Property Management Q & A - Summer 2017

RE Magazine — Summer 2017

Question:

One of our property managers recently sent out a text message to tenants stating that she was going on three weeks’ vacation and not to contact her during that period. Unfortunately, she didn’t provide any backup instructions as to who to contact in her absence. A tenant ignored those instructions and directed a notice of intent to vacate to the manager while she was on vacation, but no one knew about it. Our client (the property owner) is angry at us, as they now have an unplanned vacancy. So, where do we stand with the tenant and with our client?

Answer:

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I always encourage folks to carefully read RCW 59.18.030, which sets forth the definitions in the Residential Landlord Tenant Act (RLTA), as the rest of the text doesn’t always make sense unless you understand the terms that are used. Under the RLTA, the “landlord” can be either the owner or an identified representative of an owner (as in your case, a management company).

It appears that the way the lease was written, the management company was identified as the “landlord.” When you read the RLTA, most of the text refers to the obligations of landlords and tenants, and only deals with owners tangentially. In other words, the tenant needs to know who it is that they are doing business with, and who to communicate with when the need arises (notices requesting repairs, notices of intent to vacate, etc.).

Because the tenants shouldn’t have to guess who to communicate with, the landlord’s duties are set forth in RCW 59.18.060, and includes:

“[The duty to]… [d]esignate to the tenant the name and address of the person who is the landlord by a statement on the rental agreement or by a notice conspicuously posted on the premises. The tenant shall be notified immediately of any changes in writing, which must be either (a) delivered personally to the tenant or (b) mailed to the tenant and conspicuously posted on the premises. If the person designated in this section does not reside in the state where the premises are located, there shall also be designated a person who resides in the county who is authorized to act as an agent for the purposes of service of notices and process, and if no designation is made of a person to act as agent, then the person to whom rental payments are to be made shall be considered such agent.”

While a lot of business is conducted informally through email and text messages, the RLTA has never really caught up to that, so the address that the tenant is given for the landlord is incredibly important.

For example, RCW 59.18.070, states in relevant part:

“If at any time during the tenancy the landlord fails to carry out the duties required by RCW 59.18.060 or by the rental agreement, the tenant may, in addition to pursuit of remedies otherwise provided him or her by law, deliver written notice to the person designated in RCW 59.18.060(14), or to the person who collects the rent, which notice shall specify the premises involved, the name of the owner, if known, and the nature of the defective condition.”

Therefore, the tenant has properly triggered a repair duty on the part of the landlord when he or she provides written notice to the landlord at the correct address. If the landlord has chosen to make themselves unavailable, that is their problem, and RCW 59.18.090 outlines the tenant’s options if the landlord fails to take remedial action within the appropriate time frame after receipt of the written notice.

Similarly, RCW 59.18.200(1)(a) provides:

“(1)(a) When premises are rented for an indefinite time, with monthly or other periodic rent reserved, such tenancy shall be construed to be a tenancy from month to month, or from period to period on which rent is payable, and shall be terminated by written notice of twenty days or more, preceding the end of any of the months or periods of tenancy, given by either party to the other.”

Once the tenant sends the notice of intent to vacate to the correct address, the landlord’s personal unavailability to read the notice or to react to it is, again, the landlord’s problem.

In summary, if the tenant’s notice to vacate was sent to the proper address, that is all the tenant needs to do to terminate the tenancy. As for the property owner, it sounds like they are justifiably angry at your company for your agent’s failure to provide a backup for review and response to tenant notices during her vacation.

 


 

About the Author


Christopher T. Benis

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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