WA State Law
Housing providers are legally required to have Screening Criteria, per RCW 59.18.257. They must give written notice to prospective tenants that provides them with the list of qualifications they require to approve an application. The minimum qualifying information listed in the screening criteria must include the following information:
- The type of information that will be accessed to conduct the screening.
- What will cause a denial of the application.
- The name of the credit bureau that will be used to pull a consumer report, and the reporting agency name and address.
- The prospective tenant’s right to obtain a free copy of the consumer report in the event of a denial or other adverse action.
- Whether the housing provider will accept a comprehensive reusable report (aka portable report).
- The costs to complete a screening, which can include the screening report costs, and verification fees or any fees that are related to completing a thorough background screening.
Screening must be consistent and fair. Your screening criteria provides the applicant with the guidelines that will decide whether they are accepted or denied. This ensures that you are following the Fair Housing Act administrated by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This protects people from discrimination when they are searching and applying for housing. You must screen every applicant the same. Your screening criteria will set the foundation for you and the prospective tenant.
The reason for your decision to select which prospective tenant will rent your property needs to be available for the applicant(s) before they apply.
Your screening criteria will need to meet the Fair Housing laws and city ordinances. They will also need to fit the needs of your rental property. RHAWA provides an Application Criteria Guidelines for all cities in WA and an Application Criteria Guidelines (Seattle) for rental properties in the City of Seattle. You can find these at RHAwa.org/rental-form-lease-notices, under Screening / Tenant Selection Forms. The guidelines provide a list of the minimum legal requirements.
Writing Your Criteria
The screening criteria needs to be objective and measurable to give each applicant the opportunity to decide if they meet your screening requirements.
In your criteria you can request documentation to determine if the prospective tenant has the ability to pay rent, if their employment and/or income is consistent.
In your criteria you can require that the prospective tenant does not have an excessive debt-to-income ratio. This information will show in their credit report, which includes delinquent payments, collections, or charge-offs. The report provides a financial summary that combines the total monthly payments to determine the income to debt and rent ratio. The credit report also includes information on any past public records, such as a bankruptcy ruling or court ordered child support, tax liens and judgements.
Your criteria can include the requirement to verify their employment, which will confirm the applicant is employed and has consistent income. Including rental verification to reach out to previous landlords will determine how the prospective tenant’s rental history was maintained and whether they stayed within the parameters of their lease.
Do not include blanket denials for criminal history. Here is an example of a blanket statement: “your application will be denied for any felony convictions in the last 5 years.” If you choose to include criminal history in your screening report, Washington law requires that you individually assess the applicant’s criminal history and only deny when you can establish a clear business case for denial. See the Application Criteria Guidelines referenced above for more details.
Under new state-wide protections, denial based on negative rent payment history during the COVID emergency period is illegal. Give the applicant a fair opportunity for housing by giving them a chance to explain their circumstances.
Adverse Action Notice
Whenever a housing provider denies tenancy based on any screening results, they must send a completed Adverse Action Notice to the applicant in compliance with RCW 59.18.257.
If an applicant does not quite meet the minimum criteria, the housing provider may elect to make a conditional offer of tenancy (e.g., accept with a cosigner, higher security deposit, etc.), using RHAWA Form, Adverse Action Notice. Find this form at RHAwa.org/rental-form-lease-notices, under Screening / Tenant Selection Forms.
Be aware of potential issues when offering conditional tenancy. In the case of multiple applicants, if a housing provider makes a conditional offer of tenancy to an applicant that falls short of the criteria, and denies an applicant that meets criteria, the denied applicant may assume the decision was based on a discriminatory reason.
In addition to information and guidelines on screening, RHAWA provides screening services for their members. Once a member is Certified to access the prospective tenant’s credit information, they are able to view the raw credit data. RHAWA recommends running a credit check on all applicants 18 years of age and older. This precaution will help protect your investment.
If you have any questions about our screening policies or products, please feel free to contact our Screening Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or (206) 283-0816.