Five Ways to…Comply with New Tenant Screening Laws

Did you know that new regulations went into effect this year detailing what you must tell your tenant when you screen them? That’s right, it’s a whole new set of regulations. While a fact sheet for tenants can be found here (thanks, Orca!), we’ve summed it up from the landlord side below–it’s five new musts from Washington landlord-tenant law.

1. You must give your tenant written information explaining your screening process.

You must explain what kinds of information you will access to conduct the tenant screening. Will you look at their credit report? What about a criminal background check? Do you check rental references? All of this must be communicated to the tenant–along with the criteria that might cause you to turn their application down.

If you’re using an agency that screens tenants for you (a consumer reporting agency), you must give the tenant the name and address of that agency, inform the tenant that they have a right to a copy of the free report if the application is denied, and explain that the tenant has a right to dispute inaccurate information if it is provided in the report.

2. If you charge for tenant screening, you must  inform them how much–and you must not make a profit on it.

Many landlords choose to pass the cost of tenant screening along to the tenant. If you charge for screening, you must inform your tenant (in writing, as always) how much they will be charged, and you must only charge for the actual cost of the screening (no mark-ups!). If you perform the screening yourself, you may charge the tenant “what a normal screening company” would charge, to cover the cost of phone calls and the time you spend performing the screening.

3. If you deny a prospective tenant’s application, you must identify which criteria or source disqualified them.

If you choose to deny an application based on information uncovered during the screening, you must inform the tenant, in writing, why you are denying the application. The written notice may be provided as a form, with the reason you denied the application checked off. Potential reasons for denial included on the sample form (click here to view the full template provided by the Northwest Justice Project) include:

  • Information contained in a consumer report
  • 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

You must date and sign the form or written notice.

4. You must not screen an application without notifying the prospective tenant in writing–if you subsequently deny the application, you could be in hot water.

According to the new Washington state law, any tenant who is not informed that they will be screened–and whose application is subsequently denied because of criteria found in that screening–has the right to take you to court. They have the potential to be awarded court costs, attorneys’ fees, and up to an additional $100.00

5. You must apply tenant screening completely consistently.

This part is probably not news to you, but it’s very important: tenant screening must always be applied consistently. Let’s say two potential tenants have the same iffy credit score; in the case of the woman,  you choose not to deny her based on the score, while in the case of the man, you do deny him on the basis of that score–that’s discrimination, and it’s illegal (even if you only approved the woman because she seemed nice). In order to avoid intentional or unintentional discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, family status, or any other protected class, you must apply the same screening criteria to everyone who applies. But hey…you knew that!

Thanks for tuning in! Check out the fact sheet for tenants from WashingtonLawHelp.org here for more information. And as always, please note that this blog does not constitute legal advice.