Cameron Cowan | Knowledge Steward
Tenant screening laws are rapidly evolving in Washington State, in particular when dealing with criminal records and how to consider an applicant’s ability to be a reliable tenant.
Most recently, a new law passed in Seattle and which takes effect February 19, 2018 – will prohibit almost entirely a landlord’s ability to refuse an applicant on the basis of criminal conviction and arrest records.
Starting February 19, 2018 landlords in Seattle will no longer be able to consider an applicant’s criminal history, except for those where the applicant was convicted of a sexual offense as an adult and is required to register on a local, state, or federal list. The only landlords exempt from the new law are those who rent living space shared with their personal home – ie, room rentals, and accessory dwelling units (attached or detached).
For the rest of the state, landlords screening for criminal and arrest records must be able to demonstrate, through a “business reason,” that the denial of an applicant due to those records is justified. This decision should take into consideration the nature and severity of the offense, how long ago it occurred, how old the perpetrator was at the time of conviction, and whether or not they have demonstrated rehabilitation since that point.
In the real world, this means that petty crimes which pose no direct threat to persons or property can not be used as a reason for denying an applicant for rental housing.
The impact of the changes in screening for criminal and arrest records means that other factors such as adequate rental history, good landlord references, positive credit history, and satisfactory income become more important indicators for qualifying your applicant.
When creating your tenant screening criteria, consider your minimum requirements or qualification standards and go from there with the understanding that an applicant who meets your standards is one to whom you’ll be renting. Credit checks are not the end all, be all, but with restrictions placed upon the use of criminal convictions when screening an applicant, they are now magnified as one of the remaining tools a landlord has left to ensure an applicant is well qualified.