Thursday, October 12, 2017

Q: We recently bought a rental property here on Vashon Island and have been interviewing people as potential tenants.

Some of these folks are aggressive and start telling us that we can’t discriminate against them because they have kids.  I know we can’t discriminate based on many things, but we really don’t want to rent to people with children.  Children are just too hard on the house and property.  We hope to retire to that home in a few years and want to keep it nice.  We thought you might know what the rules are.

A:  It’s easy to go online and read the landlord tenant laws of Washington State and King County.  There is, indeed, a stipulation that you cannot discriminate due to “familial status.”  That means families with children or a renter who is pregnant and about to have a child.  If there is sufficient space in the home for a family, and I believe yours in a three-bedroom house, then you can’t refuse to rent to a family with children.

It can be discouraging to be faced with repairs from damage caused by tenants.  But each tenant is different.  Years ago, when we did property management on Vashon we had plenty of families with children that kept the homes they rented clean and tidy.  Having a rental has some risks as does renting a house.  Both sides have things to gain or lose.

What makes the most sense is to be sure that you share the rules of the landlord tenant regulations with your renters.  They have legal obligation which includes keeping a property clean, and in good order.  They must get rid of garbage and keep the property in reasonably good condition.  You have the right to visit the property at least quarterly, always notifying your tenants first of course, just to see how things are going.  It’s a good idea to check the smoke alarms, chimneys if there is a wood stove, plumbing to check for leaks, etc.  This is a service to the tenants as well as keeping the house in decent shape. 

Monday, October 02, 2017

Q: We are devastated that our new neighbors cut down every tree on their property.

All that remains are just a bunch of ugly stumps.  Some of those were fruit trees that the prior owners shared with all of us.  Several neighbors used to make jam together from all the neighboring fruit trees and we are just stunned that this happened.  I know there isn’t anything you can do, but is there anything that can protect trees and landscaping beyond one owner?

A:  There are legal mechanisms to protect the living environment of a property. One can write up covenants that can be recorded on the title to property that specifies that certain things can or cannot be done on the property.  If it’s legally defendable it will stand up in court.  Most often, these covenants control a view corridor or some distinctive feature of the property, but it can include protecting trees or other natural features.

You can also form a neighborhood association that specifies that certain things cannot be done in that neighborhood.  It’s tricky to do after all the homes are built and have changed ownership a few times but if everyone commits to it, it can be done.  Extremes of this type of thing are areas of suburban development that only allow certain colors to be painted on the outside of homes or that require all cars be put in a garage at night.  Those are dreadful, in my opinion, but they do exist. Better to agree to care for the natural features and the trees in your neighborhood.  

On larger properties the King County Public Benefit Rating System gives you a property tax reduction for keeping part of your land in natural habitat. We all benefit from the lovely forests, ponds and fields that others have set aside for wildlife habitat.  That program can be enhanced by donating a conservation easement to our local land trust that can protect the habitat on your property in perpetuity.  You can even get a deduction on your income tax for doing that, plus you’ve helped keep our Island beautiful.