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February 15, 2008 9:00 AM

Condo landlord questions insurance requirement

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: My partner and I own a condominium that we rent out. We were recently informed that our condo association has voted to require all renters, including our tenant, to purchase renters insurance. Although we are all for renters insurance, we were wondering about the legality of requiring it, especially in the presence of homeowners insurance purchased by us.

A: It's legal for an association to require renters to have their own insurance -- but it can't do so directly. It must work through the unit owners to implement this new rule, and the owners' must comply with landlord-tenant law in doing so.

That means "existing leases are grandfathered," says Seattle attorney Evan Loeffler. "The association can't require you to change the lease during its term."

Indeed, a provisions of the lease cannot be changed until the lease expires (except in cases where all parties agree to the change).

In the meantime, Loeffler says you can send the tenant notice that renters insurance will be required at the beginning of the next lease term. This must be done no later than 30 days before the lease expires, and the new lease should include the insurance requirement.

When there is no lease, the landlord must give the tenant notice that there's a new renters insurance requirement. This notice must be given at least 30 days before the requirement takes effect at the first of a month. For example, if the landlord requires the tenant get insurance by May 1, the tenant must be told this no later than April 1.

Loeffler says he routinely advises his landlord clients to make renters insurance mandatory, both to protect the tenant, whose belongings are not covered under the landlord's own policy, and to protect the landlord in case the tenant disputes this.

"I advise them to put in the lease that the tenant agrees to get their own policy and understands that they're not the beneficiary of the landlord's policy. Renters insurance is a very good thing, and it's not expensive," Loeffler concludes.

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