It’s important to become familiar with some of the commonly used terms so that you understand all of the contracts and forms you are using. It also helps interpret the laws governing the business!

Abandonment - when a tenant defaults in the payment of rent and reasonably indicates by words or actions they have vacated the premise.

Adverse Action - A denial or revocation of credit, a change in the terms of an existing credit arrangement or a refusal to grant credit in substantially the amount or on substantially the terms requested. Such term does not include a refusal to extend additional credit under an existing credit arrangement where the applicant is delinquent or otherwise in default or where such additional credit would exceed a previously established credit limit. (701(d)(6) of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.)

Americans with Disabilities Act - a law passed by Congress in 1990 requiring any business or public facility to be accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities.

Appeal - a request to a higher court to review a lower court's decision in a lawsuit.

Arbitration - using a neutral third party to resolve a dispute instead of going to court.

Certificate of Mailing - A written verification from the Postal Service that the letter you mailed was delivered to address. RHA recommends delivery of any notices to tenants this way. We do not recommend certified mail because this requires a signature and a tenant can deny receipt.

Certified Lead Renovator - An individual who has taken an 8 hour course accredited by EPA or an EPA authorized state program to be trained in lead paint renovation.

Common Area - A portion of a building that is generally accessible to all residents or users. Common areas include but are not limited to: hallways, stairways, laundry rooms, recreational rooms, playgrounds, community centers and fenced areas. The term applied to both interiors and exteriors of the building.

Consumer Report - A consumer report is a detailed report that provides personally identifiable information relating to one’s credit, character or lifestyle. The FCRA only covers reports prepared by a consumer reporting agency; that is, a company that specializes in compiling the information into a report.

Examples of consumer reports used by apartment owners are:

  • a credit report from a credit bureau, such as TransUnion, Experian and Equifax or an affiliate company;
  • a report from a tenant-screening service that describes the applicant's rental history based on reports from previous landlords or housing court records;
  • a report from a tenant-screening service that describes the applicant's rental history, and also includes a credit report the service got from a credit bureau;
  • a report from a tenant-screening service that is limited to a credit report the service got from a credit bureau; and
  • a report from a reference-checking service that contacts previous landlords or other parties listed on the rental application on behalf of the rental property owner.

Co-signer - a person, in addition to the leasee, that is agreeing to be responsible to pay rent and uphold conditions of the lease.

Credit Bureau or Consumer Reporting Agency - an entity that collects and disseminates information about consumers to be used for credit evaluation. One of the 3 major credit reporting agencies. Equifax, Experian, TransUnion.

Credit - The right granted by a creditor to a debtor to defer payment of debt or to incur debts and defer its payment or to purchase property or services and defer payment (702(d) of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.)

Credit Report - a report prepared by a credit reporting service that describes a person's credit history for the last seven years.

Credit Score - Credit score has the same definition as found in FCRA Section 609(f)(2)(A) The term “credit score” means a numerical value or a categorization derived from a statistical tool or modeling system used by a person who makes or arranges a loan to predict the likelihood of certain credit behaviors, including default (and the numerical value or the categorization derived from such analysis may also be referred to as a “risk predictor” or “risk score”); and does not include

  • any mortgage score or rating of an automated underwriting system that considers one or more factors in addition to credit information, including the loan to value ratio, the amount of down payment or the financial assets of a consumer; or
  • any other elements of the underwriting process or underwriting decision.

The term “key factors” means all relevant elements or reasons adversely affecting the credit score for the particular individual, listed in order of their importance based on their effect on the credit score.

Creditor - Any person who regularly extends, renews or continues credit; any person who regularly arranges for the extension, renewal or continuation of credit; or any assignee of an original creditor who participates in the decision to extend, renew or continue credit. (702(e) of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.)

Default - a tenant's failure to do something that the law requires.

Default Judgment - a judgment issued by the court, without a hearing, when the tenant has failed to file a response to the landlord's complaint.

Discrimination - denying a person housing or stating that housing is not available because of a person's race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, source of income (King County), age, disability, marital or familial status. Treating people differently could also be considered discrimination.

Equal Housing Opportunity - laws that prohibit discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or familial status.

Eviction - a court proceeding for removing a tenant from a rental unit because the tenant violated the rental agreement or did not comply with a notice ending the tenancy.

Fair Credit Reporting Act - the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), as amended September 30, 1997, regulates consumer credit information gathering and dissemination. It dictates seven and ten year limits on how long negative information can be reported. The Act also provides a method for correcting erroneous information in a credit file. The 1997 amendment covers landlord tenant relationships and requires landlords to notify tenants if they have been rejected because of information in their credit file or references from previous landlords.

Fair Housing Act - the Fair Housing Act, as amended in 1988, prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, physical or mental handicap, or living with children, expect that housing for older persons may exclude children.

Fees - monies collected from tenant that will not be returned at the end of the tenancy. Amount must remain consistent amongst tenants in the same building or comparable units. Fees may be used for applicant screening, cleaning, pets, etc.

Fire Safety and Protection Notice - effective June 13, 2002, owners and managers of multi-family properties must make certain disclosures regarding fire safety at the time the lease is signed. Single-family residences are exempt from the disclosure law.

Guest - a person who does not have the rights of a tenant but stays in/on the premises for a set period.

