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!

**************************************************************************************

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.”

**************************************************************************************

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!

**************************************************************************************

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. 

**************************************************************************************

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.

Advertisements

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.

Tenant Tip: New law prevents housing discrimination against survivors of domestic violence

Gov. Inslee signs the Fair Tenant Screening Act

Gov. Inslee signs the Fair Tenant Screening Act

Thanks to all the stories, phone calls, emails and advocacy from all of you, the second part of the Fair Tenant Screening Act (SSB 5568) was signed into law by Governor Inslee on April 23, 2013. This is a huge win for tenants, housing advocates and survivors of domestic violence across Washington State!

What does the new law do?

When you fill out an application for rental housing and pay a screening fee, often a landlord will use a third party company to put together a tenant screening report on a prospective renter. The new law prevents these tenant screening companies from reporting information about a person’s status as a survivor of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. This means tenant screening companies cannot report that a tenant has a history of domestic violence, nor can they disclose that a victim has a protection order in place for their safety.

In addition, the law prevents screening companies from reporting to a landlord that the tenant has previously broken a lease and moved out early – as the law allows survivors of domestic violence to do in RCW 59.18.575.

Filing a protection order and breaking a lease are both available as legal remedies to ensure the safety of domestic violence survivors. Therefore, we need to make sure our laws also guarantee that people are not punished – by repeatedly being denied rental housing – for choosing to use these options.

Current law prohibits landlords from denying housing based solely on a person’s history of experiencing domestic violence (RCW 59.18.580); however, additional protections were needed to make sure a victim’s history of domestic violence could not be accessed by a landlord and used against them when applying for housing. Everyone needs to be able to have a safe place to start over.

When does the new law go into effect?

The new sections of the law will be added to RCW 59.18.580 and will go into effect on January 1, 2014.

What are the next steps?

There is still plenty of work to be done to make tenant screening a fair and equitable process. Challenges that often arise for people include:

  • Having a wrongful or illegal eviction filing on their record, which a future landlord may use to deny housing.
  • Paying the high cost of tenant screening and application fees, and still being denied housing.
  • Ensuring that the information on a tenant screening report is accurate and reflects the prospective tenant’s actual history.

Do you have a personal story about the challenges you’ve faced as a renter applying for rental housing? If so, please call and leave us a message on our Legislative Advocacy Line at 206.694.6748. We’d love to talk with you about ways to share your story and help change the Landlord-Tenant Laws.

Thanks to all those who contacted their representatives, lobbied, made their voices heard, bravely shared their stories, and spoke up for fair, accessible, housing for all!

Questions?

If you have any questions about the new legislation or what it means for renters, please call and speak to a counselor on the Tenant Services Line 206.694.6767. The message line is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10:30am to 4:30pm, and Tenant Counselors respond to callers throughout the week.

Fair Tenant Screening Act Passes in the Senate and Moves to House Judiciary

Solid Ground celebrates a great victory for renters in Washington: On Monday, March 11, 2013, the Washington State Senate moved one step closer to making landlord-tenant laws more fair and just for tenants. The Senate voted on the Fair Tenant Screening Act, and with true bipartisan support they passed SB 5568 with a vote of 46-3. This is a huge step toward making sure that domestic violence survivors are not discriminated against or denied housing based on a protection order or their history of domestic violence.

SenJeanne_Kohl-WellesTo hear senators Hobbs, Kohl-Welles and Frockt’s moving testimony on the Senate floor, visit the TVW website for March 11, 2013 Senate coverage, and scroll to 21:30 minutes to watch the 6 ½-minute video coverage.

But that doesn’t mean our work is done! Please send an email to thank Senator Hobbs (steve.hobbs@leg.wa.gov), Senator Kohl-Welles (Jeanne.Kohl-Welles@leg.wa.gov) and Senator Frockt (David.Frockt@leg.wa.gov) for their ongoing support and leadership for the Fair Tenant Screening Act.

Thanks to everyone who offered their support of this critical bill by writing emails and letters and making calls. Also, special thanks and congratulations to the advocates who stood strong on this issue and made this victory possible: Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, Tenants Union, Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Columbia Legal Services and Northwest Justice Project.

%d bloggers like this: