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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the Seattle rental market like?

When would be the best time to start my rental search?

What should I bring when I visit rentals?

What application fees should I expect to pay?

What money will I need to put down when I want to rent a place?

Do I need to pay extra for my pet?

If I view an apartment but am not sure if I want it, what should I do?

How much do I need to make to rent an apartment?

I always get an answering machine when I call the managers, is this normal?

My application was rejected based on bad credit. What are my rights?

What are my rights and responsibilities if I want to move and terminate my lease?

Question not answered?


Q:  What is the Seattle rental market like?

The Seattle area rental market can often make dramatic swings. Our solid employment base (Microsoft, Boeing, Google, etc.) has kept us away from the extreme highs and lows seen in other parts of the country, but in the past decade the Puget Sound region has experienced a fluctuating market. After 2001, our market was flooded with rental vacancies due to a drop in the number of new jobs and low interest rates on homes causing renters to purchase. Landlords gave out "freebie" concessions and dropped rental rates to entice renters.

In 2005 the market rebounded, with interest rates rising (driving more would-be buyers back to the rental pool) and major employers hiring in unprecedented numbers. For renters, this rebounding economy meant higher rental rates and fewer concessions offered. Many older apartment complexes chose to sell to condominium converters in 2006 and 2007, removing a significant number of low-to-medium priced rental properties from the market and driving rents even further skyward. Builders saw this trend and began quickly constructing more apartment communities.

When these new communities opened and flooded the market in 2008 and 2009, rental rates begin to drop again. Additionally the plummeting economy made it harder for home owners to sell their properties, so many decided to rent them out instead. Rental rates stayed low through the first half of 2010, but began to rise again in the fall. Initially this rise was because of large employers in the area augmenting their work force with a significant number of new hires, but the increase was sustained by the second downturn in the local housing market. While the rest of the nation's housing market was recovering, Seattle's housing market was beginning to experience a major downturn. As more and more homes were foreclosed and a greater number of homeowners transitioned into renting instead of owning, rental rates continued to grow stronger.

The rental market in 2011 looks to continue to growing stronger, with higher rates and fewer concessions. As long as the local housing market stalls, renting will be more appealing than owning and demand for apartments will be high. This will likely begin to diminish in 2012 & 2013 as construction of apartment buildings beginning now are completed. Once an increase in supply can meet the current and projected high demand, rental rates will start to lower again.


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Q:  When would be the best time to start my rental search?

The best time to start searching is 20-30 days prior to your move-in date. The reason for this is that residents are required by Washington state law to give a 20 days notice to vacate. This notice falls almost always falls on the 10th or 11th of the month prior. (More notice may be given, but the 20 days notice is always calculated backwards from the day that rent is due - the 1st.) Because of this, the majority of new availability gets advertised between the 1st and 15th of the month.

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Q:  What should I bring when I visit rentals?

It's a good idea for you to bring picture ID, your social security number, bank account numbers and credit/landlord references when you apply, since these will probably be requested on the application. You might also want to bring a recent paystub, a hiring letter from your employer or other proof of income/employment (especially if you're new to the area).

It might also be advantageous for you to request a copy of your credit report before you begin the rental process. In Washington state, anyone may obtain one free credit report per year through www.AnnualCreditReport.com. If you have a poor credit history, you may be required to pay a few months rent in advance or may not be approved at all. In King County by law tenants cannot be discriminated against based on their source of income (i.e. if someone is unemployed but using trust account funds or savings, a tenant is no(?) Section 8, etc.), but poor credit and a landlord's negative review of your previous rental history can cost you.

Oh, and don't forget your checkbook! Some apartments take credit cards, but the majority don't.


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Q:  What application fees should I expect to pay?

An application fee is a standard practice for most rental properties and is not usually refundable. Generally the fee is $25 to $45; for some properties it may be more. Each landlord or manager requires completion of an application (one cannot typically be used for multiple landlords; but often times larger apartment communities allow one application to be used for moving within sister communities). Each applicant must be 18 years or older, and all occupants planning on residing there who are 18 years or older must complete an application.

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Q:  What money will I need to put down when I want to rent a place?

