July 21, 2017

Can Landlords Reject Prospective Tenants With Criminal Histories?

Seattle politicians are considering legislation to limit the ability of landlords to reject potential tenants due to their criminal records.  Under the proposed new law, landlords would be prohibited from posting ads barring people with criminal convictions from applying for housing and from asking prospective tenants about convictions more than two years old, arrests that did not result in convictions, pending charges, juvenile records, or convictions that have been expunged.  However, it is important to note that prospective tenants already have some protections from such conduct under state and federal law even if that proposed Seattle law is not approved.   

The Fair Housing Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination prohibit discrimination in rental or real estate transactions on the basis of race.  If a rental policy has a disparate impact on a group of people because of their race, it is unlawful.  Since certain groups of people, such as African-Americans, have higher statistical rates of arrests and convictions, blanket bans on tenants with criminal histories make it more difficult for those groups of people to find housing.  This disparate impact renders blanket policies excluding people with criminal histories from rental eligibility illegal. 

Criminal history may still be a valid ground to refuse to rent to a person, but landlords must consider the type and severity of the offense and how long ago the offense occurred.  They must be able to show that policies restricting applicants with criminal convictions serve a substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest.  In order to do so, landlords must be able to demonstrate that such policies accurately distinguish between criminal conduct that indicates a demonstrable risk to resident safety and/or property and criminal conduct that does not indicate such a risk.

Community associations may thus not impose a total ban on tenants with criminal histories when they rent property to others.  Associations may also not adopt rules or policies that forbid owners from renting their units to persons with any kind of criminal history. Failure to follow these guidelines could result in substantial monetary penalties and costly litigation. 

June 26, 2017

Collection Options for Community Associations

Assessments are the lifeblood of community associations.  If owners fail to pay their assessments, then associations can not perform their duties.  Once reminder notices have proven ineffective, associations should consider taking legal action to collect delinquent assessments.  The available collection options always include a lien foreclosure action and a personal lawsuit followed by garnishment.  Community associations may also have the ability to terminate the utilities of delinquent units if their governing documents provide for that option.  Consistent application of a written collection policy is advisable.

If your community association is struggling to collect delinquent assessments, then my office is available to help you resolve that issue.

May 29, 2017

Washington Court of Appeals Reverses Trial Court's Partition of Common Area

The Washington Court of Appeals ruled in an unpublished opinion last month that partition of a common area created by the deeds of four adjacent properties was not a remedy available to the trial court when the property owners could not agree about the use or maintenance of that common area. 

Each residential property owner in this case also owned an undivided one-fourth interest in a common area.  The Court held that the co-owners' equitable interests in the common area would be defeated if it were to be partitioned without the agreement of all four of them.  It then shifted to the central dispute regarding a tennis court on the common area - concluding that "[w]hether the tennis court is to be maintained or replaced, all owners are entitled to have the action taken in a reasonable and timely manner, overseen by the trial court if necessary." The Court emphasized that leaving the tennis court in a state of "perpetual disrepair" is not acceptable.

April 5, 2017

Court of Appeals Upholds Homeowners Association's Application of Bylaws

The Washington Court of Appeals recently upheld a homeowners association's interpretation and application of its bylaws in a published opinion.  Members of the association challenged its authority to impose membership fees and liens because they claimed that its board of directors was improperly constituted.  The association had attempted to elect board members every year, but there was no quorum at the annual meetings. The association responded by acting according to sections of its bylaws and state law that allow an appointed board member to serve out the unexpired portion of a "term"; that is, until a quorum can be reached and a proper election can be held.  The Court ruled that the association's actions to maintain a functioning board were valid.  It pointed out that the approximately 10,150 homeowners associations located in Washington "must be given room to interpret and apply their own governing documents as long as the result is neither arbitrary nor unreasonable."