John P. Livingston, Attorney At Law

119 N. Commercial Street, Suite 1345, Bellingham, Washington 98225

Tel. / Fax: (360)306-8658


Serving Whatcom, Skagit, Island, and Snohomish Counties

Also Available Evenings & Weekends by Appointment


Solutions for People.

Frequently Asked Questions

People often ask common questions concerning general issues in various areas of the law.  The answers will usually depend on the particular facts of each case, and sometimes will require additional information from other sources including opposing parties and/or third party independent information.  Having said that, this page provides general information and does not in any way create an attorney-client relationship with anyone viewing this page.  For complete answers to your specific questions, you will need to consult with an attorney with whom you have initiated a professional relationship.  Feel free to contact me to schedule an appointment.  Meanwhile, here is some general information.


Business Law Questions.

How can I write a contract?

Writing a contract can be real simple or very complicated.  I have seen people write one-page contracts that appeared to be very simple.  However, the true value of a contract is whether the terms are enforceable.  A good contract protects the interests of all parties and prevents disagreements.  Although a contract may seem very long and complicated, if it covers a wide range of anticipated hypothetical situations, it will usually meet the objectives.  My suggestion is that if the subject of the contract involves a significant amount of money, it is usually well worth your time and money to retain a competent attorney who is experienced in that particular field.


Where can I find a lawyer to write a contract for me in Whatcom County, Skagit County, Island County or Snohomish County?

John P. Livingston is a business lawyer and real estate attorney who practices in Whatcom County, Skagit County, Island County, and Snohomish County.  Depending on your circumstances, and what is at stake, I may be able to charge a flat-fee for writing a contract.  However, if there is a lot of money at stake, it is usually well worth the money to hire an attorney to draft  a contract for you.  Call (360)306-8658 or send me an e-mail at to schedule an appointment.

Where can I go to have a lawyer review a contract?

You've come to the right place.

Do I need to hire a lawyer before I sign a contract?

Depending on the complexity of the contract, and what is at stake, you may need to retain a lawyer to review the contract, especially if it includes terms or clauses that you do not understand.  In any event, you need to fully understand the terms of the contract before you sign it--not after!  Once you sign a contract, you are most likely bound by the document. 

Do I need to hire a lawyer after I have signed a contract?

If you need to interpret the contract language or if you believe someone is in breach of the contract, you probably should hire a lawyer.  However, I suggest that people be proactive by hiring an attorney before signing on the dotted line.  It is easier to stay out of something than it is to get out of something once you are legally obligated by a contract.

How can I form a corporation?

The Washington Secretary of State's office is the point of contact for registering corporations.  Articles of Incorporation of any particular Washington corporation are generally public information, and available for the public to review, sometimes after paying a nominal fee.  If you wish to incorporate your business, the Articles of Incorporation will be on file with the Secretary of State's office.  However, you will also need bylaws, which are internal guidelines and procedures on how the business is operated, particularly with shareholder rights, duties, obligations, etc.  Voting criteria for shareholders, officers, and directors should also be spelled out in the bylaws.  I often charge clients a flat fee to form a corporation for their business.  Contact me today to schedule an appointment.

How can I form a limited liability company?

The Washington Secretary of State's office is the state agency that maintains a database of all LLCs doing business in Washington.  You will need to register your Certificate of Formation with the Secretary of State's office.  The Certificate of Formation is analogous to a corporation's Articles of Incorporation, i.e., it lists the owners of the business.  However, much like a corporation's bylaws (the internal document), an LLC will also need an "operating agreement" which is the internal document for the LLC indicating how the business is operated, managed, and also sets the criteria for voting rights and other procedures.

Do I need to form a corporation?

That depends on your particular needs.  A corporation may be right for you.  However, depending on your needs, a limited liability company (LLC) may be more practical.  Call or e-mail today to schedule an appointment to discuss your objectives.  From there, I can advise you on which business entity is right for you.

Do I need to form a limited liability company?

Again, that depends on your particular business objectives.  Depending on the number of owners, their proportionate share of ownership, your tax situation, and other variables, a limited liability company (LLC) may be most advantageous to your business and may also help protect your personal assets from creditors.  Call or e-mail today to schedule an appointment.

I have a partnership with someone else.  How do I get out of a partnership?

Is the partnership in writing?  Usually, the default definition of a "partnership" is "two or more persons in business for a profit."  However, there are many other variables that will determine whether you are actually in a "partnership."  If an employer has hired you, and that employer is running what is known as a "sole proprietorship," just because he or she has hired employees, does not necessarily mean that his "employees" are "partners."  However, if you truly believe that you are in a legitimate "partnership" and you wish to get out of that situation, call or e-mail today to schedule an appointment.

