A: The book I mentioned in my previous column is called "Landlording," by Leigh Robinson. It is a good beginner's guide to the subject. You can buy it on the publisher's website and at Amazon, and it also may be available at local bookstores. The book is updated every few years, so be sure you get the latest version, which is the 11th edition published in 2010.
Now keep in mind that this is a general landlord information book, it is NOT specific to the state of Washington.
A couple of good sources of local landlord information are the Rental Housing Association (RHA) of Puget Sound and the Snohomish County Apartment Owners Association (SCAOA). Both associations provide a lot of good landlord information on their websites:
You may want to become a member of one or both of the associations. For example, they provide links to the Washington State Landlord-Tenant Law, as well as links to rental housing ordinances in the cities and counties of the Puget Sound region. Many new landlords are not aware that some cities have rental rules that are stricter than the state Landlord-Tenant Law. The city of Seattle is by far the toughest place in the state in which to own rental property because of all the additional rules and restrictions that you must follow inside the city limits.
As for rental forms, I suggest reading the landlording book and collecting sample lease forms from other sources such as the RHA and SCAOA. I have developed my own 10-page lease agreement over many years by picking and choosing clauses I like from other people's rental agreements.
I use a hard-nosed approach in my lease agreements. For example, there is no "grace period" -- the rent is due on the first day of the month, period. If the tenant pays after 5 p.m. on the first of the month, they are subject to eviction. Now, that may sound very harsh to some people, but the idea is to scare away the bad tenants who might try to string you along for the rent payments before they move in. If you are renting to responsible people who intend to pay their rent on time, they should have no objection to that clause in a lease agreement. I have been doing this for nearly 25 years and it has worked well for me. As someone once said, "The cheapest eviction is the one you do before they move in." That is so true.
I also use positive incentives in my lease agreement. For example, the stated monthly rent in the lease agreement is $50 more than I actually intend to charge -- but the tenants get a $50 discount by paying early (on or before the first of the month). In other words, I reward them for paying their rent early rather than imposing a "penalty" for paying late. It's a subtle difference, but I find that it works very well.
Also make sure that you use a good tenant screening service to run a credit report and criminal record check on all applicants.
Steve Tytler is a licensed real estate broker and owner of Best Mortgage. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.