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.

Tenant Services out in the community!

1991-LIHI-circleSeattle’s overheated rental market strongly impacts people living on low incomes and those experiencing homelessness. Solid Ground’s Tenant Services team has been out in the community, helping people understand their rights and resources to help them achieve stability.

United Way’s annual Community Resource Exchange took place on April 23rd at CenturyLink Field. The one-day event offered hot meals, health care, haircuts, legal and public benefits help, as well as many other services and community resource referrals all in one location. Over 1,300 people experiencing homelessness attended the resource exchange this year.

Solid Ground Tenant Counselor Chea Berra was there to provide information about our Tenant Services.

“Many attendees seemed to be quickly assessing whether the information, products or services at each table were something that could readily serve their day-to-day existence of homelessness,” Chea said. “It struck me that they were grappling with survival. To think long term – how to ensure just treatment at the hands of a future landlord, for example – was not in the realm of living on the streets. Immediate housing was what they needed and what they sought.”

That same day at the Senior Center of West Seattle, Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen hosted a panel of housing experts at a community forum. The meeting focused on senior housing issues including increased housing costs, tenant rights, affordable housing options for seniors, and information about the City of Seattle’s Utility Discount Program. Joy Scott, Solid Ground’s Supportive Services Manager, presented on tenant rights.

Seniors living on fixed incomes are particularly concerned about the rising costs of housing in the Seattle area because Social Security and retirement benefits no longer adequately cover the cost of rent. In addition, many seniors report facing discrimination based on the source of their income, and are more likely to be denied housing as a result. Longtime residents face an added challenge when rent increases occur and there is insufficient time to consider relocating, search for housing, and obtain the practical assistance for the physical aspects of moving.

Seniors interested in shared housing as a way to lower the cost of rent also spoke of age discrimination as Seattle’s rental market is dominated by young people. Unless we create fundamental changes within the rental market, seniors will continue to be displaced out of the Seattle area, or onto the streets.

You can watch Seattle Channel’s coverage of the entire forum!

The day closed with a Town Hall Meeting titled, “Rent is Out of Control!” with Seattle City Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata addressing the affordable housing crisis. In addition to creating a forum for public comments, the meeting featured speakers from the Tenants Union of Washington State, the Seattle Displacement Coalition (formerly a program of Solid Ground), and Real Change.

The evening was as much about residents illustrating the grave housing problems we are facing, as it was about discussing possible solutions. Stories shared that night evidence an epidemic of preposterously high rent increases across the Seattle area, the displacement of people of color, people with disabilities, social workers and artists, and the drastically increasing homeless population as a result of the rapid decline of affordable housing that we are experiencing.

In terms of solutions, participants discussed rent control, increased public sponsored affordable housing units, and creative solutions such as converting old shipping containers into housing. Councilmember Sawant clarified for the audience that before Seattle can enact any type of rent control or stabilization, a Washington State law (RCW 35.21.830) prohibiting any city or town from regulating rent needs to be overturned. While this may seem like a large feat, hope was inspired by the reminder that in spite of the odds, Seattle recently succeeded in passing a $15 minimum wage. Councilmember Licata emphasized that in order for this issue to gain momentum, Seattle residents must take action to support and demand the need for more affordable housing solutions within the city.

Seattle Channel also videoed the Town Hall.

Are you interested in sharing your story to join the fight for affordable housing? We need to build momentum in order to expand tenant rights! Call our tenant services team at 206.694.6748!

CANCELLED: Tenant Rights Workshop in Wallingford, 1/30/14

We apologize for the late notice, but we’ve had to cancel this workshop due to staff schedules. We hope to reschedule within the next couple of weeks and will post here when we have a new date.

RENT SMART WORKSHOP:
For current & future renters & tenant advocates

Solid Ground Tenant Services is offering another opportunity for renters, housing advocates and service providers in King County to attend a free training about tenants’ rights and responsibilities as laid out in the Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act.

Rent Smart Tenant Rights WorkshopsWHEN / WHERE:
Rescheduled date/location TBD

We’ll cover topics such as:

  • Understanding your rights and responsibilities as a renter
  • Finding affordable housing
  • Navigating landlord screening criteria
  • Protecting yourself from eviction & housing loss
  • Learning how to get your deposit back
  • Requesting repairs

Since we are in the middle of the legislative session from January 13 to March 13, we will also provide an update on any potential legislation that our lawmakers are considering. You can advocate by signing a letter to send to your lawmakers to support the Fair Tenant Screening Act or other legislation that benefits renters!

