Tenant goes after property manager for landlord's alleged violations

When you think of landlord-tenant disputes, you might picture a modest apartment or house where repairs aren't being made. But one local tenant's dispute is over a house that cost her $3,000 a month in rent. It's a case with a number of unexpected twists, including the fact that instead of going after the landlord, this tenant is going after the property management company that helped her rent the home.

"We thought it would be nice and peaceful here," said Geneva Carman.

The online ad described a 4,300 square foot home in Kingston with everything a tenant would want -- stunning, spacious interiors with no detail overlooked. The home is situated on more than nine acres of peace and quiet, or so Carman thought.

"I just want to get my child and get the heck out of here," Carman explained barely five months into her one-year lease. Since moving into the rural Kitsap County home in July, Carman says it's been one thing after another. First, she discovered one of the nearby out buildings on the property is also a rental -- a fact she insists she was never disclosed by the property management company when she called from Florida to rent the home.

"I have pictures of six to seven cars per night there. They're coming and going," Carman said.

On top of disruptions by vehicles and construction trucks, Carman says the landlord soon moved onto the property in his camper and proceeded to come to the house and walk around the property unannounced. By law, a landlord must give 48 hours written notice, if they plan to enter the house or apartment you are renting. Saved texts to Carman's phone indicate the property managment representative did inform the home owner that he was legally prohibited from entering the property without prior notice and consent of the tenant.

"He's bringing people over, he's coming inside of our house, ringing the doorbell and saying. 'I want to come in and look at the house,'" Carman said.

The single-mom and her 17-year old daughter say at one point the owner of the home even prevented guests from coming to their long-scheduled book-signing party. Carman says she learned of what was happening when a friend texted her about being turned away at the entrance to the long drive that leads to the home.

"And he says, 'Well they've got some guy with a truck blocking the driveway telling your guests that the party's been cancelled and to leave,'" Carman recounted.

But Carman said it got even worse.

"We called Puget Sound Energy and they said, there's one meter on the property, and it's in my name," she said.

Carman says that's how she learned she'd been paying for all the electricity used in both buildings. Since she signed her lease agreement with a representative of the property management company, she says she holds the real estate company responsible.

"A hundred percent, Yes. I feel like they neglected to tell us all of these things," Carman said emphatically.

I went to the property management office to get their perspective on what happened. The owner of Windermere Real Estate's West Sound office was not available, but later contacted me by phone. Because of privacy issues, Mike Pitts couldn't say much.

"I understand there is a dispute" he told me. "We have been in contact with both parties and are not able to comment."

Although Pitts did call me back to confirm that his company had begun terminating its landlord relations with the home owner on October 24. Windermere also offered Geneva Carman the option of breaking her lease, so she could find somewhere else to live.

Regardless of a property manager's involvement, the Tenants Union of Washington says in most cases, the buck stops with the landlord. And it's the tenant's responsibility to notify the landlord in writing immediately about any disputes.

"When the tenant first learns of a privacy violation they should write a letter informing the landlord of their right for proper notice," said Executive Director Jonathan Grant.

"Landlords must give notice to enter in writing stating the dates and approximate time they intend to enter 48 hours in advance for an inspection, or 24 hours to show the unit to prospective purchasers or renters. They can not use this right of entry to harass the tenant. It is only after the landlord receives the letter when penalties are triggered for future violations, up to $100 per violation. Keep a copy of the letter and send it certified, as well as maintain a log that documents each date of improper entry and if there were any witnesses. The law is under RCW 59.18.150," Grant explained.

Grant went on to say: "The Tenants Union hears regular complaints each week from tenants who have had their privacy violated when the owner refuses or disregards proper notice to enter a home. Of these hundreds of calls the common thread is that many landlords don't appreciate that renting property is a business, and just like any other industry there are rules and regulations that must be followed."

The owner of the Kingston house declined to talk to me for this report. Geneva Carman has since moved out and is asking Windermere for extra compensation.