the past fifteen years his father, a drunken alcoholic suffering from dementia caused tenants to suffer from his neglect of the house and inflicting not only his unwelcome and unannounced visits upon the household, but also those of his 'boyfriend', someone I can only describe as a harley-davidson biker type who acted and looked like he had fallen off his motorcycle one to many times.

At this point I really don't know what I'm going to do about this, the rentals this weekend on Craigslist look particularly bleak.

So if any of you out there have any ideas of what I can do at this point, any lawyers you can refer to to who might be able to help me with this situation I would very much appreciate it because at this point, without a very great deal of good luck I will be homeless on next Friday.

I will be glad to be rid of this household nonetheless. Over the years the basement tenants have had a successful drug dealing business, apparently with the full knowledge of the landlord's daughter who, according to the dealer, slept with him as an agreement to keep her mouth shut about his illegal business. When the landlord came over last summer to do some construction, I was down in the basement with him and one of his fellow construction workers and encountered the very distinctive smell of pot. His buddy asked him what he was going to do about it. His reaction? Nothing. nothing at all. In addition to that, over the years both he and his son have showed up at the house on a monthly or more frequent basis not giving the 24 hour notice to all tenants that seems to be required by law.

Over the years I've compiled a laundry list of this and other issues with this guy and his father and I would deeply enjoy putting them on the business end of a lawyer who could make life more difficult for them if not shut them down entirely as landlords. Again, anything that any of you could do would be most appreciated.

Just a p.s.

I've always paid my rent on time, I've managed the place for several years, the issue is that I believe this is a punitive and retaliatory action for standing up for my rights as a tenant in Seattle that a 60 day notice of rent increase is required. In response he is putting me out on the street in a very poor rental market.
posted by mk1gti to Law & Government (35 answers total)
First I should say I'm a NYC resident and the situation may be different there than here in many ways, but there's one way I'd be surprised if it were different: it is not legal for a landlord to lock out a tenant and remove any possessions until there has been a court ruling that they can do so.

Find the non-emergency number for your local police station and ask them if your landlord is even allowed to do what he's threatening. See if they can refer you to a landlord-tenant help line. Get on the record if you wish as a harrassed

Keep making your records, documenting everything the landlord says to you. Post it here if that would be helpful. Focus on making your records and your account of things as "proveable" as possible -- record phone calls & conversations if that's legal (again, check the laws in Seattle -- but in some states it is legal to record a conversation if you are one of the parties having the conversation, as opposed to a third-party eavesdropper).

Particularly if you can demonstrate your history of being current on rent, this landlord likely has a long way to go in court before he could legally lock you out or touch your possessions. Good luck and please keep us posted.
posted by allterrainbrain at 10:19 PM on August 25, 2006

From the Attorney General:
The only legal way for a landlord to physically move a tenant out is by going through the courts and the sheriff's office.
posted by oaf at 10:27 PM on August 25, 2006

Have you received a real eviction notice (i.e., suit has been filed in court against you)? Only law enforcement can forcibly remove you; the landlord can't throw out your belongings, and he can't change the locks. (It sounds like you probably know this — but just in case. If the owner does attempt an illegal 'self-help' eviction, forget lawyers, you need to call the cops — I've seen this take place (friends of mine had their locks changed while they were out, with their pets left inside), albeit not in Washington, and the police were much more helpful than I'd have expected; this isn't an 'it's illegal, but your only recourse is to sue after the fact, which will cost more than it's worth' situation.)

That having been said, this situation sucks — I recently had to move and didn't find an apartment until about a week before I had to be out, and ended up taking a miserable shithole with no hot water because I had no other choice. I don't know what to tell you, except that at this time of the month landlords, like you, are (in my experience) a little desperate and not inclined to be picky — don't give up on finding an apartment by the deadline. Good luck.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 10:30 PM on August 25, 2006

Further explanation of my situation follows:
I've managed this place for almost the entire fifteen years that I've lived here. I've tried to involve tenants as equals in seeking common goals regarding upkeep and maintenance on the property, but because the owner is upset about my screening tenants instead of letting in the previous mix of anyone who wanders in and flashes cash I've had to deal with drug addicts, mentally unstable persons, etc. etc.
Over the past five or so years it's been the most stable I've known since I've been here with tenants helping out with housecleaning, etc. But because they are now reverting to a 'slumlord' model of just letting anyone in I informed them that I intended to leave rather than experience more of the above. I fear for my own safety and the safety of my cats. So now this guy is calling me a 'prick' because I reminded him of the 60 day law for rent increases in Seattle and is using his lawyers to get me out by the first, which is Friday. My birthday just happens to be the following Monday. . . Happy Birthday. . .
The bottom line is this: I feel his actions are the definition of 'punitive and retaliatory' and I dearly want to make them pay the full price for their actions not only now, but over the past fifteen years of hell they've put their tenants through.
posted by mk1gti at 10:48 PM on August 25, 2006

In short, it doesn't sound like he has the right to do this, and you need a lawyer of your own, immediately. Perhaps this blogger/lawyer can be of assistance. The blogs also has very useful information on the eviction papers he must serve to you, the notice he must give, etc.

