Tacoma homeowner says tenant has taken over her property
For small-time landlords, it is a situation right out of a nightmare — a tenant all but takes over a property, breaking the rules of the rental agreement, trashing the house and yard to the point that the city declares it a nuisance, and refusing to leave even after being served with a notice to vacate. But that is the situation in which one Tacoma landlord says she found herself.
Tacoma homeowner Robin Kelly has rented out her family’s longtime house — which her grandparents bought in the 1960s and she purchased in 1980 — to the same tenant for five years.
At first, things went well. After a while, though, she said that the tenant began breaking not only the rules of the lease, but also city ordinances, such as parking commercial vehicles on the property and on the curb. Then, an abundance of trash — from broken hot tubs to a homemade fire pit and even a broken-down bus — began piling up. There’s also extensive damage to the interior of the house.
“The property has grown to be a great big, huge junkpile. The garage is so full that the garage door could not be shut,” Kelly described. “The trash has come out into the driveway, all the way up to the fencing.”
Late last year, the City of Tacoma declared the property a nuisance and notified Kelly that she, as the owner, would be fined if she did not clean it up. She said that she made numerous attempts to get the renter to clear the trash and tried to help him with it, but was unsuccessful. What those meetings did result in was her fearing for her personal safety.
“I’m afraid of him now,” Kelly said. “I’m afraid to go over there. And the neighbors are afraid of him. I will not go into the house with him by myself.”
When the City of Tacoma showed up to the property for an abatement in September, staffers determined the situation too dangerous to continue with the cleanup efforts and left.
Kelly has sent the renter notices to clean the property or vacate it, and he has told her in writing that he would be out of the house, but still he remains in place. She added that he has not paid rent for over a year, but she has not held him to that because of the pandemic. He has applied for rental assistance, which would have made eviction on the basis of nonpayment of rent not possible during the eviction bridge, though that ends this weekend.
After little success in a search for an attorney, Kelly is at her wit’s end, convinced that the only way to be rid of the situation is to sell the property far below its value.
“I just want my property back,” Kelly said. “Here’s a house that’s been in my family for 60 years.”
City of Tacoma weighs in
People who find themselves in Kelly’s position do not have to let the tenant get away with breaking the rules, said ChiQuata Elder, landlord-tenant coordinator for the City of Tacoma.
“It isn’t like a landlord’s hands are tied,” she stressed.
Even during the eviction bridge, Elder said, landlords have the right to evict a tenant for reasons such as code violations and causing a nuisance.
“There is a provision in the law that says, ‘Because you’re creating that nuisance on the property or the code violation, I’m giving you this amount of time to vacate,'” Elder explained. “And then if they don’t, the landlord still has to go through the court process to get them out.”
Her advice to every mom-and-pop landlord — even those who are not experiencing any problems with renters — is to get an attorney who knows landlord-tenant law like the back of their hand. That knowledge will come in handy in the event that something does go wrong and an eviction becomes the only viable option.
“If you dot all of your Is and cross all of your Ts the correct way, when you get before a judge, they’re going to most likely rule in your favor, so that means you can get your property back all that much sooner,” Elder said. “But you have to know the law.”
And if you want to avoid eviction, Elder said that landlords and tenants can access free mediation through the Pierce County Dialog and Resolution Center. Each county has similar programs set up because of the eviction moratorium.
“The landlord and the tenant always have the right to either mediate things themselves, or they can contact the Center for Dialog and Resolution,” Elder said.