Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Landlord or Rental Owner – The Game is the Same

I was told recently that those, who own single family homes which they rent, prefer to be called rental owners rather than landlords. The term landlord comes from Middle English at a time when there were actually lords who owned the land and rented it to the peasants – not an altogether equitable situation. However, the term landlord has been enshrined in American jurisprudence. Washington’s own laws, among which you may find Chapter 59.18 RCW - Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (Click here to read the law), acknowledge the term. I can understand the desire to change the reference from a perceived pejorative term, “landlord”, to the more benign “rental owner” but some behaviors must precede this transformation, at least in Bellingham.

If one visits the site of the Northwest Rental Owners Association, Inc., (click here to navigate to the webpage) one will find that there is not much activity. The calendar is dated; the bulletin board carries only one item from 2004 (on Bellingham’s attempts to create a law licensing landlords/rental owners); a service directory, which dates to 2005, provides eight links of which two are no longer valid; and a statement that the site was last modified in May, 2006 appears at the bottom of the home page. Given all the publicity on the subject of illegal rooming houses over the last year, one might surmise that the organization would be doing more for its paid membership but that is a subject about which their members ought to be complaining.

Nonetheless, the organization seems to be able to send a representative to all city council meetings. To what end is unclear in that it appears that reports of these proceedings are not being posted on the website. In all fairness, the organization claims to have a monthly newsletter, which, it seems, does not appear on the website but is somehow transmitted to the membership. There is nothing on the site regarding the laws in Bellingham with regard to limits on single family rentals nor are there any links to the Bellingham city code. There are references to applicable state laws on issues such as lead paint and mold but illegal rooming houses in this city do not appear to have met the threshold for a warning to the association’s membership. This is from an association which has argued for responsible renting practices and claims that there are only a few bad eggs in the landlord basket obviating any requirement for landlord licensing.

It may be instructive to visit the sites of a few of Bellingham’s landlords-cum-property managers. Ebenal Property Rentals ran a recent add in the Western Front, WWU’s student newspaper. See ad at left. Offering single family homes with up to five bedrooms caught my eye. Most of the homes listed on the website contain wording such as “Walk to WWU” or “Near WWU.” Upon examining Ebenal’s website (click here to view site), I found several documents which suggest that the company may be ignoring the single family zoning rule. A fax cover sheet (click here to view) and a Holding Fee form (click here to view) both contain lines to list from 1-6 applicants or adult occupants. If there is another reason for these lines, I would appreciate knowing.

Likewise, Adams Property Management provides space to list from 1-9 residents to include age and relationships. (Click here to view the application) In addition, Adams makes the following statement “Our units are not Party Houses! Keep in mind that you live in close proximity to other people. We have a 10:00 pm noise curfew on weekdays and 1:00 am on weekends (Friday & Saturday nights). First complaint will receive a written warning; eviction will take place on the second complaint.” Although this is an admirable if misguided attempt on the part of Adams to control its renters, the statement gives renters the totally false notion that noise is somehow permitted before 10 pm on weekdays and before 1 am on the weekends. (I brought this fact to the attention of my readers back in December 07. Click here to read the entry chastizing Adams Property Management. They must not be readers of my blog.) The Bellingham City Code on noise makes no distinction regarding time of day except in the case of construction projects. (Read code portion by clicking here). In short, the Adams’ statement contravenes existing municipal law.

In perusing the site for Landmark Real Estate Property Management, I found that their form to extend leases allows for 4 renters to sign. (Click here to view) Similarly, Apex Property Management allows space for the applicant plus four others on its rental application. (Click here to view). If the limit is no more than three unrelated in a single family residence, the purpose of the extra lines for additional renters seems problematic.

Curiously, none of the rental property sites I visited mentioned or gave a link to the Bellingham codes on single family dwelling rental limitations. If any are members of the NW Rental Owners Association, there is no indication of that on their sites either.

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