I have a dispute with my business partner.  What should I do?

Depending on the nature of the dispute, you may be able to come to a resolution without the help of attorneys or lawyers.  However, my philosophy is always to be proactive.  I have seen many cases in which people did not want to get lawyers involved because they thought it might "be too expensive."  An ounce of prevention is almost always worth a pound of cure.  If you smell trouble, it is well worth your time and money to consult with a lawyer for an initial consultation.  He or she often can provide insight on advantages and disadvantages, and provide information about your legal rights and duties in your business situation.

Landlord-Tenant Law Questions.

I want to rent out my house.  Can I write my own lease? 

You can....but I do not recommend doing that.  If you have never been a landlord, you probably do not understand your legal duties as a landlord.  Landlords, as well as tenants, have clearly defined rights and duties under Washington's Landlord Tenant statute.  Consulting with an attorney about a lease may cost you a bit of money, but it is usually money well-spent if it means you can avoid costly problems later down the road.  Think about it.  Renting your house to a complete stranger is a big risk.  Would you want to be too frugal to hire a lawyer for proactive advice, but then turn around and give the keys to one of your biggest investments over to a complete stranger, and run into landlord tenant problems that could eventually cost you lots of money later?  Call me or e-mail today to schedule an appointment.  I often charge a flat fee to draft residential leases.


*  Do I need to hire a lawyer to write or review the lease?

No.  However, unless you have a good understanding of "legalese" and the particular substantial areas of the law regarding commercial or residential leases, the relatively small amount of money you pay to a lawyer  to write or review the lease will probably save you headaches down the road.  A knowledgeable real estate lawyer in Bellingham, Whatcom County, Skagit County, Mount Vernon, Oak Harbor, Island County, Camano Island, Everett, Marysville, or elsewhere in Snohomish County could provide you with sage advice and save you hundreds or thousands of dollars by avoiding problems with your landlord or tenants.  Call or e-mail me today to schedule an appointment.  Depending on your circumstances, I may be able to charge you a flat fee for writing or reviewing a lease.

How can I write my own lease?

Yes, you could....but unless you are intimately familiar with Washington's Residential Landlord-Tenant Act, strongly I strongly suggest you retain a competent real estate attorney or landlord tenant lawyer to write your lease.

Can you review a lease for me?

Absolutely!  I practice real estate law, which includes both residential and commercial properties.  I have written many leases, reviewed even more leases, and I have experience enforcing the terms of leases for landlords and tenants.  Call me at (360)306-8658 or send an e-mail to today to schedule an appointment.

Do I need to hire a lawyer before I sign a lease?

Not always, but the answer may depend on your ability to understand the language of the lease document and all the various clauses.  It is not enough to be able to read the language in the lease, you need to understand the consequences of you accepting the terms of the lease in its present form.  You may need to consult with an attorney if you are uncertain about the terms or if you wish to modify the terms.  Once you sign the document you are probably bound by the terms.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  In other words, spending money to consult with an attorney before you sign the lease may save you problems down the road.

My landlord is evicting me.  What are my rights as a tenant?  Do I have any tenant rights?

Tenants, like landlords, not only have certain rights, but they also have certain duties and obligations under commercial leases as well as under residential leases.  Washington's residential landlord tenant act requires landlords to take steps to ensure tenants have the right to quiet peaceful enjoyment of the rental premises.  If your rental property is lacking electricity, hot or cold water, and/or certain functioning appliances, the landlord must take action within a certain number of days (or less, depending on the situation).  If you received a "Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Vacate," or if you received an eviction summons and complaint, do NOT ignore those documents.  If you think your rights have been violated as a tenant, contact me to schedule an appointment.


My tenant is not paying rent?  What can I do to evict the tenants?  What are my rights as a landlord?

If you are a landlord, whether for commercial or residential property, you cannot take the law into your own hands if the tenant has not paid the rent.  The landlord must take certain steps in compliance with the law, before the tenant must move out of the property.  I practice landlord tenant law on a regular basis, and I know both ends of the business, for landlords as well as for tenants.  Contact me to schedule an appointment.

My landlord kept my deposit?  What should I do?  How can I get my deposit back?

If you are renting residential property, your landlord usually has to provide written notice shortly after you move out of the premises (or abandon the premises) as to why the landlord is retaining all or a portion of your deposit.  Under residential landlord tenant laws, the tenant can ask the court to order the landlord to reimburse the tenant for up to two times the amount of the deposit if the landlord's notice was never provided, or improperly provided.  Depending on the facts and the timing of the situation, you may be able to get your deposit back from the landlord.  Contact me to schedule an appointment.

