Finding housing you can afford in King County is hard enough as it is – but imagine that you finally find the perfect place and send in your application, only to have the landlord refuse to rent to you? You could start your apartment search all over, but what if your application just gets rejected again?
It happens more often than you’d think, which is why it’s so important to know your rights as a renter when applying for an apartment. Fortunately, there are strict requirements for what information landlords must provide to you as an applicant, and limits on why they can reject your application.
“In Washington state, renters really have to be their own advocates,” says Edgar Aldrett, a Bilingual Tenant Counselor with Solid Ground’s Tenant Services. “That’s why it’s so important for tenants to learn about their rights, so they can make sure they’re not violated.”
Most of those rights are outlined in Washington state’s Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RCW 59.18), which can be pretty confusing. But don’t worry! We’ve got the basics for you here.
Before you apply
Before you even start filling out an application, you should make sure your potential future landlord is following the rules. Under RCW 59.18.257, landlords must provide written notice of:
- The type of personal information they’ll use to screen applications, including credit history, evictions, rental history, and in some areas, criminal records.*
- Any information that may result in an application being denied.
- The contact information for any company that the landlord may use to conduct the screening. You also have a right to get a free copy of the company’s report if you’re denied, and you have a right to dispute its accuracy.
Landlords can charge a screening fee, but it can be no higher than the actual cost to the landlord of conducting the screening. If a landlord tries to charge you an exorbitant screening fee, contact the screening company to verify the cost to the landlord.
“You want to have all of this in writing so you have a paper trail you can go back to if there’s a problem,” Edgar says. “If the landlord says something over the phone, or promises something in person, there’s no record for you to go back to prove what happened.”
If you’re denied
If a landlord denies your application, they’re required to tell you why in writing. This is called a “notice of adverse action.” In it, Landlords must indicate what information caused them to make the denial and where it came from (such as a consumer credit report). You have a right to dispute the landlord’s denial if it’s based on inaccurate information.
Any landlord who denies an application without providing advance notice of screening criteria – OR an adverse action notice – can be sued in small claims court for up to $100.
In Washington state, landlords cannot refuse to rent to potential tenants solely on the basis of their race, color, national origin, religion/creed, sex/gender, the presence of children, disability, sexual orientation/gender identity, marital status, or military/veteran status. In the city of Seattle, that list also includes a person’s criminal history. And in Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond, and unincorporated King County, landlords cannot refuse applicants just because they have a Section 8 voucher.
You may be facing discrimination from your would-be landlord if they:
- Refuse to rent to you without stating a valid reason.
- Indicate a preference for certain kinds of renters in advertisements.
- Attempt to “steer” you toward one property over another.
- Set unreasonable occupancy limits for an apartment.
- Exclude kids from an apartment.
- Refuse to allow reasonable modifications.
- Harass you.
If you believe a landlord has discriminated against you, contact one of these agencies for help:
- Eastside Legal Assistance Program (ELAP): Fill out ELAP’s Housing Stability Intake Form or call 425.747.7274 for English (425.620.2778 para Español).
- Tenant Law Center’s King County Tenant Resource Line: Call 855.485.8767 or 206.580.0762 in Seattle.
- Northwest Justice Project: Call 2.1.1 and ask to be connected to tenant legal services.
What you can do
If landlords are rejecting your application for a legal reason (such as a lack of rental history or poor credit report), there are still things you can do.
“Just think of it like applying for a job,” Edgar says. “You should have a résumé that you build along with a list of references that can help get you through the door and have a successful application.”
Here are a few things Edgar recommends:
- Gather a list of references and letters of support from friends, family, coworkers, clergy, and others who can speak to your character.
- Know and understand what’s on your record. Be prepared to respond to and explain any potential concerns.
- Present other positive information to assure the landlord that you’ll be a responsible tenant.
“It’s best to be very forthcoming with your potential landlord,” Edgar says. “You want to be transparent and ready to explain any gaps in your application, and to provide evidence that you will be a responsible tenant.”
Still need help?
Solid Ground’s Tenant Tips provide general information for Washington state renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services Message Line at the number below. You can also visit our For Tenants webpages at any time where you’ll find a wealth of self-help information. To learn more about specific renters’ issues, check out our schedule of upcoming Tenant Services Webinars offered in English and Spanish.
TENANT SERVICES VOICE MESSAGE LINE
206.694.6767 | TTY: 7.1.1
Solid Ground’s tenant counselors meet with tenants by phone. Washington state tenants may call our VOICE MESSAGE line, currently receiving messages Mondays and Thursdays, 10:30am – 1:30pm, except holidays (hours and days are subject to change). Please leave a message with your tenant questions, and we’ll return your call as quickly as possible.
Solid Ground Tenant Services Disclaimer
The information contained in 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, and its staff members are not attorneys. 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 herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel.