* * * * * If you are applying to rent a house, apartment, or manufactured home, you should know about a new law in Washington State that affects landlords and tenants.
If you apply to rent a house, apartment or mobile home, the landlord may "screen" you.
"Screening" means making a decision on your rental application by looking up information about you like your employment status, credit history, criminal and civil court records, and history with previous landlords.
As of June 2012, Washington's Fair Tenant Screening Act now requires landlords to give you some information in writing before screening you and also limits how much the landlord can charge you. The law also affects what you can do if you disagree with information that the landlord uses to reject your application and what you can do if the landlord does not follow the new law.
Before screening you, a landlord must now give you a written notice that tells you what kind of information the landlord will look at to conduct the tenant screening and what kinds of background information may result in your application being turned down or only accepted with conditions. For example, that means the landlord has to give you a written notice that tells you ahead of time if they won't accept tenants with certain criminal convictions, or that you'll need a co-signer if you have a certain credit score.
A lot of landlords use screening reports from "consumer reporting agencies" to get background information about you—these "consumer reports" may include your credit scores, criminal history, eviction records and lots of other information about you.
The Fair Tenant Screening Act says that now, if a landlord uses a consumer report, the landlord has to tell you the name and address of the consumer reporting agency. The landlord also has to tell you about your right to get a free copy of the consumer report if the landlord denies your application, and your right to dispute the accuracy of information in the consumer report. The landlord must post this information in an obvious place or give it to you in writing-- Just telling you this information verbally is not enough.
The landlord may charge you to screen you but only if she or he lets you know the required information, in writing. Also, the landlord may only charge the actual costs of the screening, and not more. These may include costs incurred for long distance phone calls and for time spent calling your past and present landlords, employers, and banks. However, the landlord may not charge you any more than the costs that a local screening service would normally charge.
The landlord must provide you a written notice that states his or her reasons. This is called an "Adverse Action Notice." The notice should clearly state what "adverse action" the landlord decided to take—for example rejecting your application or accepting it only with added requirements. The notice should also clearly state what information the landlord used to make this decision-- previous court records or information from an employer, for example.
If the landlord does not follow the requirements of the new law, you can take the landlord to court and the court may award you some money, but only up to $100. However, you may recover the court costs and attorney fees.
*** This video was produced in August 2012. The laws may have changed since that time. This video provides general information only. Your situation may be very different than those shown in this video. This video is not a substitute for talking to a lawyer about your unique situation. It does not create an attorney-client relationship and it cannot predict or guarantee an outcome in any legal proceeding.