HAP (Housing Assistance Payments) contract - this form of HAP contract is used to provide Section 8 tenant-based assistance under the housing choice voucher program (voucher program) of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The main regulation for this program is 24 Code of Federal Regulations Part 982

Inventory and Inspection Checklist - if a landlord collects a security deposit or damage deposit from a tenant, the tenant and landlord must have a written checklist or statement specifically describing the condition and cleanliness of or existing damages to the premises and furnishings, including, but not limited to, walls, floors, countertops, carpets, drapes, furniture and appliances. The statement must be signed by both the landlord and the tenant. The landlord needs to provide a copy to the tenant. Note: be sure to use very descriptive words on the checklist - avoid using words like "good, fair or poor". Take pictures to document the condition of the unit.

Just Cause Eviction - City of Seattle ordinance governing how and when an eviction is appropriate or legal.

Landlord - (RCW 59.18.030) means the owner, lessor or sublessor of a dwelling unit or the property of which it is a part, and in addition means any person designated as representative of the landlord.

Lead Based Paint Disclosure - this document must be provided to all tenants before they enter into a rental agreement if the properties were built before 1978.

Lease - a written or oral contract between a landlord and a tenant that transfers the right to exclusive possession and the use of the landlord's real property to the tenant for a specified period of time and for a stated consideration (rent). By state law, leases for longer than a certain period of time (generally one year) must be in writing to be enforceable. Note: In Washington State, any lease longer than one year requires notarization and the attachment of a legal description.

Lessee - the tenant

Lessor - the landlord

Market Rate Rent - the prevailing monthly cost for renting a premise. It is set by the landlord without restrictions.

Mediation - Involves each side of a dispute sitting down with an impartial person, the mediator to attempt to reach a voluntary settlement. Medication involves no formal court procedures or rules of evidence, and the mediator does not have the power to render a binding decision or force an agreement on the parties. If a written agreement is reached in mediation, the agreement can become a legally enforceable and binding contract.

Mold Handout - a landlord must provide information to a tenant about the health hazards associated with exposure to indoor mold. Information may be provided in written format to each tenant, or may be posted in a visible, public location at the dwelling unit property. The information must detail how tenants can control mold growth in their dwelling units to minimize the health risks associated with indoor mold. The information must be provided by the landlord to new tenants at the time the lease or rental agreement is signed.

Month to Month Tenancy - When premises are rented for an indefinite time, with monthly or other periodic rent reserved; or from period to period on which rent is payable and shall be terminated by written notice in accordance with the lease and law.

Normal Wear and Tear - deterioration which occurs as a result of intended use, without negligence, carelessness, accident, misuse or abuse.

Occupancy Standards - Occupancy standards can vary from city, county and State. According to HUD (the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development) landlord can set their own “reasonable” occupancy standards. HUD, recommends compliance with the Building Officials and Code Administrators (BOCA) guidelines. This code provides occupancy guidance based on the square footage of a housing unit and various portions of the unit rather than on how many bedrooms does the unit have. “Every dwelling unit must contain a minimum gross floor area not less than 150 sq. ft. for the first occupant and 100 square feet for each additional occupant. Every room occupied for sleeping purposes by one occupant shall contain at least 70 sq. ft. of floor area and every room occupied for sleeping purposes by more than one person shall contain at least 50 sq. ft. of floor area for each occupant. In Washington State Landlord can set reasonable occupancy standards that are based on business needs. Occupancy standards that are less than 2 persons per bedroom generally will raise a question of lawfulness

Rent - a fixed, periodic payment made by a tenant of a property to the owner/manager for possession and use of the unit, usually by prior agreement of the parties.

Rental Application - form that applicant fills out to apply for a rental unit. Should, at minimum, include a space for full name, date of birth, social security number, past three addresses with previous owner contact information and current employment information (including contact information). Best to include questions about criminal background and eviction history as well. Note: ALWAYS request to see a valid copy of the applicant's driver’s license at the time of application.

Rental Criteria - a set of criteria than an applicant must meet in order to qualify for tenancy. Must apply criterion consistently and fairly from applicant to applicant (at the same or comparable property) to avoid Fair Housing issues.

Rental Period - the length of time between rental payments

Renter's Insurance - insurance protecting the tenant against property losses as well as protect tenant against liability for claims or lawsuits filed by the landlord or other alleging that the tenant negligently injured another person or property.

Security Deposit - Monies paid to the landlord by a tenant as a deposit or security for performance of the tenant’s obligations in a lease or rental agreement. There are laws that must be followed if a landlord accepts a security deposit. Refer to RCWs 59.18.260, 270 and 280.

Sublet - an agreement between the original tenant and a new tenant by which the new tenant takes over the lease of a rental unit. Both the original tenant and the new tenant are still responsible to the landlord.

Ten Day Notice to Comply with the Rental Agreement or Vacate - this form is used when a tenant breaches the lease or rental agreement in ways other than failing to pay rent.

Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Vacate - if a tenant defaults in payment of rent, a Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Vacate needs to be served to the tenant to begin eviction proceedings. In Washington State, you cannot include in the form monies due which are outside the definition of rent (i.e. damage charges, unpaid security deposits, etc.).

Twenty Notice to Terminate - (Outside the City of Seattle) this form is used to notify a tenant that they are to vacate the property at the end of their current rental period (must be given at least 20 days in advance). Tenant must be on a month to month agreement.

Unlawful Detainer - filed in court in an eviction process requiring the tenant to respond

Writ of Restitution - in landlord tenant actions, a writ is a judge's order, usually issued 10 days after a judgment, allowing an eviction to proceed.