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Sunday, April 14, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Home Forum / Elizabeth Rhodes

Housing assistance available for families with disabled children

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Q: A previous column question dealt with an autistic child living in a rental condo. The child's noise bothered a neighbor. Please address this issue further. Is there any place for a handicapped child who's uncontrollably noisy to live?

A: Indeed there is, and here's how to go about finding it. First, a program called HomeChoice helps disabled adults and families with a disabled child become homeowners. Key benefits: up to $15,000 in down-payment assistance, plus a below-market interest rate. (Currently 6.25 percent.) It's open to first-time buyers and those who haven't owned in the past three years.

Some 237 Washington-state buyers have used HomeChoice since it began in 1997, but many more qualify and don't know it, believes Candace Sheehan, marketing administrator for the home ownership division of the Washington State Housing Finance Commission. "With HomeChoice, the (loan) underwriters and Fannie Mae (which provides the mortgage money) are very good about looking at every individual case and seeing if there's a way to get them into a home," Sheehan says. For information, call the commission at 800-767-4663, or go online to www.wshfc.org.

Weekly loan rates on seattletimes.com


If you're shopping for a home, car or boat, compare the latest loan rates from area financial institutions before you buy.

Renters dealing with disability issues can find housing assistance by contacting the Washington Coalition of Citizens With Disabilities. Mabel Dilley, the coalition's independent-living specialist, works aggressively to match disabled individuals and families with appropriate housing, be it market rate or subsidized. (She also welcomes contact from landlords who have rental units available.)

Matching client to rental "is a challenge, but we can do it, if we have enough time," Dilley says. That means contacting her at least a month before an anticipated move. Dilley can be reached at 206-545-7055; her help extends from King through Pierce County. Some information is also available on the coalition's Web site: www.wccd.org.

In Snohomish County, the Disability Resource Center has information: 425-347-5768.

In lieu of moving, a last option is to modify the disabled child's behavior. That's where the state's Department of Health and Human Services' Division of Developmental Disabilities comes in.

Autistic children qualify for state services, regardless of their family's finances, explains Jane Campbell, a field services administrator. "They are entitled to case management, and a case manager can help identify what services we and other agencies may have available to assist the family."

One program sends a specialist into the home to set up a behavior plan for the child and coach the family in how to use it. Parents with a developmentally disabled child can call this intake number for more information: 206-568-5765.

Q: After I moved in some years ago, the owner of my apartment building went bankrupt and the building was sold. I've just moved out. The new owner says that because the bankruptcy court didn't require the old owner to turn my security deposit over to him, I won't be getting it back. Is this legal? Also, I had a professional cleaner clean what I couldn't, yet the new owner is charging me a cleaning fee. No such fee was mentioned in the lease. Is this legal?

A: First the security deposit. Under state law, the landlord must hold this deposit in a trust account and if the property is sold while the tenants are living there, the trust-account money must be transferred to the new landlord, explains attorney Joseph Puckett. The new landlord is then supposed to tell tenants where he parked this money.

The law also protects tenants by stipulating that in the case of an owner's bankruptcy, the tenant should get money back before the owner's creditors do, Puckett says.

Thus it's his opinion that the new owner's reason for not coughing up your cash doesn't wash. He ventures you'd have "a decent case in small-claims court that a judge would hold the new landlord liable."

Now for the cleaning fee. Puckett says the landlord can indeed charge you one even if your lease doesn't directly mention such a fee.

That's because the law spells out under what conditions a landlord can keep some or all of a security deposit. Charging you to return the unit to its original condition (minus normal wear and tear) is one of them.

If you're confident the cleaner you hired did the job, Puckett suggests you send the landlord a polite letter, including in it a copy of the cleaner's bill. Tell him you believe you left the unit in excellent condition and ask him to withdraw this charge. If he doesn't, and the unpaid bill shows up on your credit report, know that you have a right to dispute that blemish.

Q: I'm suing the previous owners of my condo because they didn't disclose serious structural problems. Is it wise to try to refinance now (I'd like to lower my interest rate), or would it be better to wait until the lawsuit is over?

A: That depends on how serious the problems are and whether they've been corrected, says Randy Weber, president of Seattle Mortgage.

If the structural problems were solely within your unit and have been remedied, then lenders generally wouldn't have a problem doing a refi while your lawsuit is pending.

But structural issues likely involve more of the building and thus the condo association. This makes refinancing more challenging.

If it's a really big issue (example: failed synthetic siding) then none of the owners can refinance until the situation is cleared up, Weber says.

His advice: Gather all the information you can about the problem and present it to your lender. You may find you can refinance easily.

If not, ask the lender what you or the condo association need to do to qualify for new money. Then at least you'll know how to resolve the situation.

Home Forum answers readers' real-estate questions. Send questions to Home Forum, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 1845, Seattle, WA 98111, or call 206-464-8510 to leave a question on a recorded line. The e-mail address is erhodes@seattletimes.com. Sorry, no personal replies. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.

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