Tenant Screening: Your Rights
Authored By: Northwest Justice Project
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If you are looking for an apartment or house to rent, read this to learn about state law regarding tenant screening. #6302EN
*COVID-19 Update! Eviction law is changing quickly. There are temporary bans and changes to how courts handle evictions. Things may be different depending on where you live. Get the latest information and learn about help for evictions in your area at WashingtonLawHelp.org: Coronavirus (COVID-19): There are only a few reasons your landlord can evict you right now
- Should I read this?
- What will I learn from reading this?
- What is the landlord supposed to do?
- Can the landlord charge me to screen me?
- The landlord turned down my tenant application based on something they found in screening me. What can I do?
- The landlord did not tell me beforehand what information they would use to screen me. But they turned my tenant application down because of the information they got from screening me. What can I do?
- Are any other tenant screening protections available to me?
- Get Legal Help
Should I read this?
Yes, if you are looking for an apartment, house, or mobile home to rent in Washington state. If you apply to rent a place to live, the landlord may “screen” you. “Screening” means the landlord checks into your background. This helps the landlord decide if they want to rent to you.
What will I learn from reading this?
You will learn:
What the landlord must tell you about the screening process
How much the landlord can charge you for screening expenses
What you can do if you disagree with any of what the landlord learned from screening you
What you can do if the landlord does not follow the law
What is the landlord supposed to do?
A landlord must let you know the following before you hand in your application:
What types of information the landlord will get as part of the screening
What information from the screening may cause the landlord to reject your application
If the landlord uses a consumer report:
the consumer reporting agency’s name and address
your right to a free copy of the consumer report if the landlord turns down your application
your right to dispute (challenge) the accuracy of information in the report
The landlord must post this information or give it to you in writing. Telling you this information verbally is not enough.
Can the landlord charge me to screen me?
only if the landlord also lets you know the above, in writing, and
only for the actual costs of any screening.
The landlord may not charge you any more than what a local screening service would normally charge. This can include costs for time spent calling your past and present landlords, employers, and banks.
The landlord turned down my tenant application based on something they found in screening me. What can I do?
The landlord must give you a written notice stating their reasons. A sample blank notice below shows what it should look like. It must look “substantially” like our sample form. It must have the same information our sample form would have.
The landlord did not tell me beforehand what information they would use to screen me. But they turned my tenant application down because of the information they got from screening me. What can I do?
You can sue the landlord. The court could award you up to one hundred dollars, plus court costs and attorneys' fees.
Are any other tenant screening protections available to me?
Yes. A landlord cannot deny an applicant or treat a tenant differently because their income comes from sources other than wages from a job. Some examples of these other income sources include Aged, Blind, or
Disabled cash assistance (ABD), child support, pension or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). To learn more, read Tenants: New Legal Protection from Discrimination Based on Source of Income.
If you are renting in Seattle, you have still more protections. Seattle landlords:
Cannot give preferential treatment to applicants (favor one over others) based on whom the applicants work for
Must offer a rental agreement to the first qualified applicant who turns in a complete application
Cannot advertise "no criminal record" or deny applicants based on a criminal record
Between March 3, 2020 and six months after the COVID-19-related civil emergency ends, landlords cannot deny a tenant housing or take adverse action because of a COVID-19-related eviction history.
To learn more, read the City of Seattle’s Renting in Seattle.
Get Legal Help
Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help.