Washington state and the city of Seattle are often seen as frontrunners in human rights in the U.S. The city of Seattle is a leader in the realm of advocacy in fair housing as well. A recent change in Seattle regulations related to tenant screening is garnering attention from landlords across the nation.
Not All Landlords Approve of the Fair Chance Housing Law
City leaders have approved new legislation that now dramatically limits the inclusion of criminal history within the tenant background screening process. This new tenant screening law effectively eliminates the use of criminal records in many instances. The new legislation was passed unanimously in August 2017 with an 8 – 0 vote.
The new Fair Chance Housing Law in Seattle prohibits landlords from considering convictions that have been sealed, vacated or expunged. Juvenile arrests and convictions are also exempt from consideration. The new legislation will take effect within the next six months and will be in effect in the early part of 2018.
Multi-unit property owners in Seattle have pushed back on these new tenant screening laws, stating that they open them up to risk from tenants that will be insufficiently vetted. However, there are still provisions remaining that will provide landlords with protections.
Rentals in Close Proximity to Owners Exempt From New Tenant Screening Laws
Persons attempting to rent out a portion of their own residence resulting in a shared bathroom or kitchen with the tenant will still be allowed to use criminal histories as part of their screening process. Primary lease holders who were given authority by a landlord to sublet to roommates will also be allowed to use criminal history as part of their consideration process.
Those renting backyard cottage-style rental units and mother-in-law apartments in the basement area or other parts of the home may also use criminal background screening. However, micro-housing rentals are covered by the new tenant screening law; owners and landlords of these properties may not use criminal history as a part of their process for deciding on who they will take on as a tenant.
Those monitoring the country for such changes in state law related to landlords and tenants speculate that this adjustment could result in the change of additional tenant screening laws in other states across the U.S.
The new tenant screening laws are expected to greatly impact the practices of property managers and landlords. Policies that are reliant on records related to criminal history as a vetting tool will have to be changed by landlords in Seattle. Performing tenant screening incorrectly could put property managers, landlords and property owners at risk for litigation and financial loss. Many of them will likely opt to work with a qualified third-party tenant screening agency in order to ensure thorough tenant screening that is in full compliance with current tenant screening laws.
Professional Tenant Screening Ensures Compliance
Many landlords feel that being allowed to use criminal history and related background information allows them to more effectively safeguard properties and protect current tenants from potentially threatening applicants. While formerly incarcerated persons do have a right to housing and a fresh start, people living in proximity to them also deserve safeguards and considerations. There is a fine line here; however, landlords can vet candidates by diving more deeply into their financial past, eviction history or civil records.
This development underscores the value of using third-party tenant screening companies to ensure landlords stay in compliance with current city, state and federal tenant screening laws. Professional tenant screening can help to ensure higher-quality tenants and safer rental properties for all occupants.