Hello again, Sealab ? Thanks for visiting us!
First off, the normal disclaimer applies ? this is not legal advice
and you should always contact an attorney in your area when you have a
serious question concerning the law. This is particularly true in
landlord/tenant law, which is one of the most difficult areas of law
I practice law in Michigan and actually practice quite a bit of
landlord/tenant law, BUT every state is VASTLY different and
Washington is no exception.
I have viewed the Revised Code of Washington and the Bellingham City
Code as well as the ordinances for Whatcom County. Here are their
I agree with you that a basement bedroom, without windows, is
troublesome and would appear to be unsafe. Section 59.18.060 of the
Revised Code of Washington, which deals with the duties of landlords,
makes a couple of points:
The landlord will at all times during the tenancy keep the premises
fit for human habitation, and shall in particular:
(1) Maintain the premises to substantially comply with any
applicable code, statute, ordinance, or regulation governing their
maintenance or operation, which the legislative body enacting the
applicable code, statute, ordinance or regulation could enforce as to
the premises rented if such condition substantially endangers or
impairs the health or safety of the tenant;
(3) Keep any shared or common areas reasonably clean, sanitary,
and safe from defects increasing the hazards of fire or accident;
(11)(a) Provide a written notice to all tenants disclosing fire
safety and protection information. The landlord or his or her
authorized agent must provide a written notice to the tenant that the
dwelling unit is equipped with a smoke detection device. The notice
shall inform the tenant of the tenant's responsibility to maintain the
smoke detection device in proper operating condition and of penalties
for failure to comply. The notice must be signed by the landlord or
the landlord's authorized agent and tenant with copies provided to
both parties. Further, except with respect to a single-family
residence, the written notice must also disclose the following:
(i) Whether the smoke detection device is hard-wired or battery operated;
(ii) Whether the building has a fire sprinkler system;
(iii) Whether the building has a fire alarm system;
(iv) Whether the building has a smoking policy, and what that policy is;
(v) Whether the building has an emergency notification plan for
the occupants and, if so, provide a copy to the occupants;
(vi) Whether the building has an emergency relocation plan for
the occupants and, if so, provide a copy to the occupants; and
(vii) Whether the building has an emergency evacuation plan for
the occupants and, if so, provide a copy to the occupants.
(b) The information required under this subsection may be
provided to a tenant in a multifamily residential building either as a
written notice or as a checklist that discloses whether the building
has fire safety and protection devices and systems. The checklist
shall include a diagram showing the emergency evacuation routes for
http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=59.18 for the entire text
of the Landlord duties.
Although I cannot find a direct reference in either the city or county
ordinances concerning fire inspections, I would suggest that you call
the local fire department and ask them:
1. Do apartment homes require a fire inspection?
2. Is it proper for a rental unit to be in a basement?
3. Is there anything they can do to help you?
If any of the above create a violation, then you must give the
landlord a letter demanding that the violation be fixed. The landlord,
then, has 10 days to fix the problem. If he/she doesn?t fix it within
10 days, you may ?terminate the rental agreement? without any further
obligation under the lease, and without any obligation to pay rent
after the date that you move out. Plus, you would be entitled to a
return of rental deposits and prepaid rent.
There is a special provision if a landlord ?substantially endangers? a
tenant, including (i) structural members that are of insufficient size
or strength to carry imposed loads with safety, (ii) exposure of the
occupants to the weather, (iii) plumbing and sanitation defects that
directly expose the occupants to the risk of illness or injury, (iv)
lack of water, including hot water, (v) heating or ventilation systems
that are not functional or are hazardous, (vi) defective, hazardous,
or missing electrical wiring or electrical service, (vii) defective or
inadequate exits that increase the risk of injury to occupants, and
(viii) conditions that increase the risk of fire, the tenant shall
give notice in writing to the landlord, specifying the conditions,
acts, omissions, or violations. Such notice shall be sent to the
landlord or to the person or place where rent is normally paid.
The landlord, again has 10 days to repair. You can have your local
government officials (probably the fire department or building
department) inspect the home. You could then pay your rent into escrow
and perhaps have some of the rent paid back to you at a later date.
This is a complex procedure that would almost certainly require a
legal aid attorney to assist you.
The ?hudclips? site you mention only applies to ?Section 8? HUD
housing, which I don?t believe you live in. You can tell by looking at
your lease ? if you are in Section 8 housing there will be a notation
saying that in your lease agreement. Certainly, HUD housing is very
highly controlled and as a general rule is pretty good, at least in
the smaller cities like Bellingham.
So, the answer to your questions:
Q: Is what my rental company doing illegal,(renting me a bedroom with no window)?
A: Probably not, unless one of the laws discussed above concerning
fire exits/fire detectors and exits has been broken. You can easily
confirm this by calling your local fire department.
Q: And if so, may I use this to break the lease?
A: Probably, yes.
Q: In addition, for the last two months, my roommates and I have been
letting a friend stay at our place (for free) while he was looking for
a new place to live. This is a violation of the lease. The company
also said that we cannot sublet our place out to people. What are my
options here? If I have to pay the rest of the lease, can I have our
friend take over the lease?
A: You can only have your friend take over the lease with your
landlord?s permission. If you allowed your friend to take over your
payments WITHOUT your landlord?s permission, you would remain
responsible for the unpaid rent and other charges ? obviously not
good. Check with the landlord ? they will probably say OK. Definitely,
don?t take a chance on this one.
There is a legal aid clinic - The ?Law Advocates? run a legal clinic
in Whatcom County, called Coordinated Legal Education Advice and
Referral and they can be reached at 888-201-1014. Their website is:
If the fire department says that there is a violation, I would
definitely talk to Legal Aid for assistance in how to proceed. You
might get some of your rent back!
If there is ANYTHING that is not perfectly clear, please hit the
CLARIFICATION button and ask away ? no limit.
Best regards, and Good Luck,
Bellingham City Code
Bellingham Legal Aid