Legislative Update: Fair Tenant Screening Act

This is the first of a series of legislative updates highlighting some of the issues presented before the Washington State Legislature in the 2014 session, focusing on some of the most important bills impacting housing and other issues that directly affect the communities Solid Ground serves. Several bills and other topics will be explained to simplify the complicated legislative process, and emphasize the importance of preparing to advocate for these critical issues in the 2015 legislative session.

SB 6291: Fair Tenant Screening Act (Part III) – An important bill that died in the 2014 session and what this means for Washington renters:

capitol building, capitol building in olympia

Capitol building in Olympia, WA

Arguably one of the most underrated bills to be considered by the Washington State Legislature, the Fair Tenant Screening Act addresses some of the most critical needs for housing accessibility in our state. This bill makes the difference between a family being able to move into safe and affordable housing, or having to remain living in substandard and potentially unhealthy housing. In conjunction with rent increases and lack of affordable housing, application fees and screening criteria are some of the main reasons homelessness continues to be a reality for so many individuals and families across Washington State.

SB 6291, also known as Part III of the Fair Tenant Screening Act, would address rental application screening costs for thousands of tenants. Unfortunately, this bill did not pass in the 2014 session. However, both Part I and II of the Fair Tenant Screening Act, which address access to housing for domestic violence survivors and require the screening criteria in writing, passed in the 2012 and 2013 sessions, respectively. Information on both bills can be accessed in previous Solid Ground Blog posts about the Fair Tenant Screening Act (see Tenant Tip: New law prevents housing discrimination against survivors of domestic violence and Tenant Tip: Fair Tenant Screening Act passed!).

What this bill would have changed:

This bill would have made the housing search fair and affordable. It would have continued to improve housing accessibility by adding a third component to the two mentioned above, thus strengthening the Fair Tenant Screening Act and making affordability a reality for renters seeking housing in our state.

Specifically, SB 6291 would have amended the repeated screening fees that tenants have to pay each time they apply to a new rental by requiring that the tenant pay one fee for a 30-day period. During this 30-day period, any landlord to whom a prospective tenant is applying for housing can access the tenant’s comprehensive report (which can include a credit and criminal background check, eviction and other civil records, rental references, etc.) without passing additional charges to the tenant. A landlord can choose to accept the report provided by the tenant or choose to pay for another report at their own cost, without passing the cost on to the tenant.

Why this bill is important:

Currently a prospective tenant in Washington looking for a new place to rent spends between $30-$375 in application fees, depending on the number of times they are denied by a landlord. Each rental application can cost between $30-$75 (and up) per person, and regardless of whether the information accessed for a background check is the same, the tenant is asked to pay for each application filled out. This bill would save hundreds of thousands of dollars which could then be spent on other housing costs. Currently, rental screening companies in Washington collect millions of dollars from this business practice, while the average renter spends more than half of their income – often three quarters of it – on rent.

3 steps you can take before the next legislative session to address this issue:

  1. Contact your legislator and schedule a 15-minute appointment or coffee with them during interim. They will have more time to sit down and talk with you in the summer and fall. Don’t wait until session.
  2. Bring this bill and other concerns you have. Tell them about how this issue impacts you.
  3. Join an advocacy group, such as the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, to stay up to date on advocacy efforts and learn more about issues that might impact your community.

For more information on this particular bill, this 1/23/14 Senate Financial Institutions, Housing & Insurance Committee meeting video (104:58) provides testimony from housing advocates explaining why this bill is important.

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