In 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 firstname.lastname@example.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.