Portable screening law restricts landlord rights, violates the First Amendment, hurts Washington’s most vulnerable renters
Seattle – Apartment managers in the Evergreen State are seeing red after being duped by a law that was sold as being a good deal for them. Instead, it applies “gentle pressure on landlords” to buy a product they don’t want and assumes that all background checks are the same.
The law, Senate Bill 6413, the so-called “reusable screening report” amendment was touted as a win-win for low income renters and the landlords that lease apartments to them. In reality, the law lures landlords into violating Fair Housing laws and clearly violates the First Amendment.
The latest additions to the law – which become effective June 9 – steer landlords toward accepting generic background checks provided by the renter, prohibit owners from passing on their cost to obtain a proper screening report, and simplify a tenant’s ability to conceal the court record that they were sued for eviction. What’s more, the new rules provide for penalties under the Washington Consumer Protection Act, so landlords may face statutory and punitive damages for noncompliance.
So where’s the win for landlords? The bill adds an extra week for the owner to calculate how much damage the tenant inflicted on the apartment before deducting from the security deposit.
Owners can opt not to accept such renter-supplied screening reports, as most say is their plan.
“We just say no,” says John Maihofer, business development director for Coast Real Estate Services. “We have acceptance guidelines for the safety of our residents, and use well-known partners with nationwide screening coverage. This law may be well-intentioned, but it just doesn’t work for our business.” Coast manages 18,000 multifamily units including 350 communities in Washington.
Professional landlords use a consistent set of rental criteria for all applicants for the sake of Fair Housing, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and familial status. They utilize a single provider for screening across the board, and a rental score that is objective, preventing intentional and unintentional discrimination from tainting their leasing practices. To rely on a recycled report from a small-town provider is a risky proposition.
This law now assumes that all background checks are created the same – a naïve statement that customers know is wrong because they took the time to pick the best provider. It’s like calling a used Ford Pinto suitable just because it’s portable. The law ignores more than a decade of the technology advances of computerized scoring models; it would have apartment owner’s return to the days of manually reviewing uncertain data and subjectively selecting renters.
In response, advocates say that landlords can simply opt out.
But landlords have no choice in the fine print of Senate Bill 6413. Now “a court may order an unlawful detainer action if… good cause exists for limiting dissemination,” which is legal jargon for burying an eviction proceeding, a public record that is one of the most predictive of future tenant default and is protected by the First Amendment.
In California, similar record-sealing laws were passed in the 1990s by tenant rights advocates. It’s now become common practice for tenant lawyers there to request that all filings be sealed, out of reach for resident screening providers and apartment owners.
Today up to 90% of cases are buried in some California courts, according to Michael Saltz, a professional litigator that has represented landlord rights for three decades. Courts are granting motions right and left in defiance of rules requiring public records to stay open to the public unless the circumstance meets a very high legal standard. The table is now set in Washington for the same perversion of justice to take place.
What to do now:
- Add to the footer of your website: “This community does not accept comprehensive reusable tenant screening reports.”
- Add to your rental criteria: “This community does not accept comprehensive reusable tenant screening reports.”
- Voice your concerns to WMFHA and its parent, the National Apartment Association (703-516-6141).
Alert: You must comply by today or possible $100 fine may come your way.
This law goes into effect today, June 8, Landlords may be liable to the prospective tenant for an amount not to exceed one hundred dollars. The prevailing party may also
recover court costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees (RCW 59.18.257).
1. Indicate on your written or posted criteria whether or not you will accept a comprehensive reusable tenant screening report.
2. Include in a statement on the home page of your website stating whether or not you will accept a comprehensive reusable tenant screening report.
PLEASE BE INFORMED: In the City of Seattle the RRIO is now in effect. All rental properties must be registered by the end of 2016, the cost to register is $175 plus approximately $130 for an inspection directed by the city. Be sure to comply with this if your property needs to be inspected as the fines can add up quickly. Check out this website for more information.
