Tenant Screening: Your Rights

Read this in: Spanish / Español
Authored By: Northwest Justice Project

If you are looking for an apartment or house to rent, read this to learn about state law regarding tenant screening. #6302EN


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Yes, you should read this 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 to decide if they want to rent to you.

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

No. Do not use this fact sheet. Use our Why your rental applications keep getting denied – and how to fix it instead.

Before you hand in your application, a landlord must tell you:

  • What kind of information the landlord will get from screening you

  • What information from the screening may cause the landlord to turn down (reject or deny) your application

If the landlord uses a consumer report or professional tenant screening company, the landlord must also tell you this information:

  • The consumer reporting agency's name and address

  • Your right to a free copy of the consumer report if the landlord rejects your application

  • Your right to challenge (dispute) the information in the report, if you believe it is wrong

No. The landlord must post this information or give it to you in writing.

Yes, but:

  • only if the landlord also lets you know the above, in writing, and

  • the landlord must only charge you for the actual cost of the screening.

The landlord cannot charge any more than what a local screening service would normally charge.

A landlord who does their own screening instead of hiring a screening service can charge you for the time they spent calling your past and present landlords, employers, and banks.

A holding fee is a fee a landlord charges you to hold the unit for you while they are completing their screening process. When you pay a holding fee, you promise that you will move into the unit if the landlord approves your application. 

The landlord can charge you a holding fee if both of these are true:

  • The fee is less than 25% of the first month's rent

  • The landlord, immediately upon your payment for the fee, gives you a receipt and a written statement of any conditions that would result in them keeping your fee

No. The landlord must apply the fee to your first month's rent or security deposit.

Yes. The landlord cannot keep the holding fee if they are not going to rent to you.

Yes. If you applied for a unit that fails inspection by someone from a "tenant-based rental assistance program," the landlord cannot keep your holding fee. 

You might lose the fee if the landlord approves your application, but you decide not to move into the unit. But the landlord can only hold onto the fee according to the conditions, if any, that they had to give you in writing when you paid the fee.


The landlord must give you a written notice stating their reasons for denying your application. The written notice the landlord gives you should have the same information our sample form, below, would have. It is okay if it looks a little different.

A potential landlord cannot deny your application or take other negative action towards you because of any nonpayment history between March 1, 2020 and May 1, 2022.

You can sue the landlord. The court could award you up to 100 dollars, plus court costs and attorneys' fees.

Many tenants who sue their landlord over screening issues use small claims court. Read What is Small Claims Court? and How do I sue in Small Claims Court? to learn more.

Yes. A landlord cannot deny your rental application or treat you differently from other tenants because your income comes from sources other than job wages.

This means if you get, for example, Aged, Blind, or Disabled cash assistance (ABD), child support, pension, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), your landlord cannot treat you differently from someone who works.

To learn more, read Tenants are protected from discrimination based on source of income.

Yes. Read the City of Seattle's Renting in Seattle to learn more.

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Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

Last Review and Update: Feb 16, 2023
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