Landlords generally require first month's rent, and, although deposit expectations vary widely, security deposits usually fall in the $400-1000 range. Some owners or managers will also ask for a last month's rent, but this is less common with apartment communities. The security deposit is required upon signing a lease, and may be required at application (but if so, will be refunded in full if your application is denied). At the time of move-in, you'll be given a Move In/Move Out Checklist to document any existing damages to the unit. At the end of the lease, the security deposit must be refunded to you within 14 days of moving out minus any damages not documented on the checklist.

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Q:  Do I need to pay extra for my pet?

In Seattle, pets can be a difficult issue. About 25% of the rental properties in Seattle accept small dogs, and approximately 75% accept cats. Often times there will be a 25 lb weight limit on dogs. Additional deposits and/or fees should be expected - an additional pet security deposit, a non-refundable cleaning fee, and/or monthly "pet rent." Modern, newer buildings are usually more pet friendly than the vintage, older buildings. Outside of the city, properties are more likely to accept dogs and cats. Some properties also will not accept rabbits, rodents, birds and reptiles due to city-specific regulations. Pet owners should be sure to check with each landlord regarding pet requirements, and verify the terms before signing a lease.

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Q:  If I view an apartment but am not sure if I want it, what should I do?

In most cases, filling out an application does not obligate someone to rent an apartment. Once the manager runs a credit check they will make their decision (usually within 24-48 hours of turning in your application). If you find something else during that time, you should call the landlord as soon as possible to let them know you're no longer interested in renting the apartment. You should be careful about leaving a deposit on a unit that you are not sure you want to rent - sometimes a portion or the entirety of this deposit may be nonrefundable. Only apply if you're serious!

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Q:  How much do I need to make to rent an apartment?

A general rule of thumb is that gross household income should be greater than or equal to three times the monthly rent. For example: if the apartment is $1000, your gross monthly household income should be $3000. Child support, alimony or any additional moneys received monthly can count as income as long as the receipt is verifiable. Excessive credit card debt, discrepancies on the credit report, car loans and other monthly obligations will be evaluated as well.

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Q:  I always get an answering machine when I call the managers, is this normal?

Most buildings in our area do not have on-site, full-time management. Managers often work during the day and return phone calls in the evenings. And if there is a full-time resident manager, they are often tending the grounds or showing other prospective tenants around and are unable to answer the phone. Because of these factors it can be frustrating when trying to schedule an appointment. It is important to leave a message. A responsible manager will return your call if their unit is still available. It is vital that you either have a cellular phone or a place where people can leave a message to coordinate timing for an appointment.

Pointers for getting a manager to call you back:
1. If you are relocating to work for a well-known company, or have a good job, let them know. Often times they will respond more quickly to someone who they know has a good income and will not have trouble paying the rent.
2. If you have seen the building, mention that you have been by and like the building and the neighborhood. You will get preference over someone who has not been by; they know you are serious.
3. Make sure you mention which property you are calling about, as they may manage more than one building.
4. Don't leave long, rambling messages. Be short and to the point. And don't forget to say your phone number clearly!


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Q:  My application was rejected based on bad credit. What are my rights?

If a landlord rejects you based on negative information supplied by the report, they are required to tell you the name and address of the credit bureau that was utilized. If you feel that a landlord did not run a credit report (and pocketed the cost of the credit report instead), you have the right to a refund. Call a credit reporting agency to see if the landlord ordered a report and, if they did not, ask the landlord for a refund. If he or she denies you, contact your state's consumer protection office.

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Q:  What are my rights and responsibilities if I want to move and terminate my lease?

If a tenant breaks the lease they are responsible for the rent for the balance of the term. The landlord, however, must make a reasonable effort to re-let the premises in order to mitigate the costs. The liability for each party, in each case, depends on the terms of the specific rental agreement.

If the landlord is in serious violation of the stated obligations under the rental agreement, a tenant may be able to terminate without liability.


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Q:  Question not answered?

Check out our landlord/tentant law resources if you have questions about your rights as a tenant or other legal issues.

Or send us an inquiry about the market via our Contact Us page and we'll do our best to answer it!

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