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!
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.