New tenant screening law goes into effect June 7


The Fair Tenant Screening Act (Washington Session Law 6315-S) becomes effective on June 7, 2012 and will be part of the Residential Landlord Tenant Act. Both tenants and landlords need to know about this new law. Landlords who violate this new law may be liable to the tenant for up to $100, and the prevailing party may recover court costs and attorneys’ fees.

Landlords often use tenant screening reports to choose prospective tenants. Unfortunately, these reports often contain incorrect information that result in tenants being denied housing with little or no recourse. While seeking housing, tenants also pay multiple times for the same or similar reports provided to different landlords.

Under this new law, prior to a landlord obtaining any information from a prospective tenant, the landlord must notify the tenant in writing or by posting: 1) what types of information is accessed for tenant screening, 2) what criteria may result in an application denial, and 3) if a consumer report is used, the landlord must provide the name and address of the consumer reporting agency used, the tenant’s right to a free copy if his/her application is denied or results in some other adverse action taken by the landlord, and the tenant’s right to dispute the accuracy of the report.

The landlord can pass on the cost of the charges incurred for tenant screening only if the landlord is in compliance with the steps listed in the prior paragraph. If the landlord conducts its own tenant screening, the landlord must also comply with the same steps listed and can only charge actual costs incurred, i.e., the landlord cannot just make up and charge some random fee.

If a tenant’s application is denied or the landlord takes some adverse action as a result of tenant screening, the landlord is required to provide a notice setting forth with specificity the grounds for the denial or adverse action. The new legislation sets forth a sample notice that landlords are required to use in substantially similar format.

That format is as follows:

Name

Address

City/State/Zip Code

This notice is to inform you that your application has been [choose appropriate response(s)]:

… Rejected

… Approved with conditions:

… Residency requires an increased deposit

… Residency requires a qualified guarantor

… Residency requires last month’s rent

… Residency requires an increased monthly rent of $……..

… Other:

Adverse action on your application was based on the following [choose appropriate response(s)]:

… Information contained in a consumer report (The prospective landlord must include the name, address, and phone number of the consumer reporting agency that furnished the consumer report that contributed to the adverse action.)

… The consumer credit report did not contain sufficient information

… Information received from previous rental history or reference

… Information received in a criminal record

… Information received in a civil record

… Information received from an employment verification

Date

Agent/Owner Signature

Also, this legislation is likely just the first phase to address tenant screening issues. The legislation requires interested parties, i.e., landlords, tenants, advocates, credit reporting/tenant screening companies to convene and make further recommendations to the legislature by December 1, 2012. These other issues may include, though are not limited to, the tenant’s cost of the report, portability of the report, evaluation criteria, and regulation of those who generate the reports.

To see the language of this new law, go to:

http://apps.leg.wa.gov/documents/billdocs/2011-12/Pdf/Bills/Session%20La...

How to Access Northwest Justice Project:

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For all other legal issues, to see if you are eligible for our services, please call our toll-free intake and referral hotline commonly known as “CLEAR” (Coordinated Legal Education Advice and Referral) at 1-888-201-1014, Mondays through Fridays 9:10 a.m. to 12:25 p.m. If you are a senior, 60 and over, please call 1-888-387-7111; you may be eligible regardless of income. Language interpreters are available. You can also complete an application for services at http://nwjustice.org/get-legal-help.

Sarah Glorian is the senior attorney for the Aberdeen office of the Northwest Justice Project, a private, non-profit legal aid organization providing free representation to low-income residents in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties.