Tenant Tip: Fair housing & service animals

Solid Ground’s Tenant Counselors receive frequent questions about tenants’ rights around having service or assistive animals in housing in Washington state. Common questions include:

  • What information can my landlord ask about my need for a service animal?
  • How do I go about requesting permission from my landlord to have a service animal?

4-H-vols-dogs-at-BFP-015To gain a better understanding, it is helpful to know the Fair Housing definitions of “Disability,” “Reasonable Accommodation” and “Service Animal.”

  • Disability: The Washington State Law Against Discrimination defines disability as a sensory, mental, or physical condition that significantly limits a person’s ability to perform major daily functions (e.g., seeing, hearing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, learning, caring for oneself, and working).
  • Reasonable Accommodation: This is a change in rules, policies, practices or services that enable a person with a disability to have equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit or common space. (E.g., A building with a “no pets” policy might make a reasonable accommodation for a blind tenant in allowing the tenant to keep a guide dog.)
  • Service Animals: These are animals that work, provide assistance, or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. Service animals are not pets.

A service animal must be allowed even in a no-pets building, and a landlord cannot charge a pet fee or collect a pet deposit for a service animal. The tenant is responsible for their service animal and its behavior in the building. If the service animal causes damages, the tenant may be charged for the repairs. If the animal is not house broken or is out of control and the tenant does not take effective action to control it, the landlord may ask the individual to obtain corrective training for the service animal or even to remove the service animal from their home.

Also, a landlord may not ask the nature of the disability. If the disability is clearly obvious (such as a person who is blind, using a guide dog), the landlord may not ask questions about the disability or the need for the animal. The landlord cannot require documentation for the animal, such as a certificate or license. If the disability is not obvious, they may ask for a letter from the tenant’s service provider (a medical professional or other professional who knows about your disability and accommodation needs, such as a peer support group or non-medical service provider) documenting that the tenant has a disability and that there is a disability-related need for the animal.

Our sample letter to request Reasonable Accommodations has language that can help you request a service animal.

More than one agency oversees and enforces the laws on this topic, depending on where the person resides, and the following four agencies oversee service animal investigations:

  • Seattle: Seattle Office for Civil Rights
  • Tacoma: Tacoma Human Rights
  • Unincorporated King County: King County Office of Civil Rights & Open Government
  • Everywhere else in Washington state: U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD)

Want to find out more about Service Animals? Check out the following resources:

This post was contributed by Tenant Counselor Jeanne Winner. The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided here should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767, Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30am and 4:30pm.

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Tenant Tip: Know your foreclosure rights in 2015!

Foreclosure sign

Landlord/tenant laws related to foreclosures in Washington state changed as of January 1st of this year because the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act of 2009 (PTFA) officially expired at the end of 2014. State law continues to provide protections to tenants in residences facing foreclosure. Some of these protections differ significantly from the Federal protections that expired. We’ve outlined some of the basics of the law below. (Note: If you rent a property that is facing foreclosure, Solid Ground’s Tenant Services recommends that you speak with an attorney to understand the full breadth of protections available to you. See our online Legal Assistance Guide for some free legal resources.)

Tenants residing in properties of four units or less at the time of sale in foreclosure must be given written notice to vacate within 60 days, regardless of whether the rental agreement is a fixed-term or month-to-month lease. If the new owner of the property wishes to rent with the existing tenants, they can ask the tenants to sign a new rental agreement. The law does not specifically state whether rent must be paid during the 60-day period, so it is advisable to set the funds aside in case they are demanded later. It is the former owner’s responsibility to return any remaining deposit as well.

If tenants choose to overstay the allotted 60-day period, they could risk an eviction being filed. The only other reasons tenants can face eviction are for waste or nuisance, especially involving illegal activities or paraphernalia.

If landlords neglect to pay for the utilities, tenants have the option to request that the utility company put the utilities in their name. Tenants should be very cautious if taking this step, and ensure that their new account will not be associated with any prior unpaid fees. This Sample Letter to Public Utility can help tenants contact their provider company and legally restore their electric and/or water services. When exiting the property, the tenant should arrange with the utility company to shut off services and close the account.

Foreclosure is a challenging and confusing process, but it is important for tenants to know what their rights are and how to assert them. Visit our Tenant Services Foreclosure webpage for more information about tenants’ rights related to foreclosures, as well as access to other helpful resources.

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided here should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767, Mondays and Wednesdays between 10:30am and 2:30pm.

Tenant Tip: Washington state tenants need your help TODAY!

Fair Tenant Screening Act

creditcheckFor nearly 10 years, the Fair Tenant Screening Act has been brought to our leaders in Olympia. We have achieved past successes to adopt legislation which makes the screening process more transparent. The Fair Tenant Screening Act addresses some of the most critical needs for housing accessibility in our state. While the cost of screening fees required during a housing search may seem negligible, without any change to legislation, these fees can make 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.

This week, HB 1257 passed in the Washington state House of Representatives and is now moving to the Senate. If passed, it would make tenant screening reports more fair and affordable for all renters. We need YOUR help to make this happen!

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TAKE ACTION NOW!

Call the Legislative Hotline at 1.800.562.6000 and tell your Senators to make tenant screening reports fair and affordable. 

SAMPLE MESSAGE:

Protect renters from unfair screening practices by supporting reform through the Fair Tenant Screening Act. All Washington state residents deserve a fair chance at obtaining a safe and stable place to call home.”

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What would this bill change? 

This bill would make the costs of the housing search fair and affordable. It would allow tenants the option of paying one fee for an online report that is valid for 30 days. Within this time frame, any landlord to whom a prospective tenant is applying for housing can access the tenant’s comprehensive report, protecting the tenant from repeated fees for screening. This bill does not change or limit the information that landlords have access to in any way, and a landlord may still order additional reports at their own expense if desired.

Why this bill is important

Currently, tenants are required to pay screening fees that range from $30 to $75 per household member over 18, each and every time they apply for an apartment. Whether you face other hurdles to overcome during the housing search or not, the high cost of repeated screening fees can quickly accumulate and mean the difference between being able to secure housing and being homeless.

What you can do to help!

Housing Advocates have been working very hard this legislative session to make significant improvements for tenants in Washington state. This bill was passed out of the House of Representatives on March 5, 2015, but now must be voted out of the Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee. We need your help NOW! We cannot make these changes without you!

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TAKE ACTION NOW!

DON’T DELAY! Call the Legislative Hotline at 1.800.562.6000 and tell your Senators to make tenant screening reports fair and affordable. 

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The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided here should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767, Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30am and 4:30pm.

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