Residential Tenant Basics

  1. Pay rent on time
  2. Maintain the property
  3. Purchase renter’s insurance
  4. Immediately notify your landlord when a defective condition arises
  5. Negotiate the terms of the lease
  6. Keep up to date with local and state landlord/tenant laws
  7. Get it in writing

#1 Pay rent on time

Most evictions are based upon failure to pay rent, most expenses relate to late fees and attorney’s fees. These can be avoided if a tenant pays rent on time each month. If you anticipate that rent will be late, then notify the landlord and try to work out a solution in advance. Except in very specific circumstances, it is not lawful to withhold rent. If you believe rent should be withheld or reduced, then talk to a lawyer first.

#2 Maintain the property

You have certain duties related to maintaining the premises. To get your refundable deposit back and to avoid other reasons for eviction you need to maintain the property. Properly maintaining the premises can also help you secure a good reference.

#3 Purchase renter’s insurance

Many tenants don’t realize that their landlord’s insurance policies protect the building but not the tenant’s property. Also, in many situations the tenant has no legal claim against the landlord. You can ensure that your personal property is protected and insured against theft, water damage, fire damage and other loss by maintaining an insurance policy. The charges for insuring personal property depend on the value of the property. The fees are usually small but it provides a great relief when an unexpected loss occurs.

#4 Immediately notify your landlord when a defective condition arises

A landlord will not usually address problems with the property if the tenant does not first contact and write their landlord a note explaining the defective condition. A landlord has certain duties to repair the premises and ensure it is habitable. You can trigger these duties when you properly notify your landlord. Not every repair falls within the landlord’s duty so it is important to notify the landlord to determine what action is needed.

#5 Negotiate the terms of the lease

Sometimes when vacancies are high, tenants have a little leverage to request certain amenities such as one month of free rent, lower deposit, etc. A lease is a contract and contracts are written agreements between two parties. Sometimes a lease has room for negotiation on its terms but you have to ask first.

#6 Keep up to date with local and state landlord/tenant laws

Seattle has specific ordinances that apply to rental properties in the city. The State of Washington likewise has specific laws that often change year to year. You will greatly benefit by reviewing and understanding landlord’s and tenant’s duties.

#7 Get it in writing

Many tenants mistakenly believe that an informal oral agreement with the landlord or landlord’s agent (such as an apartment manager) trumps the written lease. This is usually just wrong. For example, an informal agreement to allow late rental payments month after month will generally not prevent the landlord from evicting the tenant for a late payment when the landlord decides he or she has had enough. To protect yourself, ask your landlord for a letter confirming whatever agreement you believe you have. If your landlord won’t put it in writing, then you can do it by writing a letter to the landlord confirming your agreement, and keeping a copy of it.

We make no promises or representations about the accuracy of this information, or how it applies to your particular case. These articles are designed to give you ideas to consider and discuss with an attorney, but are no substitute for legal advice, and must not be used as such.