Fair Housing Review

The other day I had a landlord say to me, “We’re really looking for a family to lease our home. We don’t want multiple single, younger individual tenants or room mates and prefer just leasing to a nice family.”

While I can see the fear an Owner might have with leasing to multiple people, Landlords must adhere to very basic landlord tenant laws here in Seattle:

Fair Housing Laws

It is illegal for landlords to select one rental application over another on the basis of race, color, national heritage, religion, gender, disability, or familial status. That might sound like an simple law to follow, but it’s easier to violate than you might suspect. For example, if you advertise for a tenant in your local Catholic circular, and nowhere else, you’re in violation of the Fair Housing Act. Or if you have two rental applications, one from an older couple whose children have already moved out and who have slightly lower income, and one from a family of five with several young children who have slightly larger income, you can be found guilty of discrimination if you chose the older couple. Clearly, the older couple is far less likely to cause damage and substantial wear and tear on the rental property, but you’ll need to find a different reason to accept their rental application (for example, maybe they have better credit, or perhaps have a cleaner criminal or eviction history).

Many Things to Look Out For

Besides Fair Housing Laws we also need to consider and look out for Security and Pet deposits, Lead disclosures and all other disclosures along with proper background and criminal checks. There are many things to look out for, and if you’re not a “Pro or Guru” consider looking at Seattle Rental Group as a service or a resource for your possible leasing solution.

Don’t Expect a Property You Want to Rent to Last Long!

As homeownership continues at some of the lowest levels in decades, the reciprocal effect is that rental vacancies are at significantly low levels. In particular, vacancy rates in Washington have trended down for the past 2 years, falling from 8% in the 4Q of 2008 to 5.5% in the 3Q of 2011. Further, Washington has the 5th lowest vacancy rate in the US behind Montana (4%), Oregon (4.2%), Vermont (4.6%) and Iowa (5.1%); click here for the full Census report. A real life example, the award winning new apartment complex in West Seattle, The LINK Apartments, only has 5 units available currently out of their 195 total units.

There are a number of contributors as to why Washington has such low vacancy rates. First, many apartment complexes were converted to condominiums during the housing boom. Since homeownership has fallen, there is a simple supply and demand effect going on, where there are more renters in the market for the same amount of units. Second, Washington was never able to “sprawl” like many other areas of the country due to the topography. In the Midwest, Texas, Arizona, etc., those predominantly flat areas saw significant construction booms for both houses and apartment complexes. That was not possible in Washington. There is the Puget Sound to the West, the Cascades to the East, Lake Washington in the middle, and a general terrain that is not flat in between. Third, Seattle continues to boast a healthy and vibrant economy. Many companies such as Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Boeing are hiring and moving these new employees in from out of state. Seattle is a significant destination for these healthy growing companies and for an amazing qualify of life in general.

The takeaway of all this is simple: If you find a place you like, you should jump on it and apply right away–it likely will not last!