Congratulations! You’re a new Housing Provider. Now what?

Posted By: Jaci Willoughby Membership ,

It often times feels overwhelming trying to understand all of the laws and regulations surrounding landlord-tenant laws for the most experienced Property Managers.  For a new housing provider, the tasks may seem impossible!  You’ve made your best first step by joining RHAWA to gain access to all the lease forms, documents and addenda that will take you through the life of a tenancy.  You should also take advantage of our free 4-Hour Washington-Housing Provider workshop found in our ONDEMAND library that covers pretty much everything you need to know to legally operate a rental property in the State of Washington. 

We’ve created and just launched our New Member Companion  that will help guide you through the RHAWA website, services and benefits we provide.  Think of this Companion as your “How-To Manual” from the organization and keep it by your side when navigating your first rental transaction.

 Along with the new Member Companion, the checklist below should also help you navigate the process of finding your first new tenant!

 CREATE YOUR CRITERIA 

All housing providers must provide written screening criteria to applicants prior to taking an application for tenancy and screening fee, including stating whether they will accept a renter-provided report. Some items to include your criteria may include employment history, credit history, rental history, criminal records (excluding Seattle), pet policy, required fees and documentation, and renter selection process (first come, first served; pool.)   RHAWA provides guidelines on how to create your criteria in the Rental Leases + Forms section of our website.

 ADVERTISE 

While it’s not required to include your criteria with your advertisement in Washington State, it is generally a good business practice as it can allow renters to self-select prior to contacting you, leaving you with the best candidates.  

We recommend that you post on as many sites as possible to get maximum exposure for your rental unit. Advertising is all about how many people can view the ad. The more views, the greater your chances of finding a qualified renter. Popular places to post ads for your rental include: Apartments.com (multi-family only), ForRent.com (multi-family primarily), Rent.com, and Zillow.com (also posts on Hotpads and Trulia.)   New listing websites are popping up all the time.

 Your ad needs to be professional. Real estate investment is a business and if you present your ad well, it changes the tone of the conversation you have with potential renters. Within your advertisement include number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, square footage, parking, length of lease, move-in costs (include deposit and if you want last month's rent), laundry, pet policy, smoking policy, and other amenities.   

Photos are important in your listing!  Make sure you have at least one photo of each room, making sure they are lit well.  Close blinds to ensure there’s no glare.  BUT – if one of your selling points is the view, be sure to show that view at it’s best.  Make sure there’s no clutter and when taking photos of a bathroom ensure it’s spotless and the seat is down.  Nothing personal should show in the photos as you want the tenant to picture themselves residing in the home.  Feature everything that you love about the property, and shy away from anything that might deter a tenant from wanting to take a tour. 

APPLICATION FOR TENANCY 

Once you've posted your vacancy online, you will be contacted by prospective renters to view the property. Requests for applications will likely be made after the viewing. You may have prospective renters fill out RHAWA’s Application for Tenancy one of three ways.  

  • In-person at the time of viewing
  • Via email
  • Online via a screening portal – RHAWA offers two online screening portals FREE for members. RMAP and QuickApp portals are the fastest way to get screening report results. 

Once you start receiving completed applications be sure to check that each application is signed by the prospective renter(s). You can accept as many applications as you’d like over however long of a time period as you’d like.   

Remember before giving the application, the screening criteria must be disclosed to allow the applicant(s) to self-select.   ALSO – new members to RHAWA will need to become certified per the Fair Credit Reporting Act requirements.  Information on this federally required certification process can be found at RHAwa.org/certification-process. 

RENTER SELECTION 

Housing providers have the right to determine if an applicant has the income and rental history necessary to meet their criteria. Best practice is to screen applicants in a manner that complies with fair housing laws, as well as RCW 59.18.257 which covers the “Screening of Prospective Renters.” Per RCW 59.18.257, prior to accepting applications, housing providers are required to provide all applicants with a written checklist of desired criteria, compliant with fair housing laws. Post screening, the law also requires housing providers to issue an Adverse Action Notice to all applicants who are either denied based on the written rental criteria, or who receive an alternative offer of tenancy due to information found in their screening report. 
 
When several applicants are interested in the same rental property, it is simplest to screen them on a first-come, first-serve basis, assuming they meet your criteria at face value upon review of their completed application. This is the safest method for alleviating any doubt regarding individual preferences. This method also eliminates the “What do I do now?” adverse action scenario, which could arise if you have multiple applicants whose reports are equally qualified.  

In fact, Seattle’s “First In Time” ordinance requires housing providers to make offers of tenancy based on the order completed applications are received, to the first qualified candidate. 

If the applicant does not meet your criteria and you plan to deny the applicant or approve with conditions, you must issue an Adverse Action Notice  

If the applicant meets all your criteria, congratulations, you have a new tenant! 

 

ACCEPTED TENANCY AND/OR AGREEMENT TO ENTER INTO LEASE 

Once you have offered tenancy, and your applicants have accepted, you will want to know the move in date of your applicant. if it is two weeks or greater, it is good practice to have them sign an Deposit to Secure Occupancy & Receipt form. This document allows you to accept a holding fee until the point that the lease agreement is signed. The Agreement gains you financial security for performance, meaning that a failure to sign the lease means a forfeiture of the holding fee or deposit.  

This is also a good time to start a new tenant file. The file should store the application for tenancy, lease and required addenda, repair requests, renter interactions, etc. 

 LEASE SIGNING + WALK THRU 

Typically, the final step is the actual lease signing and walk-thru. At your lease signing appointment, you will want to make sure to provide your new renters with the following required paperwork:  

  • Copy of the signed lease with all addenda
  • Copy of the Property Condition Report
  • Lead Paint Handout and Addendum (for properties built before 1978)
  • Mold Handout
  • Residential Parking Agreement (required for 2+ unit properties in Seattle)
  • Info for Tenants Packet (required in Seattle and Tacoma)
  • Any special Addenda required by specific cities 

Per RCW 59.18.260 a Property Condition Report is required to take a security deposit on rental property. A Property Condition Report is best filled out when you give details about the conditions of carpet, appliances, walls, paint, fixtures, surfaces, and exteriors. Taking thorough and detailed pictures is essential to showing the changes in the property over the tenancy. Also, make note of any appliances and take care to note their serial number in the report. The tenant must complete this at move-in with you and sign the document for it to be valid. 

 Your journey as a housing provider is just beginning!  RHAWA offers a full library of classes designed for small business owners and housing providers.  The classes range from handling maintenance requests to reviewing the Fair Housing laws.  Also, don’t forget to visit our Support Center for additional guidance when you are stumped!  Our Resource team can not offer legal advice, but can point you in the right direction to find the answers you need.