Fair Tenant Screening Act I

Governor signs substitute bill regulating the screening process.

By Tim Seth & Robert Brett, WLA Lobby

As reported at the WLA Thurston-Lewis meeting on SSB 6315 (Fair Tenant Screening Act), the governor has followed with the signing of a compromise version on March 15th. WLA is gratified to report that our lobbying efforts partially paid off. Stiff fines, mandatory portability (allowing applicants to submit earlier reports), censuring of eviction and domestic violence actions, and other mandatory standards were deleted from the earlier bill. Added, however, is a provision calling for a stakeholder work group to address various screening issues including: cost of reports, portability, evaluation criteria, and banning of certain court records. Participation on this work group will be a top priority of WLA (to help insure that the needs of hands-on landlords are fully considered.)

Meanwhile, the new regulations immediately adopted will be effective June 7, 2012.

ADVERSE ACTION REGULATIONS

Prior to obtaining any screening information on tenants, landlord must first notify the prospective tenant in writing (or by posting) what types of information will be accessed, and selection criteria therein. If a consumer report is used thatresults in adverse action, landlord must provide the applicant with the name, address, and phone number of the screening company (for obtaining a free report copy with right to dispute). Landlord must also post (or give applicant in writing):

  1. What type of information will be accessed to conduct the tenant screening; and
  2. What criteria will be used that may result in denial of the application.

If these conditions are not met, landlord cannot charge a screening fee (whether a screening company is used or not). Initially proposed at $1000, the landlord fine for failure to comply with these regulations (as adopted) is $100 plus attorney costs.

Following receipt of a completed application (with screening fee), an initial review is made to see that the applicant meets respective pre-conditions and merits submittal to a screening company. If an adverse action (rejection) follows, the landlord must provide a written response to the applicant that states the reasons for the adverse action as per any of the following conclusions:

  1. Information contained in a consumer report;
  2. The consumer credit report did not contain sufficient information;
  3. Information received from previous rental history or reference;
  4. Information received in a criminal record;
  5. Information received from an employment verification.

FAIR HOUSING CONSIDERATIONS

Although not directly addressed in SSB 6315, WLA staff took this opportunity to provide consequential forms to also better protect both landlords and tenants from unnecessary fair housing issues and set-backs. This meant clearly stated and understandable documents that ensure fair and equal treatment of hopeful applicants. And that selection is based upon objectively gathered data as applied to a documented criteria of fair and sound businesses practices.

NEW WLA FORMS MAKE IT EASY

WLA staff has given this new legislation serious and long thought as to balancing the spirit of compliance with the practicalities of attracting viable applicants. We do not want good applicants to throw up their hands when confronted with over-kill or dire screening disclosures. Staff also researched this legislation looking for administrative tools that clearly communicates both ways in a helpful manner... again without unduly turning off applicants or provoking protests. As an added bonus, WLA incorporated added features to better protect administrating landlords and managers against human rights complaints. To these ends, WLA developed the following two new forms... making it productive, fair, respectful, and easy for all effected parties to understand and participate:

WLA 51 - Rental Application Criteria
WLA 52 - Rental Application Reply

(Click Here to access the WLA forms... access code required)

WLA 51 can either be publicly posted such as on the rental property or in the rental office (or otherwise given to each applicant). WLA also up-dated its Application to Rent (WLA 50) to include the essential elements found in WLA 51 (as a back-up option to posting WLA 51). After screening, WLA 52 can simply be checked off with added contact information, and sent to each denied applicant (with a documented basis to counter any fair housing disputes).The added option to return unused screening fees is consistent with WLA’s policy of sound rental practices. WLA’s Resource Center’s “Basics” article “Processing a Rental Turnover” has also been revised to reflect the incorporation of WLA 51 & 52.

The ideas contained in these forms has been field tested for over four years (old WA 40) proving to provoke a minimum of call-backs and protests. The communication impact was clear and understandable. There was particular good satisfaction in the sense of “fair”, particularly when unused screening fees were returned. In any event, this legislation carries major impact on the entire rental selection process. It will take some time to sort out all the eventual consequences. Please call us your field experiences with these new forms, with any editorial suggestions. Meanwhile, feel free to adopt any trial changes of your own to better suit your particular operation.

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