Whether you are a long-time renter who would like a refresher on landlord-tenant laws or a new renter who wants to know about your rights and responsibilities, we hope you will join us for the workshop! Email questions regarding the workshop or RSVP to tenantwa@solid-ground.org.

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.

Tenant Tip: Rent increases on the rise in Washington State

Graph from Seattle Times depicting rent growth in the Seattle-area since 1995, with a 6% increase since last year.

Graph from Seattle Times depicting rent growth in the Seattle-area since 1995, with a 6% increase since last year.

Have you received a notice of a rent increase in the last year? If you are renting in Washington State, especially in a major urban area such as Seattle, it’s likely that you’ve seen an increase in your housing costs over the past year. We’ve heard from many people on the Tenant Services Hotline that rent is increasing significantly, and even doubling in some parts of the state. Imagine paying $700 for a one-bedroom apartment in August, and then being asked to pay $1,400 for that same apartment in September!

A recent Seattle Times article states that rents in Seattle increased nearly 6% in the past year  more than any other major U.S. city included in the study. Now the average rate for a one-bedroom apartment is nearly $1,200 a month.

The soaring cost of housing is also drawing attention to the shortage of affordable housing for families, individuals and students, who are forced to spend the majority of their paychecks on housing costs alone.

With the trend in major rent increases, we thought it would be a good time to review the laws and requirements for rent increases and rule changes.

When can the landlord increase my rent? What kind of notice is required?

The Residential Landlord-Tenant Act in Washington State has specific laws that address how much notice landlords must give tenants before increasing the rent or making changes to the policies or rules included in a rental agreement. The section of the landlord-tenant laws that address rule changes or rent increases is RCW 59.18.140.

Tenants who have a term lease for a fixed amount of time  for example, January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2013 ­­­­ can only be issued a rent increase or change to the rental agreement at the end of the lease period, in our example, after December 31.

Tenants who have a month-to-month agreement have the right to at least 30 days’ written notice before the rent increase goes into effect. To increase the rent effective on February 1, landlords should give tenants written notice on or before January 1. The idea is that tenants could still give at least 20 days’ notice  by January 11 in order to end the rental agreement and move out if they are unable to pay the increased amount.

Within Seattle city limits, there are additional protections through the Rental Agreement Regulation, which requires Seattle landlords to provide 60 days’ written notice if the rent increase is more than 10% over a 12-month period. All of the state laws about notice requirements still apply in Seattle as well. This is just an additional protection.

Is there a limit or maximum amount a landlord can raise the rent?

There is NO rent control in Washington State, therefore there is not a cap or limit to the number of times a landlord can raise the rent in a year (RCW 35.21.830). Similarly, there is no maximum dollar amount or percent increase limit for a rent increase.

What can I do if the landlord does not provide me the correct amount of notice to increase my rent?

If landlords do not provide at least 30 days’ notice before the increase is to take effect, or if they increase your rent in the middle of a rental period, you may want to address the issue in writing so you are not held responsible for paying the increased amount until you’ve received the correct notice required by law. We have a Sample Letter that may be helpful in starting that conversation with landlords.

Keeping a paper trail of documentation is a good idea during this process. If you pay the rent increase to avoid having the landlord illegally evict you for unpaid rent, then you still have options for later recovering that month’s increase where correct notice was not provided. Some tenants have used Small Claims Court to sue for the money paid for a rent increase where the landlord did not provide the correct 30 days’ notice or tried to increase the rent in the middle of a lease period.

If you think the rent increase was given out of retaliation­  for example, you asserted your rights by asking that the landlord make a repair, and the landlord responded by giving you a rent increase ­ then you may want to speak to an attorney to see what your options are. See our Legal Assistance Guide webpage for more information.

Where can I find other resources about rent increases and rule changes?

You can check out our Rental Agreements webpage for more information and FAQs. The City of Seattle also has information about the Rental Agreement Regulation for Seattle residents. And if you would like to read more about the trend in rapidly rising rent costs, here are a few of the recent articles to get you started:

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.

Tenant Tip: Tenant Rights Workshop in Bellevue, 10/21/13

Solid Ground Tenant Services is offering another opportunity for renters, housing advocates and service providers in King County to attend a free training about tenants’ rights and responsibilities as laid out in the Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act.

House for RentRENT SMART:
For current & future renters & tenant advocates

WHEN:
Monday, October 21
4:30-6:30 pm

WHERE:
Highland Community Center
14224 Bel-Red Road
Bellevue, WA 98007

We’ll cover topics such as:

  • Understanding your rights and responsibilities
  • Finding affordable housing
  • Navigating landlord screening criteria
  • Protecting yourself from eviction & housing loss
  • Learning how to get your deposit back
  • Requesting repairs

Whether you are a long-time renter who would like a refresher on landlord-tenant laws or a new renter who wants to know about your rights and responsibilities, we hope you will join us for the workshop! Email questions regarding the workshop or RSVP to tenantwa@solid-ground.org.

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.

Tenant Tip: Tenant Rights Workshop in Beacon Hill, 9/24/13

WomanMovingIntoHomeSolid Ground Tenant Services is offering another opportunity for renters, housing advocates and service providers in King County to attend a free training about tenants’ rights and responsibilities as laid out in the Landlord-Tenant Laws.

Rent Smart: For current & future renters & tenant advocates

Tuesday, September 24, 5-7pm
Beacon Hill Library, Conference Room
2821 Beacon Ave S, Seattle, WA 98144

We’ll be covering topics such as:

  • Understanding your rights and responsibilities
  • Finding affordable housing
  • Navigating landlord screening criteria
  • Protecting yourself from eviction & housing loss
  • Learning how to get your deposit back
  • Requesting repairs

Whether you are a long-time renter who would like a refresher on landlord-tenant laws or a new renter who wants to know about your rights and responsibilities, we hope you will join us for the workshop! Email questions regarding the workshop or RSVP to tenantwa@solid-ground.org.

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.

Tenant Tip: Tenants’ Rights Workshops, 7/23 & 24

Rent Smart Tenant Rights WorkshopsNext week, Solid Ground Tenant Services is offering two opportunities for renters, housing advocates and service providers in King County to attend a free training about tenants’ rights and responsibilities as laid out in the Landlord-Tenant Laws.

We’ll be covering topics such as:

  • Understanding your rights and responsibilities
  • Finding affordable housing
  • Navigating landlord screening criteria
  • Protecting yourself from eviction & housing loss
  • Learning how to get your deposit back
  • Requesting repairs

Rent Smart: For current & future renters & tenant advocates
Tuesday, July 23, 5-7pm
Bellevue City Hall (450 110th Ave NE, Bellevue, WA)
Room 1E-108

Landlord-Tenant Law Overview for Service Providers
Wednesday, July 24, 10am-12pm
Lifelong AIDS Alliance (1002 E Seneca St, Seattle, WA)
Enter from the lower level parking lot at right set of doors.

Whether you are a long-time renter who would like a refresher on landlord-tenant laws, or a new renter who wants to know what your rights and responsibilities are as a renter, we hope you will join us for a workshop! Email questions regarding the workshops to tenantwa@solid-ground.org.

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 on Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30am and 4:30pm.

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.

Tenant Rights Workshop in Federal Way 6/10/13

Want to know more about your rights as a renter? Wondering how to get your deposit back or request a repair? Would you like to know how new changes in the laws impact renters?

House for RentSolid Ground Tenant Counselors are hosting another FREE Rent Smart Workshop for the community on Monday, June 10, 4:30pm-6:30pm, in Federal Way at the Multi-Service Center Conference Room (1200 S. 336th, Federal Way, WA 98003). We’ll provide information about landlord-tenant laws in Washington State and discuss the laws and ordinances that apply throughout the housing search process, move-in, during tenancy, move-out and eviction. Bring your questions!

Since there is no agency that enforces the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act in our state, it is largely up to tenants to understand the laws and know their rights in order to take appropriate action to effectively enforce them. We’ll talk about some tips and best practices for renters to help you assert your rights and have a successful tenancy – whether you are signing a rental agreement, requesting repairs or have questions about your privacy rights.

Especially with recent changes and additions to the laws, challenging situations can arise for tenants. For example, the laws around tenant screening changed in 2012 and 2013, requiring landlords to provide written notice of their screening criteria before they screen a tenant that has applied for housing (see our Tenant Tip from March 2012 for more information). If a tenant is unaware of this law or the changes, they could be unfairly denied housing without knowing why. There are remedies available to tenants if a landlord is not complying with the laws, but tenants have to know those remedies are available in order to use them. Knowing the laws and what steps to take, tenants can take action to correct the problem.

If you are a tenant or service provider and would like to attend the workshop, please RSVP to our Tenant Services Workshop & Advocacy Line at 206.694.6748 or email tenantwa@solid-ground.org.

We are also available to provide workshops to organizations and groups throughout King County free of charge. Please contact us at 206.694.6748 if you are interested in scheduling a workshop for your agency or community group. For more information, visit our website at www.solid-ground.org/Tenant.

We look forward to seeing you on June 10th!