I do suggest you get out of there soon. However, I also suggest that you have rights in this situation that don't involve you being immediately homeless.
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:00 PM on August 25, 2006

Also call these people Monday.
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:03 PM on August 25, 2006

Pursue this matter with a lawyer. Look up your renter's rights according to state and city law. Inform your landlord of any laws that he's violating by evicting you (if any). Throw the book at him and try to get him to stand down.

In case he refuses, line up a Uhaul, a storage place, and some friends to help you move on short notice. If it comes down to it, it'll be better to spend a few nights on a friend's couch than have a confrontation which may turn ugly.

If pissed off enough, he might do some serious damage to your stuff while throwing it out on the lawn. Sure, you might be able to seek legal recourse later (if, in fact, he's breaking the law), but that won't be any consolation when Aunt Millie's priceless lamp is broken.
posted by chrisamiller at 11:09 PM on August 25, 2006

Wait do you have your own place or are you sharing with others? Do you have a lease?
posted by fshgrl at 11:13 PM on August 25, 2006

When I was having landlord problems, I first went to the free legal clinic at the Country Doctor office on Capitol Hill. They were very helpful, and after my allotted time was up they referred me to a lawyer.

What kind of place are you looking for? Neighborhood preference?
posted by lemuria at 11:18 PM on August 25, 2006

Did you give notice that you would leave? If so, in some jurisdictions, you no longer need to be evicted at that point. You must leave or be removed. Just something to consider and double-check before you rely on the necessity of an eviction.
posted by grouse at 11:48 PM on August 25, 2006

You might contact the Tenants Union.
posted by litlnemo at 1:35 AM on August 26, 2006

Worst comes to worst put your stuff in storage and move into a weekly motel until you find a place.
posted by sophist at 1:54 AM on August 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Why are you losing the cats?
posted by thirteenkiller at 5:01 AM on August 26, 2006

I would at the very least be prepared to do what sophist says at a moment's notice. Find someone you know and trust to look after your cats as well, or a kennel or something.

No matter how illegal it is, and how high a chance the cops would really give a damn, if the owner and some of his rougher tenants really want you out they can probably make that happen. Give yourself the option.

Hell, move everything but the bare minimum you need to continue residency AND call the cops just to play it out if they try and evict you improperly.
posted by mikel at 5:19 AM on August 26, 2006

An apartment that I was assured was 'A Sure Thing' turned out not to be so

I informed them that I intended to leave

So... you were moving out, you gave your landlord notice you were moving out, then the apartment you were moving to fell through, so now you want to stay, but the landlord won't let you?

Is that the situation?

None of this emotional stuff about him calling you a prick or his father being a drunk or the other tenants being crazy or your birthday coming up is really all that relevant. I mean, it sounds like it sucks, and I'm sorry for you, but it doesn't affect the legal situation. I hate to say it but it kinda sounds like the landlord would win this one if it made it to court. But IANAL; if I were you I'd take lemuria's advice before you do anything else.
posted by ook at 6:07 AM on August 26, 2006

I'm with ook, it sounds like you had an apartment ready to go elsewhere after letting the landlord know you were leaving. When this fell through, you tried to stay in your current apartment and are being told you can't.

Put your cats up in a kennel, find a friend, find a pet friendly motel, there are multiple options until you can find a place to live. It doesn't sound like you have a legal leg to stand on, so don't count on staying.
posted by Loto at 6:49 AM on August 26, 2006

If the landlord is so terrible, why'd you stay there 15 years? I don't mean to blame the victim here, but it kind of rings hollow when you bring out this litany of complaints you've had over the years, yet you never once took the opportunity to move away before now.

You should try to look at it from his perspective, too. If you gave him notice that you were leaving and the market is as tight as you say it is, he's probably got your place rented already. If that's the case, I don't think it's necessarily fair to characterize him as "a goddamn prick" when your stay could put out his new tenant. Obviously, he's going overboard by threatening to put you out, but he's also acting in his new tenant's best interest to have the place in move-in condition on the date his new tenant will move in.
posted by MegoSteve at 6:56 AM on August 26, 2006

It isn't clear from your post if you gave formal notice that you were leaving or have been legally evicted. But when you do contact legal help or government authorities, leave out all the irrelevant stuff about the neighbors and your history in the building and all that stuff. It clouds the issues, and makes you sound whiny.
posted by LarryC at 7:21 AM on August 26, 2006

i agree with megosteve and ook. despite a lot of flowery language and description, i'm not seeing much legal stuff to go on. if you told him you'd be out by friday, and now you aren't, that's your bad. the rest fo the stuff, the pot dealing/smoking tenants, the biker boyfriend, all don't amount to anything that has to do with your situation. you lived there for 15 years, so it couldn't be that bad.

your real direction of recourse is the 'sure thing' that fell through. if it really was a sure thing, then you wouold have legal recourse there, but i'm guessing that it was probably just a oral agreement. if you have a contract or lease for this 'sure thing', then take that person to court to cover your expenses.

meanwhile, prepare to move. i was in a similar situation a few years ago, and though the rental market where i live wasn't nearly as bad as seattle's, i struggled to find a place before i was evicted. i ended up renting an absolute shithole of a place where i lived for 18 months before finding something more akin to my lifestyle.
posted by lester at 7:21 AM on August 26, 2006

Regarding some of the responses above, I would be losing the cats because I wouldn't be able to put them in a kennel or leave them with friends. Part of the reason for this is I strongly suspect I have Asperger's, which makes my life a fairly solitary one. Putting up the cats would put me in a situation where I would be paying for storage, paying for upkeep on my cats and watching whatever I have saved up and coming in from my low-paying job dwindle away to the point that I would still be just as homeless as when I put the cats in a kennel and put my stuff into storage. So I strongly doubt sleeping on someone's couch is one of my 'available options'.
Regarding my notice to him, I gave that verbally after he gave me written legal notice 60 days ago. I never told him about the 'sure thing'.
The reason I stayed there for 15 years was because I managed the place and the motivating factor was cheap rent and being able to select tenants to make sure it would be a household where everyone got along and co-operated. Over the years the landlord resented this because good shared household tenants don't grow on trees and it would sometimes be necessary to wait at least two months before the right candidate came through the door. All those tenants are gone, now just the bad ones remain. . . They are more like houseplants than potentially dangerous. . . No cleaning, just creating filth and leaving it in place. . .
As far as where I'm looking to live, at this point I would take anything. I live in the Eastlake area and have been looking on Capitol Hill, the U-District, Ballard, and now this weekend all points east, west, north and south, including. . . . Kent, Auburn, Tukwila. . .
posted by mk1gti at 8:08 AM on August 26, 2006

On the subject of cats, contact the Seattle Cat Rescue. They may be able to place your cats with foster care until you find a place -- I don't know for sure, but I would be prepared to drop them off with whatever furry belongings they have so that they will be comfortable until you find a place. Even if placing cats in foster care is not what your local organization primarily does, they may still be able to help you.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:45 AM on August 26, 2006

I managed the place and the motivating factor was cheap rent and being able to select tenants to make sure it would be a household where everyone got along and co-operated.

I am not quite following your living situation here. You rented a house, but other people lived in it like roommates? The use of the word household implies that it was a shared living situation rather than you managing seperate apartment type properties for the landlord. Was this a halfway house or something?

Over the years the landlord resented this because good shared household tenants don't grow on trees and it would sometimes be necessary to wait at least two months before the right candidate came through the door.

So there's a housing crunch in Seattle and you were costing the landlord money by waiting it out to pick a tenant on your opinions.

They are more like houseplants than potentially dangerous. . . No cleaning, just creating filth and leaving it in place. . .

I still don't get why you sound like the RA for a college dorm instead of the super.

Why don't you just look for temp housing on Craigslist? You could probably rent a garage or a basement for a couple of months. Split up storing your things amongst your friends for the time being. The 'sure thing' apartment? You have any documentation or a contract that proves it was going to be rented to you? Why not pursue that instead?
posted by pieoverdone at 8:58 AM on August 26, 2006

It wasn't a halfway house, it was a shared household, but one with, at this time, very dysfunctional housemates who stay home most of the time and, as much as I can tell, just stare at four walls.

Regarding the housing crunch, this is something fairly recent. I haven't screened any new tenants in two to three years now.

Regarding the RA for a college dorm, that's exactly what I felt like.

As for Craigslist, I've been haunting that like a ghost for the past two months now.

Regarding the 'sure thing', the manager's a nice guy, it's just that he has to listen to what his screening agency says. I don't have the best credit and so I think that's what happened. There was no misdeeds on his part.
He said he might be able to work something out with the owner where I could pay first/last and damage deposit and as it turns out that doesn't appear to be the case. I don't really feel any reason to push things with that issue.
posted by mk1gti at 9:42 AM on August 26, 2006

There's nothing at all in the temporary housing or roommates sections that would accept you for a few months until you find a real place? Is this because the rents are too high or they are taken once you contact them? Have you posted a "housing wanted" ad? When I did this, I got a lot of emails. None suited what I needed, but I was being picky, not looking for something temporary.
posted by lemuria at 10:32 AM on August 26, 2006

Some ideas to consider, in adjunct to the other excellent suggestions in this thread:
  • Should you find yourself out on the street (been there, done that) consider giving the cats to the SPCA while you figure things out. You can of course collect them later, and they will charge you a small fee.
  • Life is going to be rough for awhile, but you need to step back and try not to feel each and every blow so much.
  • Don't leave until the sheriff kicks you out. Start making some phone calls. Be a squeeky wheel.
  • I don't suggest getting a motel room - you need to save every last dime. Stay in a hostel, sleep in a hospital waiting room, hit up a friend for a couple of nights, whatever.
I'll include you in my prayers, but I suggest you start saying your own. God bless you.
posted by rinkjustice at 10:32 AM on August 26, 2006

Life is going to be rough for awhile, but you need to step back and try not to feel each and every blow so much.

On second thought, you already sound cool and collected about the situation. Keep it up.
posted by rinkjustice at 10:40 AM on August 26, 2006

Thanks rinkjustice, I appreciate the suggestions from you and everyone else here. Please do keep them coming. At this point I've got some good leads to follow and the more ideas that people come up with the better.

And yes, life has certainly been rough for me, including nearly being on the street a couple of times. Let's hope close to being out on the street doesn't mean actually out on the street.

I'm also going to put up a craigslist ad as well.
posted by mk1gti at 11:07 AM on August 26, 2006

It's possible that the the landlord already has someone to take mk1gti's place on the 1st and that's why he being such a bigger prick about things?

Have you tried looking for housing on thestranger?

My advise, start looking for places that will take the cats temporarily (and take care of them) ASAP so you know they will be safe.

Start looking for somewhere to store your stuff in case you need to move it all out quickly. (Don't wait until the 1st to rent a truck it's usually the biggest moving weekend of the year.)

Contact whatever housing authorities or tenants rights groups to see what options you have. If you don't know, phone city hall and ask. But, I suspect if he gave you notice to move you may be outta luck. But, talk to someone more expert than us about this!

U don't say what you work at, but if you have any co-workers ask them if they know of any rentals anywhere. U may need to look at finding a place you can stay at temporarily so you can find a decent place to live so post notices on any public notice boards (in supermarkets, gyms, ...) that you need a place. See if there are rooming houses that you can stay in temporarily.

I hope everything works out for the best. I'll keep me fingers crossed for ya.
posted by zaphod at 11:14 AM on August 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

In a case like this where you aren't interested in staying long-term, I'd spend my energy looking for a new place rather than a legal battle for a 60-day extension. Find a temporary place if nothing else. In bad rental markets, short-term sublets can be a good near-term option.

Your landlord is a douche, sounds like, but nothing about his personal life pertains to your situation with him. Sounds like you gave notice and he's holding you to it. You kinda skipped over that detail though, so I'd be sure you understand what legal implications you might have triggered by giving notice (if you did) before you bother with a big legal battle.

You could always threaten to expose the drug operation if he evicts you.
posted by scarabic at 11:16 AM on August 26, 2006

Oh, and with regard to making them pay for 15 years of treating tenants poorly: give it up. You're not some kind of housing vigilante. There are slumlords everywhere, and from what you've said about your modest circumstances, you don't have the time or the resources to do anything about this one. You're confusing your own desire to meet your own housing needs with some larger quest to bring this owner to justice for his code violations, if there even were code violations. If there were no code violations, then you're going to put your own home and cats and welfare at risk to bring this guy to some higher sense of justice which you made up yourself.

Back away for your own good. 6 months in a place with a decent landlord will make you forget that any of this ever happened. Good luck with the next place.
posted by scarabic at 11:21 AM on August 26, 2006

I think this is a case of 'unreliable asker', unfortunately. I mean, "I fear for my own safety and the safety of my cats"? You come off like, frankly, a bit of a nutcase, a serial complainer -- I really don't think we're getting the full story here, and I really doubt that your landlord is as bad as you make out.

With that in mind, I would honestly advise you to just go quietly, stay in a motel and all the rest of it. I say this not to be nasty, but in your own best interests.
posted by reklaw at 2:51 PM on August 26, 2006

Regarding the drug dealer, I actually ran into him today and it sounds like he's put that by the wayside permanently. Doing something that would involve him would harm, at this point, an innocent party and I am not one to harm one person to get back at another.
As far as the 'making them pay' part, I would *like* to do that, but it doesn't mean that the earth will move for me, etc. Reality is that landlords rule in Seattle, tenants are their bitches. . .
Today I spent most of the day packing and getting things ready to move, as well as looking at a place (total, overpriced dive). I also put up the craigslist ads others recommended and I've got some responses that look much better than I would have expected.
As far as legally battling with the landlord over an extended stay, I have no interest in doing that, but I want to be prepared nonetheless. Only a fool trusts in 'faith'. I only believe in something I can feel, touch and see. When I am moved into another place bag and baggage and everything's been smooth for a few months and I've saved up three months rent (just in case), then I will relax, not before.
As far as the commentary about 'I fear for my cats'. The cats are my children. How would you feel if someone threatened the safety of your kids? Get stuffed reklaw and thanks for playing. This is serious business and doesn't need your snarky commentary. serial complainer and nutcase? Whatever . . .
posted by mk1gti at 8:22 PM on August 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I've gotta kinda agree with Reklaw - you at least seem overly focused on the dramatic aspects of this ordeal, rather than the nuts and bolts issues of the law, your rights, and planning for your move/survival, etc.

That said, in Washington State, the only way you can be evicted is by the county Sherriff, after the landlord has taken you to court.:

The action by a landlord to remove a tenant from a rental unit is known as an eviction or an "unlawful detainer." Some local housing codes define "just cause" for an eviction and outline procedures that must be followed.

In an eviction based on nonpayment of rent, a tenant may assert any claim for money owed the tenant by the landlord. The tenant's claim (sometimes known as an equitable defense or setoff) must be related to the tenancy, such as the tenant's payment of a gas bill that was the landlord's responsibility under the rental agreement. In eviction actions strict rules and procedures must be observed. Generally, a legal eviction process involves:

* Proper notice. Before evicting a tenant, the landlord must serve the required eviction notices using proper procedures.
* Filing of a lawsuit. If the tenant fails to move out, a lawsuit must be filed to evict the tenant.
* Entitlement to a court hearing. If the tenant disputes the reasons for the eviction, the tenant is entitled to a court hearing.
* Sheriff's involvement. If the tenant loses the court hearing, the sheriff would then be ordered to physically evict a tenant and remove the property in the unit. Only the sheriff, not the landlord, can physically remove a tenant who does not comply with an eviction notice and only after an unlawful detainer lawsuit has been filed.
* Liability for attorneys' fees. In an eviction dispute, the successful party is entitled to recoup costs and attorney fees.
posted by stenseng at 11:25 PM on August 26, 2006

I would be losing the cats because I wouldn't be able to put them in a kennel [...] Putting up the cats would put me in a situation where I would be [...]paying for upkeep on my cats and watching whatever I have saved up and coming in from my low-paying job dwindle away [...] The cats are my children. How would you feel if someone threatened the safety of your kids?

I'd feel moved to find a solution that protected them, even if it involved spending some money to my own detriment. It's my understanding that kids have upkeep costs even when you're not being evicted. But I don't have kids (or cats), so I could be wrong.

The landlord's a prick; there's no question about that. But you and he have both known for 60 days that you'd be moving out by the end of this month. Why'd you frame this question as "my landlord is a douche" instead of "I need to find housing for me and my cats immediately, if not sooner"?
posted by hades at 2:30 PM on August 28, 2006

Problem solved, I'm moved and Me-Fi'ers are the best, in spite of the snark. The advice here was a very great help and made all the difference between being in a very nice rental situation now and ending up in certain tenant hell. Again, tip o' the hat to all of you.

As far as the most recent question, the intent was to be out and all that so there shouldn't have been a need to prepare for that kind of situation.
posted by mk1gti at 12:08 PM on September 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

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