NEW- Online Application Form
1. Online application is filled out online and paid for by credit card from applicant. Call for pricing of the Online Application
2. Instant information for the credit report is available to our clients.
3. Quicker turnaround time and less paperwork! Save a tree!
4. Convenient! You can put a "link" on your website or email them the link to fill out application and pay for it too.
5. Access is 24/7 !
Fair Tenant Screening Act News
The Fair Tenant Screening Act goes into effect on June 7, 2012, with new features. One of the new requirements is that landlord's may not charge an applicant for screening unless they first notify the applicant in writing or by posting the following:
What type of information will be accessed to conduct the tenant screening; (this is on the application also) and § What criteria may result in denial of the application; and § If a consumer report is used, the name and address of the screening company and the applicant's right to get a free copy of the report in the event of denial or other adverse action and to dispute the accuracy of information in the report. § In addition to the requirements above, any landlord who takes adverse action on an applicant shall provide a written "Adverse Action Notice" (on our website) in substantially similar format as provided in the statute. Landlords who fail to meet the new requirements may incur penalties of up to $100 plus attorney fees and cost.
The main requirement here is that you get a signature from the applicant showing that they have seen the "criteria" that you will be using to determine the outcome of their application and they still want to apply. Our standard "criteria" is on our website and can be used as an example of what is used for "recommendations" by LPS. We have also created a "Acknowledgement of Screening Criteria" that you may use also on our website. This should be signed and retained by you for your records to show that they have seen what might deny their application. Again, if you deny or ask for added security or co-signer you must also send out a "Adverse Action Notice" . See our website for all forms required by the statue.
Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act: Credit Score Disclosure
Section 1100(f) of the Dodd-Frank Act amends Section 615(a) of the FCRA to require the disclosure of the credit score when the adverse action is based in whole or in part on a numerical credit score. This is a new disclosure and is scheduled to go into effect July 21, 2011. The type of credit scores used by resident screening companies varies. Many have developed models that are not “credit scores” as defined in the statute and are therefore outside of the scope of this notice requirement. Some firms may use a FICO score or a similar score, i.e., one that is used to make a lending decision, and therefore trigger the disclosure requirements. Since the liability falls to the apartment owner, firms are encouraged to talk with their provider(s) to determine compliance obligations and make the appropriate adjustments to the adverse action notice to include credit score disclosure if necessary.
Although Landlord Protection Service does not use the "score" in any of our criteria's, we do have the score on some of the credit reports. There for, to be safe we are suggesting our clients use the new adverse action form, from now on, if your report contains a score. Please see the new form and be sure to fill it out completely when sending it out to your applicants.
You can use our automated online system that allows you to quickly enter data and receive reports. Simply click and print reports at your convenience or you can have our LPS staff process the report for youIt is as easy as asking an LPS representative to allow you access using a username and password to see your reports online. You will be able to be notified by email that your report is complete. 16625 Redmond Way #M446, Redmond, Wa 98052<br> Phone: (800)577-8282 Fax: (800)577-3799 firstname.lastname@example.org
Carbon Monoxide Alarms - WAC 51-51-0315 Section R315-Carbon monoxide alarms
It is looking like carbon monoxide alarms are going to be required in all rental units by the first of the year. Get use to the idea and be pro-active in your compliance.
RCW 19.27.530 provides that the tenant is responsible for the maintenance once it is installed. This would include replacing the batteries if needed and checking the testing of the alarm. It would still be best to have this included in your lease agreement to cover all the basic information.
There are two different types of CO alarms, hard wired and plug in battery operated. You can have either one and be in compliance of the law since it does not state you have to have one over another. The battery or batter backup would seem to be the most preferred and the easiest to install and maintain. Plus you have an easier ability to place it in a location that may not have a power source.
Either way you must make sure the CO alarms are listed as complying with UL 2075. This designation means the alarms will alert occupants when CO levels reach a certain concentration and remain there for a period amount of time. Make sure you read the manufacturer's instructions on the location of where to place the alarms and where not to place them.
Take notice of how many alarms are required in your units. Regulations states that the alarms must be installed outside of each sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms and on each level of the dwelling in accordance to manufacturer's recommendations. See again the manufacturer's instructions