Property Management Q & A - Spring 2017

RE Magazine — Spring 2017


Consult The Coach

Question:

We manage a 150 unit complex in South Seattle. I have a tenant that wants to move his wife and child into the apartment he shares with a roommate. Their payment history is terrible. Due to the poor payment history, I don’t want to allow any lease changes. Making this even more complicated, he disclosed to me that his wife was just released from parole in Texas. Does the fact that he disclosed this tie my hands to taking the application for his wife? Due to the recent HUD guidance, I am concerned about not letting her apply due to the criminal aspect. Could I tell him if he has clean rent and utility payments for 6 straight months I’ll at least accept her application?


Answer:

From your question, it sounds like you don’t currently have a policy to deal with this scenario, and that you wish to create a policy in response to this application. First, let me say that you are always at greater risk when you are discouraging an applicant from applying. The applicant should be the one making the decision on whether to apply or not. Second, any time you are creating a new policy in response to a particular applicant, you are more at risk than when you are using a pre-existing policy. Now, I recognize that sometimes, unique situations arise which call for developing a new policy because a question had never come up previously. Moreover, even a pre-existing policy.


I assume your (relatively large) complex has a written rental criteria that is disclosed to applicants before they apply. Please remember that under RCW 59.18.257(1)(a), you need to disclose to prospective applicants: (i) What types of information will be accessed to conduct the tenant screening; (ii) What criteria may result in denial of the application; (iii) If a consumer report is used, the name and address of the consumer reporting agency and the prospective tenant's rights to obtain a free copy of the consumer report in the event of a denial or other adverse action, and to dispute the accuracy of information appearing in the consumer report; and (iv) Whether or not the landlord will accept a comprehensive reusable tenant screening report made available to the landlord by a consumer reporting agency.


It seems that in this case, you are looking to develop a new criteria that distinguishes an applicant looking for a unit independently from the situation where someone is an additional or replacement roommate. I believe you can create a new criteria that states something like, “applicants will not be approved to join an existing tenancy where the current resident is not in good standing.”


As I read your question, I want to emphasize that you are really asking about whether the current resident is able to make any changes to his rental agreement. The issue of the wife’s criminal history should not enter into it.


So, what I recommend is that we focus on the current residents and determine whether they are in fact in “good standing” and, if not, what the consequences of that are (or should be). Do you currently have policies on when a resident qualifies to extent or renew their lease? Do you have policies on when a resident qualifies to relocate to a larger or better unit? The analysis should start by analogizing to existing policies governing current tenants, to the extent those exist.


You haven’t relayed the specifics of the current resident’s payment history, but presumably, you have some sort of dividing line between being in “good standing” and not being. In developing a new policy, you are better off when you are refining or clarifying an existing policy, then when you come up with something entirely new.



About the Author


Christopher T. Benis is an attorney with Harrison-Benis, LLP with offices in Seattle. The information contained herein is not legal advice. You are encouraged to consult with your attorney before relying on anything contained herein.

 
 

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