RentSmartWorkshopsFlyer_FedWay_6-10-13

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 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: ACLU files lawsuit against tenant screening company

Markeletta Wilson filed a lawsuit seeking a court order requiring RentGrow and Yardi Systems to end their violations of Washington’s Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Markeletta Wilson filed a lawsuit seeking a court order requiring RentGrow and Yardi Systems to end their violations of Washington’s Fair Credit Reporting Act.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced Thursday morning, April 4, 2013, that they are representing Markeletta Wilson in a lawsuit filed against RentGrow, a corporation that specializes in tenant screening. The ACLU lawsuit addresses RentGrow’s unfair denial of Ms. Wilson’s rental application in 2012 in Tukwila, WA. The denial was based solely on her criminal record from two decades ago, including two convictions for drug possession in 1988 and 1995. The screening company violated the Washington Fair Credit Reporting Act by reporting criminal history from over seven years ago.

Since tenant screening companies are largely unregulated, it’s expected that Ms. Wilson’s experience is not uncommon. The case has been filed as a class action lawsuit, as the attorneys believe RentGrow’s screening practices have likely impacted numerous other renters across the state.

Solid Ground and the Washington State Tenants Union participated in the ACLU press conference on Thursday to speak about the effects that unfair tenant screening practices have on families who are trying to secure stable housing. When screening companies use information that is outdated or incorrect, it makes it difficult for tenants with a criminal background to find stable housing and often leads people to become homeless.

Solid Ground’s housing programs work with over 5,000 clients each year, including hundreds of families who are staying with friends and family, sleeping on couches, or staying in shelters because they are unable to secure permanent housing because of unfair screening practices. All people deserve a fair chance to obtain stable, healthy housing, which allows them to then find stable employment and avoid recidivism.

This is an important step forward in making the process of tenant screening more fair for all tenants across Washington State. We are proud to stand beside the ACLU as they work to make safe, stable housing accessible for all people!

You can read the full story on the ACLU’s website in Woman Unfairly Denied Housing Sues Tenant Screening Company. The The Seattle Times and KPLU 88.5 FM also covered the story.

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.

Tenant Tip: Evictions in Clean & Sober Housing (Part 2)

recovery-photoIn Evictions in Clean & Sober Housing (Part 1), we explained some of the requirements and the specific evictions process for tenants living in clean and sober housing in Washington State. Current legislation does not provide strong protections for these tenants, so in Part 2, we’ll address some of the barriers they face.

In the 2013 legislative session, there was an effort by certain housing providers to introduce legislation to make it faster for landlords of clean and sober housing to evict tenants. Because the evictions process for this type of housing is already speedy under current law, the new legislation would have put these tenants at great risk of losing their housing. But through a collaborative open dialogue to discuss the implications of changing the current law regarding evictions in clean and sober housing, the proposed legislation was not introduced and will not move forward this legislative session.

Stable housing is critical in helping individuals in recovery get back on their feet and be able to support themselves. However, housing promoted as “clean and sober” or “recovery housing” varies widely in the types and levels of services and support offered to the residents, because current Washington State law does not require regulatory monitoring of these types of housing. Also, it is common for various individuals living in clean and sober housing to be at different stages of drug or alcohol recovery. In situations where individuals break the housing rules by using drugs on the premises, it can be challenging for landlords to protect the other residents so that recovering addicts are not put in vulnerable situations with drugs present in their living environment.

Many housing providers who offer clean and sober housing do comply with the laws and meet the guidelines of chemical dependency professionals working with individuals in recovery programs. However, there are also landlords who do not comply – specifically with the required evictions process. In some cases, tenants are not given the proper eviction notices required by law and then face the risk of housing loss in a very short amount of time without due process. Under the current statute, tenants in these situations can be given a 3-day notice with only one day to comply or be evicted.

The current evictions process in all types of rental housing is speedy, but even more so in clean and sober housing where the time window for tenants to be in compliance is only one day. While this allows for housing providers to maintain the health and safety of tenants in recovery housing by immediately addressing problems with tenants who are not complying with the rules, it can be problematic for tenants who relapse and require more support.

Because many individuals who live in clean and sober housing can be required to serve jail sentences if they violate their court-ordered requirements, stable housing is critical to address drug addiction issues through services and alternative community programs, not jail time. Relapsing tenants should be given chemical dependency counseling and access to legal services so they can be well-informed and able to address a notice of eviction, but access to free services is very limited and often contingent on funding of community programs.

For these reasons, it is crucial that the clean and sober housing evictions process not be sped up, as this would only create further barriers for individuals who are working towards making life changes from drug addiction.

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 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Rent Smart Workshop, 4/2/13

Want to know more about your rights as a renter? Wondering how to get your deposit back or request a repair? Would you like to know how new changes in the laws impact renters?

House for RentSolid Ground Tenant Counselors are hosting a FREE Rent Smart Workshop for the community on Tuesday, April 2, 5-7pm, at the Douglass-Truth Library Conference Room (2300 E. Yesler Way, Seattle, WA 98122). We’ll provide information about landlord-tenant laws in Washington State and discuss the laws and ordinances that apply throughout the housing search process, move-in, during tenancy, move-out and eviction. Bring your questions!

Since there is no agency that enforces the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act in our state, it is largely up to tenants to understand the laws and know their rights in order to take appropriate action to effectively enforce them. We’ll talk about some tips and best practices for renters to help you assert your rights and have a successful tenancy – whether you are signing a rental agreement, requesting repairs or have questions about your privacy rights.

Especially with recent changes and additions to the laws, challenging situations can arise for tenants. For example, the laws around landlord entry and privacy rights changed in 2011, requiring landlords to provide written notice before entering a tenant’s unit (see our Tenant Tip from September 2011 for more information). If a tenant is unaware of this law or the changes, their privacy rights could be compromised. There are remedies available to tenants if a landlord is not complying with the laws, but tenants have to know those remedies are available in order to use them. Knowing the laws and what steps to take, tenants can take action to correct the problem.

If you are a tenant or service provider and would like to attend the workshop, please RSVP to our Tenant Services Workshop & Advocacy Line at 206.694.6748 or email tenantwa@solid-ground.org.

We are also available to provide workshops to organizations and groups throughout King County free of charge. Please contact us at 206.694.6748 if you are interested in scheduling a workshop for your agency or community group. For more information, visit our website at www.solid-ground.org/Tenant.

We look forward to seeing you on April 2nd!

4 2 13 RentSmartWorkshopsFlyer_DouglassTruthLib

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 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

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.

Tenant Tip: Evictions in Clean & Sober Housing (Part 1)

recovery-photoThis Tenant Tip addresses RCW 59.18.550 of the Washington State Residential Landlord Tenant Act (RLTA), clarifying the rights and requirements of tenants living in “drug and alcohol free housing,” including their right to due process in an eviction (also known as an Unlawful Detainer Action (UDA) ). Under this section of the law, any tenant who lives in drug and alcohol free housing is entitled to a rental agreement IN WRITING and access to supportive services through recovery programs (i.e. Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous).

In addition, the rental agreement must include the following provisions:

  • The tenant and invited guests may not use any illegal substances, controlled substances or prescription drugs without a prescription on the premises.
  • The tenant can be required to take a urine analysis test for drug and alcohol at the landlord’s discretion and expense.
  • On a quarterly basis (at minimum), the tenant must provide documentation from the recovery program they are participating in to report progress abstaining from drugs and alcohol.

Furthermore, the landlord must provide a drug- and alcohol-free environment for all tenants and an employee who monitors the compliance with program rules.

The following types of entities are considered to be landlords under the RLTA and must provide the specific requirements and services under RCW 59.18.550:

The eviction process is slightly different for tenants living in drug and alcohol free housing. A landlord can terminate tenancy by delivering a three-day notice to the tenant with one day to comply if the tenant uses, possesses or shares alcohol, prescription drugs without a prescription, or illegal substances on the premises. A tenant may be given the three-day notice if their invited guests are participating in such actions as well.

A three-day notice to terminate tenancy with one day to comply gives the tenant one day after receipt of the notice to stop the use of drugs or alcohol and be in compliance. If the tenant complies, the landlord cannot go further with the eviction and the rental agreement does not terminate. If the tenant is not able to comply within one day after receiving the notice – and at the end of the three-day period, if the tenant has not vacated – the landlord can continue with the eviction process by serving a summons for UDA.

Our website lists an eviction timeline, including the court process to physically remove a tenant from the premises. If the tenant violates the same rule within six months of receiving a three-day notice, the landlord can begin the eviction process by issuing another three-day notice without the option for the tenant to comply again. This section provides the same eviction process and timeline during which landlords are allowed to evict a tenant under 59.12 RCW.

Because of the complexity of this information, it will be posted in two parts. The next post will further address some of the barriers that people living in clean and sober housing face – including the problems a faster eviction process would pose – and how these tenants could benefit from additional protections allowing them to remain in stable housing. 

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 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Tenant Rights Workshop in South King County, 11/29/12

House for Rent Want to know more about your rights as a renter? Wondering how to get your deposit back or request a repair? Would you like to know how the new changes in the laws impact renters?

Solid Ground Tenant Counselors are hosting a FREE Rent Smart Workshop for the community on Thursday November 29, 5:30-7:30pm, at the Kent City Hall, 1st Fl Chambers (220 4th Ave S, Kent, WA 98032). We’ll provide information about the landlord-tenant laws in Washington State and discuss the laws and ordinances that apply throughout the housing search process, move-in, during tenancy, move-out and eviction. Bring your questions!

Since there is no agency that enforces the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act in our state, it is largely up to tenants to understand the laws and know their rights in order to take appropriate action to effectively enforce them. We’ll talk about some tips and best practices for renters to help you assert your rights and have a successful tenancy – whether you are signing a rental agreement, requesting repairs or have questions about your privacy rights.

Especially with recent changes and additions to the laws, challenging situations can arise for tenants. For example, the laws around landlord entry and privacy rights changed in 2011, requiring landlords to provide written notice before entering a tenant’s unit (see our Tenant Tip from September 2011 for more information). If a tenant is unaware of this law or the changes, their privacy rights could be compromised. There are remedies available to tenants if a landlord is not complying with the laws, but tenants have to know those remedies are available in order to use them. Knowing the laws and what steps to take, tenants can take action to correct the problem.

If you are a tenant or service provider and would like to attend the workshop, please RSVP to our Tenant Services Workshop & Advocacy Line at 206.694.6748 or email tenantwa@solid-ground.org.

We are also available to provide workshops to organizations and groups throughout King County free of charge. Please contact us if you are interested in scheduling a workshop specifically for your agency or community group. For more information, visit our website at www.solid-ground.org/Tenant.

We look forward to seeing you on November 29!

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 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Coming Soon – Seattle’s Rental Housing Inspection Program

Seattle skylineIf you live in the City of Seattle, a new ordinance passed on October 1, 2012 which will affect tenants in residential housing. The Rental Housing Inspection Program (RHIP) requires landlords to register their rental properties within Seattle so they can be periodically inspected. While the program will not be implemented until 2014, the Department of Planning and Development will be working with stakeholders throughout 2013 to work out details, such as establishing a fee structure and inspection standards. It is exciting to see Seattle take proactive measures to protect renters and make sure the available rental housing is safe and habitable!

The program will be introduced gradually over the next several years, with the goal of inspecting all rental properties – but not necessarily all units – over the next 10 years. Registration will begin with properties that have five or more units in January 2014, followed by inspections beginning in 2015. All other types of rental housing – single family, duplex, triplex, etc. – will need to register by December 31, 2016. Inspection of all other units will begin in 2017.

Inspections will not be intrusive for renters since they will typically occur very infrequently. Once a property is inspected, it will not be subject to another inspection for at least five years, unless there have been Notices of Violation issued by the City’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD). There will be requirements for inspectors to provide notice to renters in advance of the inspection, similar to the privacy laws within the Residential Landlord Tenant Act (see our blog post for notices required in residential housing).

RHIP is different from the current complaint-based system that relies on tenants to report code violations to Code Enforcement Inspectors at the DPD. Because of the risk of retaliation from landlords, some tenants are hesitant to contact code enforcement. RHIP will provide a more proactive way of making sure that housing is safe and habitable for renters by periodically inspecting all buildings. While tenants can still report code violations to the DPD, RHIP has the added benefit that anyone in the community – including housing advocates, police officers, neighbors, etc. – can call and alert the city to units that they suspect are uninhabitable.

Housing advocates are already working with the City to determine how to implement the new legislation and discuss how education about the program will take place over the next couple of years. For reliable information about the new ordinance, visit the Seattle Department of Planning and Development’s website. It explains in detail the timeline for completing inspections for each type of rental housing.  The Tenants Union website also offers information specifically for renters about the Rental Housing Inspection Program.

In addition to the DPD and the Tenants Union, renters can also call the Tenant Services Hotline at Solid Ground with any questions regarding your rights as a tenant, questions about the Residential Landlord Tenant Act or City of Seattle ordinances. The message line is 206.694.6767 and our hours are Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 10:30 am – 4:30 pm.

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 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Rental applications & tenant screening fees

In June 2012, a new law took effect providing additional regulations around the tenant screening process. Our post from 5/30/12, Fair Tenant Screening Act passed!, describes in detail the new requirements that landlords provide written notice of what information will be accessed in a screening, what information may be used to deny housing, and notification of why a tenant was denied. However, there’s still more advocacy work to be done to improve tenant screening practices.

