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Sunday, November 7, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Home Forum / Elizabeth Rhodes

What you'll need when apartment hunting

Q: I'm a recent college graduate moving to Seattle to accept a job offer. I'll soon be apartment hunting, but I am concerned because I don't have a credit history or a driver's license. What documents or other proof can I give to rental management to show I'll be a good tenant? I was told a cover letter, with my starting salary on it, is a good idea.

A: Even in the absence of an extensive paper trail, recent college grads are considered fine rental candidates because "they're employable, and that's a good thing," says Shawn Hoban, president of Coast Management, which oversees 10,000 rental units throughout the Northwest. So since that's your strong suit, play up to it. By all means, offer a letter, Hoban says, that includes details of your new job, including employer, job title, salary, supervisor's name and contact information. Be ready, too, with the names, addresses and phone numbers of prior landlords. Good references from them will go a long way.

As for a credit history, don't be so sure you don't have one (and even if you don't, "no credit is better than bad credit," Hoban points out). "You may think you don't have one, but odds are there's something out there," he says. While credit-card accounts and various types of loans are what most people think of, all sorts of things can show up in a credit file: unpaid parking tickets, bounced checks, outstanding utility balances, old medical bills.

So a word to the wise: Order copies of your credit reports and see what they contain. If there are errors, get them corrected. If there are past-due debts, get them settled. (The big three credit-reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, all have Web sites with information on how to order reports. It's important to note that they may not all contain the same information, so it's wise to order all three.)

Now to the driver's license issue: Landlords won't shun you because you don't have one. However, Hoban says, they will want to see some sort of photo ID and verification of your Social Security number. "If you can prove the Social Security number you provide the apartment community is yours, they can have confidence in the credit report they're pulling," he observes. In an age of identity fraud, that's a good thing.

Q: My condo association won a lawsuit to get the building exterior replaced. It now has leftover settlement money to distribute. The board says it should go to the owners who funded the lawsuit. Shouldn't it also go to new owners (like me) who bought afterward, since we paid a premium price for this improvement?

A: Seattle attorney William Willard says there are a number of issues that must be considered here, not the least of which is whether a surplus actually exists. Unless there are documents stating otherwise, leftover settlement money belongs first to the association — not individual members — and the board has the legal responsibility to use it wisely. If the board verifies through a reserve study that no other maintenance is necessary and the reserve account (long-term savings) is adequate, then the money could be considered extra. But since that's infrequently the case, excess funds usually get plowed back in for the betterment of the entire association, Willard says.

Alternately, individual buyers and sellers sometimes include language in the purchase-and-sale agreement that stipulates what happens if there is leftover settlement or repair money — or if more money is needed. Check your agreement to see whether such language exists. While you're at it, check your condominium governing documents to see whether they reference what happens in the case of leftover cash.

Finally, the state's condominium act does address this issue of surplus funds. (You can read the law online by Googling the statute: RCW 64.34.356.) In a nutshell, it gives the board the discretion to deal with this money — and remains silent on whether new owners, like you, deserve a share.

Q: A new owner buys a property thinking its entire driveway is his. Then there's a survey that reveals that a one-foot strip of it is over the boundary line and is part of his neighbor's property. Question: Is adverse possession transferable with a real-estate transaction, or does the clock have to start all over with the new owner, who's lived there less than three years? The previous owner never sought to legally claim this one-foot section through adverse possession.

A: Adverse possession is the acquisition of another's property through usage over time. To prove it exists, a number of conditions must be met: the use must be out in the open, without permission of the property's owner, continuous and lengthy. The general requirement is 10 years, says attorney Robert Sargeant of the Seattle firm Stoel Rives. "That period extends from the beginning of the adverse possession through to whenever the question comes up, so that means you can tack onto the adverse possession of the prior owners."

If you have all the elements of adverse possession, you don't need to go to court to make it official, Sargeant says, as long as you and your neighbor agree it exists. (If so, you simply can do a boundary line adjustment.) However, before venturing forth, Sargeant gives this word of caution: Make sure the new survey is accurate.

There are several ways to take a survey, and some are more accurate than others. "A global positioning survey is going to be very accurate," but a boundary survey that duplicated a prior survey may not be, he says.

Home Forum answers readers' real-estate questions. Send questions to Home Forum, 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.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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