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.

Poverty Action Voter Guide now online

VotePoverty Action focuses on changing laws in Olympia, correcting injustices, and ensuring that every single person in our state can have their basic needs met and access to equal opportunity.

One of the best ways to make progress on our issues is by exercising the power to vote and electing political representatives who listen to the voices of people living on low incomes. This is why it is crucial that we understand each candidate’s stance on the issues that disproportionately impact low-income families and people of color, as well as our community at large.

Poverty Action asked candidates eight questions on topics ranging from health care to predatory lending, the safety net to institutional racism. Each election, we publish the candidate responses so that you can understand candidates’ positions on these vital issues.

The Poverty Action Voter Guide is now available online.

We hope you will use the guide to help you make informed decisions. You can expect your general election ballot in the mail this week. Ballots are due on Tuesday, November 4.

This election is critical to the well-being of our communities. These candidates will have substantial impacts on our everyday lives. Don’t let this election pass you by!

Mail in your ballot or put it in a local drop box by 8pm on Tuesday, November 4, 2014Lists of drop boxes can be found here:

For more information on Poverty Action and how to become a member, visit our website!

Legislative Update: Human trafficking

By Washington State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D)

guest columnThroughout the years I have spent in the Legislature, tackling the issues of affordable housing and human trafficking has been of particular importance to me. It is clear why these issues are each important to address, but it is often overlooked how they are so intrinsically linked. Back in 2002, thanks to the leadership of former Rep. Velma Veloria and the Asian & Pacific Islander Women & Family Safety Center, Washington became the first state in the nation to pass specific legislation related to human trafficking, and in 2003 enacted the first state law creating crimes of human trafficking. In all, we have passed 36 bills to mitigate this terrible problem and have established ourselves as a leader in anti-trafficking law both nationally and internationally.

By confronting the barriers people face when applying for housing, Washington has also made progress with regard to fair and affordable housing policies. Most recently, we passed two bills to address problems with tenant screening practices, but there is still a lot of work to do. In 2012, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 6315, requiring landlords to provide screening criteria in writing for prospective renters, and listing all of the requirements that will be used to determine eligibility for tenancy. And in 2013, SB 5568 added protections for domestic violence survivors in the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act with regard to screening practices.

What keeps many of our most vulnerable community members without having stable housing is a combination of screening practices for rental applications, rising rent prices, and the lack of funding for supportive services and community organizations that work to provide critical services to survivors of human trafficking.

capitol building, capitol building in olympia

Capitol building in Olympia, WA

Access to affordable, safe and stable housing is key to combating trafficking. According to the King County Committee to End Homelessness, “Young people experiencing homelessness are vulnerable to being coerced into prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation.” Approximately 5,000 minors experience homelessness in King County every year, with about 500 working in the sex trade any given night. This is deeply alarming, as individuals without a stable, safe and affordable home are not only more likely to be victims of trafficking, but also are more likely to be re-victimized by their abusers if they are unable to secure safe and stable accommodations. And even though my bill, SB 5482, became law in 2011 (authorizing local governments to use affordable housing funds to provide housing assistance to victims of human trafficking and their families), we did not provide any state funds to meet the additional need.

How screening practices impact survivors of human trafficking

When landlords screen a prospective tenant for a rental application, they generally perform a background criminal records check, credit check and public records check. As a result of a system that treats victims like offenders, many trafficking survivors have criminal records – typically related to prostitution – that can inhibit their ability to retain housing, even if the conviction was many years ago. While the Legislature passed House Bill 1292 in the 2014 session – to vacate prostitution records for trafficking survivors – there are still concerns regarding tenant screening, especially related to criminal and civil records that are easily accessible and cause tenants to be wrongfully denied housing.

What housing affordability means for struggling individuals and families

Housing affordability is a serious concern for many in our community. It is increasingly problematic for seniors on a fixed income, foster youth aging out of the system, immigrants, refugees and the mentally ill. For trafficking survivors who are working to gain new life skills and employment training, housing affordability is also critical. Oftentimes, if an individual has been forced into labor, she or he has not been allowed to attend school – sometimes for decades – and has not had opportunities for work training.

Why isn’t there more funding for services that support trafficking survivors?

With an international land border, being the closest state in mainland U.S., and having numerous large ports to which people are brought from Asia, Washington continually fights an uphill battle to eliminate human trafficking. Protecting human services funding has been ever more difficult in a divided state Legislature still working its way out of the Great Recession – and it has been very challenging to reach agreement on increasing the dollars directed to critical services that prevent and abate human trafficking.

In part due to these challenges, grassroots organizations in our state – particularly ones that provide direct services and support to survivors – are a lifeline for those trying to escape sexual or labor exploitation. And even though anti-trafficking is an issue that is far less partisan than most, the underground nature of the problem and significant budget restraints mean we still struggle to bring much-needed relief to survivors at the state level.

Where we go from here

Legislative efforts to combat trafficking are increasingly turning toward supporting survivors and holding abusers accountable for propagating such crimes. For example, HB 1791 passed this year, adding sex trafficking to the existing definition of sex crimes, and was amended with language from a bill of mine (SB 6017) to allow local law enforcement to recoup costs of investigating crimes related to prostitution and sexual exploitation of minors. Another bill, SB 6339, introduced by my colleague Sen. Karen Fraser, created the crime of ‘coercion of involuntary servitude’ – including the withholding of documentation of a person’s immigration status – and established this crime as a felony.

These are important measures, but it is clear there is still a great amount of work to be done. I am continuing to work on finding solutions to these problems throughout this summer and fall and into the next legislative session.

If you have questions, concerns or ideas you’d like to share, I encourage you to contact me at jeanne.kohl-welles@leg.wa.gov or 206.281.6854. You may also visit my office at 3131 Western Avenue, Suite 421, Seattle, WA 98121.

Washington State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D) represents the 36th Legislative District (including the Queen Anne, Interbay, Ballard, Magnolia, Belltown, and parts of the Phinney Ridge and Greenwood neighborhoods). She has been the sponsor of many affordable housing and anti-trafficking bills in the Washington State Senate, helping make us the leading state in the country in efforts to eliminate human trafficking. Senator Kohl-Welles received Seattle Against Slavery’s 2010 Lincoln Freedom Award for her anti-trafficking legislative efforts, February 2013 Legislator of the Week, and the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Housing Hero Award from the Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance and Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness. She has served in the Washington State Senate since 1994, following three years in the state House of Representatives.

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.

WA State legislature proposes new revenues

Last week, state Senate leaders proposed a revenue plan that includes a temporary sales tax increase, as well as a permanent capital gains tax that would be dedicated to education funding. If passed in Olympia, the proposals will go to voters for approval. Solid Ground supports these revenue-generating bills through the advocacy of our Statewide Poverty Action Network.

New revenue proposals in the WA State legislature would raise taxes on investment income as well as temporarily increase sales tax. Funding the 2008 Working Families Tax Rebate will mitigate the impact of the sales tax increase on working class people.

The capital gains tax, HB 2563, affects only high-income earners because it taxes non-wage income, such as that gained from stocks and bonds. Its revenue is earmarked for education, including scholarships and grants for low-income and first-generation college students, educational support services and K-12 education.

While we support the temporary sales tax increase, we also know that is it regressive, which means that it affects low-income people more than it does high-income earners. The Working Families Tax Rebate (WFTR) offsets the sales tax increase by refunding a portion of our regressive state sales tax to over 350,000 families. In 2008, Poverty Action helped pass this rebate, but it has been languishing without funding since then.

The WFTR would allow our state to raise funds for programs that help thousands of residents meet their basic needs, while mitigating the effects of the sales tax increase on low-income communities.

Lawmakers need to hear from you today! Urge your Representatives and Senator to support HB 2563 to make education a priority, and support funding for the Working Families Tax Rebate to mitigate the effects of regressive tax measures on middle and low-income workers in Washington.

You can email them directly from Poverty Action’s website.

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