Rental Application imageHousing barriers
can mean repeated
screening fees
Landlords frequently deny people housing based on marks on their rental history – such as prior evictions, poor credit, criminal background, etc. – forcing tenants to apply elsewhere. Tenants with a history of housing barriers must often apply to multiple places in hopes of finding an affordable unit they will be accepted into. This screening process can become very costly, because every time a tenant applies for a new rental, they must pay a screening fee ($35 to $75+) so that each different landlord can run a background check.

Be wary of portable screening reports
Some screening companies offer the option to purchase a portable report, which allows tenants to pay one fee and take the report to several landlords or have online access to it. In theory, this method prevents tenants from having to pay fees to each landlord that conducts a check on them.

Unfortunately, landlords are NOT required by law to accept reports provided by tenants. Many landlords choose to have their own screenings conducted and require that tenants pay a separate screening fee, even in cases where the same exact screening company is used by both landlord and tenant.

Because of this, paying for a portable report from a screening company can be risky and costly – and can actually cause tenants to spend more on screening fees. While tenant advocates are working to address the issue, to date there are no laws mitigating rental application screening costs.

Your tenant screening rights
Prior to paying for screening, it is important for tenants to remember that landlords must present a list of criteria they will use to determine tenancy eligibility. Some landlords are able to discuss their criteria with tenants in detail, and this can guide a tenant’s decision whether or not to continue with an application process and pay the screening fee. Having a conversation with a prospective landlord prior screening, proactively asking questions, and reviewing criteria for denying housing can sometimes prevent costly screening fees. 

Lastly, everyone is entitled to a free copy of their credit report from the three main credit reporting agencies; you can get yours at AnnualCreditReport.com. Bring your credit report to prospective landlords and ask if they will accept it. While some landlords may choose to conduct additional screening anyway, presenting your credit report may be another way to avoid screening fees. If a landlord refuses to accept the credit report, then you can choose whether or not to continue with the process and pay the screening fee.

For additional information on screening fees and the rental housing application process, visit Tenant Services – Housing Search on Solid Ground’s website.

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 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Rent Smart! Tenant Rights Workshop

Rent Smart Tenant Rights Workshop, 7/27/12, 4-6pm, Beacon Hill Library

Rent Smart Tenant Rights Workshop, 7/24/12, 4-6pm, Beacon Hill Library

Want to know more about your rights as a renter? Wondering how to get your deposit back or request a repair? Would you like to know how the new changes in the laws impact renters?

Tenant Counselors are hosting a FREE Rent Smart workshop for the community on Tuesday July 24, 4-6pm, at the Beacon Hill Library Conference Room (2821 Beacon Ave S, Seattle, WA 98144). We’ll provide information about the landlord-tenant laws in Washington State and discuss the laws and ordinances that apply throughout the housing search process, move-in, during tenancy, move-out and eviction. Bring your questions!

Since there is no agency that enforces the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act in our state, it is largely up to tenants to understand the laws and know their rights in order to take appropriate action to effectively enforce them. We’ll talk about some tips and best practices for renters to help you assert your rights and have a successful tenancy – whether you are signing a rental agreement, requesting repairs or have questions about your privacy rights.

Especially with recent changes and additions to the laws, challenging situations can arise for tenants. For example, the laws around landlord entry and privacy rights changed in 2011, requiring landlords to provide written notice before entering a tenant’s unit (see our Tenant Tip from September 2011 for more information). If a tenant is unaware of this law or the changes, their privacy rights could be compromised. There are remedies available to tenants if a landlord is not complying with the laws, but tenants have to know those remedies are available in order to use them. Knowing the laws and what steps to take, tenants can take action to correct the problem.

If you are a tenant or service provider and would like to attend the workshop, please RSVP to our Tenant Services Workshop & Advocacy Line at 206.694.6748 or email tenantwa@solid-ground.org.

We are also available to provide workshops to organizations and groups throughout King County free of charge. Please contact us if you are interested in scheduling a workshop specifically for your agency or community group. For more information, visit our website at www.solid-ground.org/Tenant.

We look forward to seeing you on July 24th!

Rent Smart Workshop Flyer, 7/24/12

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 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Fair Tenant Screening Act passed!

Credit check imageIn March 2012, the Fair Tenant Screening Act (Senate Bill 6315) passed in the Washington State Legislature, creating new regulations for how landlords and tenant screening companies can screen prospective tenants. A new section of the Residential Landlord Tenant Act (RLTA) reflects the regulations – and two RLTA sections and one Fair Credit Reporting Act section were amended to include the law changes. SB 6315 goes into effect on 6/7/12.