Where can I find a landlord tenant lawyer or landlord-tenant attorney in Bellingham, Ferndale, Fairhaven, Whatcom County, Mount Vernon, Skagit County, Burlington, Anacortes, Hamilton, Concrete, Sedro-Woolley, Marblemount, Lyman, Island County, Camano Island, Oak Harbor, Coupeville, Snohomish County, Everett, Marysville, Arlington, Stanwood?

Contact me to schedule an appointment.
I practice landlord tenant law on a regular basis, including commercial landlord tenant law as well as residential landlord-tenant law.

Real Estate Law Questions.


I am buying a home or selling a home.  Do I need to hire a lawyer?

Buying or selling a home is often the most expensive transaction a person makes in their entire life time.  Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars is certainly worth a relatively small amount of money to retain a real estate attorney to explain your rights and obligations.  Many real estate agents, brokers and associate realtors will routinely tell buyers and sellers that "you don't need to bring lawyers into this.....It's a routine contract."  For the realtor, the purchase and sale agreement may be a "routine contract" because they deal with the same documents all the time.  But for the seller or the buyer who may not have ever seen such a document, understanding its terms can be daunting.  Every single word in the contract has been written there for a specific reason.  There is no such thing as a "routine contract."  Keep in mind that realtors and real estate agents only get paid when they are closing a sale.  That is, it is in their financial best interest to speed the transaction along as fast as possible so that they may receive their commission.  However, it is your money, whether you are the one buying the home or selling the home.  If it costs you some money to pay for a real estate lawyer who has your best interests in mind to make sure your rights are protected before you sign any contracts, then that is money well spent.  DO NOT sign any contracts or other legal documents until you completely understand and agree to be bound by the terms.  If you have questions, stop and contact a competent real estate attorney before you sign on the dotted line.  Contact me to schedule an appointment.


I have a dispute with my neighbor.  What should I do?

If the dispute involves potential harm to yourself, your family, or to your property, you may need to call the police.  However, if the dispute is something which police often refer to as"a civil matter" then you should probably contact a real estate attorney.  Contact me to schedule an appointment.


I want to rent out my house.  Do I need to hire a realtor?  Do I need to hire an attorney or a lawyer? 
 No and No.  However, if you will not be in the same geographical area as the rental house, you may need someone local to manage the property.  As for the terms of the rental agreement, and depending on how much money is at stake, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  I have reviewed many rental agreements and I have written many lease agreements.  I always ask the client to focus on the objectives.  Depending on the requirements of the law, and your specific objectives, I will draft a rental agreement or residential lease agreement according to your specific needs.  Contact me to schedule an appointment.

Can I sell my house without a realtor or real estate broker?

Yes and Yes.  I have sold two house of my own in the past without a real estate agent--and that was even before I became an attorney.  The realtor or real estate agent's primary job is to bring you a buyer.  Once the buyer and seller have signed the Purchase and Sale Agreement, the realtor's job is mostly completed, except for receiving the commission check from the escrow company after closing the transaction.  The escrow company and the lender (if any) are the choreographers in a purchase and sale transaction.  If you have to pay a few hundred dollars to consult with an attorney to sell your house "by owner" for a reasonable fair market price rather than through a realtor, you will ultimately save thousands of dollars by not having to pay realtors a sales commission.  I can assist you in selling your home by owner. 


 Construction Law Questions.

*  How do I know if I am dealing with a reputable and honest construction contractor?

Most construction contractors are honest business people.  However, there are plenty of crooked contractors and subcontractors out there who will be happy to cheat you out of your money.  All general construction contractors must be registered with Washington Department of Labor and Industries.  They also must have a current registration (not expired or suspended) and must also have a certain dollar limit for a bond and also insurance.  So, when you hear of a construction contractor or subcontractor bragging about how he or she is "licensed, bonded and insured," that just means he or she has met the minimum standard in Washington to do business as a construction contractor.  If you have found a contractor through Craigslist, be wary.  Check out the contractor's name or business name on Department of Labor and Industries' website, for contractor search:

Once you have run the contractor's name or business name through L&I, you want to make sure their registration, bond and insurance are still current. You also want to see if they have ever been sued in the superior courts.  The L&I website will show all Superior Court cases in which a plaintiff sued the contractor and his or her bond company.  This information will show up on L&I's website under "Contractor Search."  However, if a plaintiff sued only the contractor but not the bond company, the lawsuit information may not show up on L&I's website. You will have to check with the court system to see if the contractor or his or her company was ever sued in Superior Court, District Court or small claims court.  I can help you run a limited background check on contractors and subcontractors.  Contact me today to schedule an appointment.



Estate Planning Questions.