On March 29, 2016, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed into law ESB 6413, marking a tremendous victory for tenants in Washington state regarding eviction reporting and tenant screening laws. The new law goes into effect June 9, 2016.
Until now, tenants who are named in a lawsuit for an unlawful detainer (the legal term for an eviction action) by their landlord, if filed in court, had no recourse to prevent the eviction filing from showing up on future tenant screening reports — even if the tenant was never actually evicted, the tenant prevailed in court, or the case was dismissed or settled! To make matters worse, this eviction filing left a permanent mark on a tenant’s record, with absolutely no means to remove it, no matter the circumstances.
The new law creates a procedure for an “order for limited dissemination,” which will enable tenants to have their case records excluded from future tenant screening reports. A tenant may request this order from a judge on the grounds that there was insufficient basis for the lawsuit in the first place or that their tenancy was “reinstated” after paying off eviction judgement, or on a showing of “other good cause.” Tenants who have existing eviction records can also request orders for limited dissemination!
A step forward in fair tenant screening advocacy efforts
Tenant advocates have been fighting for years for greater protections around the ubiquitous and expensive tenant screening process. Currently, many tenants are forced to pay for multiple screening reports within a very short timeframe as they navigate the extremely competitive rental market and often need to apply at multiple housing sites before approval.
Under the recently passed new law, landlords are now required to inform prospective tenants whether the landlord will accept a “comprehensive reusable tenant screening report.” Tenants can purchase these portable reports from a tenant screening company to secure the tenant’s screening information for a period of 30 days. The tenant can then apply for housing an unlimited number of times using that report within those 30 days for no additional charge.
While the new law does not prohibit landlords from refusing to accept these portable screening reports, the law does require that a landlord disclose whether they accept the portable screening report as part of their required pre-selection disclosures. Additionally, if the landlord does accept the portable screening report, the landlord may not charge the tenant for a separate screening report. In other words, if the landlord wants to run another screening report, the landlord must pay for it.
While this is a very small step forward, hopefully it is a move toward eventually passing a law that prohibits landlords from charging screening fees when prospective tenants present these portable screening reports. Tenants may want to put the pressure on landlords by declining to apply for housing that does not accept portable screening reports!
Widespread support for bill
This bill saw remarkable support from landlords as well as tenant advocates. In exchange for these added tenant protections, the landlords involved in the legislative process requested that the length of time allotted to landlords to return security deposits after tenants vacate be increased from 14 to 21 days. This request was based on the premise that 14 days is not enough time for landlords to be able to present tenants with actual invoices for damages incurred versus simple estimates.
Although the new law now gives landlords 21 days to return the full deposit, the rest of Washington state’s deposit law remains the same. Importantly, if the landlord is going to retain any portion of the deposit, the landlord must send a “full statement of the basis for retaining any of the [security] deposit.”
If you are a tenant with an eviction record and think you might qualify for an order for limited dissemination of your eviction filing, please follow up with legal resources directly! If you need assistance locating legal resources in your area or have any questions regarding the new law, call our Tenant Services Workshop & Legislative Advocacy Line at 206.694.6748.