Section 59.18.257 of the RLTA now includes the following new requirements for criteria used in tenant screening:

  • Tenants can only be charged screening report fees if the landlord provides eligibility requirements prior to screening. Before performing a screening or background check on a prospective tenant, landlords must first provide written notice detailing the information they will access to determine if a tenant is accepted or denied housing – as well as what specific criteria can be grounds for denial.
  • If a landlord uses a consumer reporting agency to determine tenant eligibility, they are required to provide tenants the name and address of the agency. Landlords must also inform tenants of their rights to obtain a free copy of the agency’s report and to dispute any errors in the report if they are denied housing or experience other adverse actions.
  • If a landlord does not use a consumer reporting agency and instead screens tenants on their own, they can charge tenants a screening fee – but the fee cannot exceed the standard amount charged by screening companies in the general area.
  • If a landlord denies an applicant or takes any other adverse action against prospective tenants, the landlord is required to provide tenants written notice listing specific information such as: reasons for denial, information used to deny or take adverse action, etc. The notice must include the date, address and signature of the landlord or agent.
  • If a landlord fails to follow the proper steps in conducting a tenant screening, they can be held liable for up to $100 plus court and reasonable attorney fees.

These new requirements provide more organized regulations for tenant screening and allow prospective tenants to know what information will be used to determine their acceptance or denial before paying screening fees. However, reports often contain inaccurate and misleading information, and tenants are not made aware of this until after they have been denied housing and paid fees. (Our November 2011 Tenant Screening blog post describes some housing barriers that unfair, misleading and inaccurate screening reports can create for low-income families, domestic violence survivors and many others.) So despite the new regulations, screening costs and misinformation in screening reports continue to prevent thousands of families from getting into housing.

A group of stakeholders – including tenant advocates, landlord groups and representatives of consumer reporting and screening agencies – will convene to address tenant screening costs and the information included in screening reports. This group will provide recommendations to the legislature by December 1, 2012.

Individuals who have paid multiple screening fees, have been wrongfully denied housing by a screening company or landlord, or face other housing barriers due to tenant screening are encouraged to share their experiences to help influence the recommendations made and increase the regulations to better protect tenants. To find out more about the law changes and how you can share your experiences to make the most beneficial recommendations, contact Solid Ground’s Tenant Advocacy Line at 206.694.6748 or email tenantwa@solid-ground.org.

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 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Help pass the Fair Tenant Screening Act!

Current Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Law creates some serious housing barriers for domestic violence (DV) survivors and people living on low incomes – such as a requirement to pay separate screening fees for each new rental application. The Fair Tenant Screening Act (FTSA), going before the WA State Senate Rules & Means Committee next Wednesday, February 14, would eliminate those barriers.

Contact your Senators to let them know that FTSA will help keep families housed and prevent homelessness! Below is a brief overview of FTSA by the Housing Alliance detailing why it is important for these bills to pass in order to address serious barriers to housing. You can follow this link to the Housing Alliance’s website and send an email to your senators to ask them to keep them moving in the Senate. You can also call 1.800.562.6000 and ask your senators to support SSB 6321 and SSB 6315.

Substitute Senate Bill 6315 (SSB 6315) will address the high cost of tenant screening reports by asking a work group of stakeholders, including tenants, landlords and tenant screening companies, to examine how to make a portable report work in Washington, or otherwise drive down the high cost of tenant screening reports. It will also require adverse action notices when a landlord decides to not rent to a tenant and will allow a tenant to know the criteria that will be used to determine whether or not to rent to them.

SB 6321 provides tenants who have prevailed in court and survivors of DV an opportunity to ask the court to seal or redact their record so that their future housing prospects will no longer unfairly be diminished.

Currently, the reports generated to landlords can contain misleading, unfair and inaccurate information. They report merely if a tenant has been named in an eviction lawsuit – not the outcome, not if the tenant was wrongfully named, not if the tenant prevailed, not if the tenant’s eviction was the result of a bank foreclosing on their landlord – but nothing about the circumstances is provided.

No matter the circumstances (even when they’ve won in court), a tenant is treated guilty for years to come and they struggle with a mark on their record that will cause many landlords to reject their application. This creates an extremely chilling effect on a process that ought to be accessible to tenants who want their day in court, and instead many are deterred from arguing their case while they meekly seek new housing to avoid the progression of an eviction lawsuit.

Additionally, domestic violence protection orders can be listed in these reports. It is unthinkable that this information could be considered viable in fairly determining someone as a good tenant.

For more detailed information on the Fair Tenant Screening Act and to ask questions or share your story related to these bills, you can leave a message on Solid Ground Tenant Services Advocacy line at 206.694.6748, or email your story to tenantwa@solid-ground.org.

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 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

%d bloggers like this: