In 2009, advocates proposed a bill in our state legislature that would become the Fair Tenant Screening Act. Intended to solve the unjust and unfair tenant screening system in Washington state, the bill’s overarching goals were to:
- Prevent & address homelessness
- Maintain housing access for survivors of domestic violence
- Reduce burden on nonprofit housing providers by increasing tenants’ access to the private rental housing market
- Ensure access to justice, and fair & accurate tenant screening
- Address affordability of tenant screening reports
This was a community effort with many organizations, including the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, endorsing the bill.
In the 2012 Legislative Session, part of the bill successfully passed through the legislature. The Fair Tenant Screening Act, passed in 2012, guarantees increased transparency for tenants when applying for housing. Landlords are required to disclose the criteria they use to screen tenants and the screening company they hire to run the reports. Landlords must also give tenants “adverse action notices” explaining why prospective tenants are rejected for tenancy. What does this mean for tenants? When a company screens a tenant and there is a mistake on that individual’s record, the tenant will know what the mistake is and who to contact to fix it. Before this was passed, tenants had no idea what was on the screening reports and why they were constantly being rejected by landlords. They would spend hundreds of dollars in screening fees at each rental property they applied to without ever securing a place to live and not being told why.
This was a huge win for tenant rights in Washington, but as only part of the proposed bill passed, there is still more to be done in 2013 to create a just and fair screening system. Advocates for tenant rights are proposing a robust agenda for the 2013 Legislative Session on fair tenant screening, here are some highlights:
- Prevent tenant screening companies from showing eviction cases on records where the tenant prevailed or was not found guilty. Currently when a tenant prevails in an eviction charge or settles with their landlord, it still shows up on their record as an eviction – preventing them from getting housing from another landlord.
- Work on portable screening reports. In order to reduce costs, advocates are proposing implementing a system where a prospective tenant could pay for one screening report that would be accepted by multiple landlords. This would help low-income tenants avoid the hundreds of dollars they are forced to spend on screening fees each time they apply for a place. This idea is still not very popular in the legislature, but advocates will continue to work on this idea and research into how it might be possible to implement in Washington.
- Make sure that victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalkers are not further victimized by the system. Right now, law forbids landlords to discriminate against prospective tenants based on their history of sexual assault. However, related incidence reports show up on screening reports, influencing landlords and contributing to the refusal of housing even though it’s against the law. Advocates will push for this information to be removed from screening materials so that landlords do not include it in the criteria they consider.
What can you do to help make sure that fair tenant screening legislation passes this session? You can take the following actions to make sure your voice is heard:
- Come to Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day and tell your legislators how important this act is to you.
- Write letters, call, or email your legislators and remind them of the importance of this act. Not sure who your legislators are? Click here to find out.
- If you are a service provider and have clients who have stories to share about their experiences as tenants, you can help connect them with the Tenants Union or Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. Their stories can help educate legislators on the importance of this bill.