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Thursday, June 9, 2016

New Evictions Reporting & Tenant Screening Law

Reposted with permission from Resource Talk by Hannah Newton — May 26, 2016 — from Solid Ground

Beginning June 9, 2016, a new law goes into effect in Washington state that will require landlords to inform tenants whether they will accept a screening report provided by the tenant. Additionally, the law also allows people to get a court order to not give eviction records to tenant screening companies, if the eviction was actually decided in their favor.

Until now, tenants who are named in a lawsuit for an unlawful detainer (the legal term for an eviction action) by their landlord, if filed in court, had no recourse to prevent the eviction filing from showing up on future tenant screening reports — even if the tenant was never actually evicted, the tenant prevailed in court, or the case was dismissed or settled! To make matters worse, this eviction filing left a permanent mark on a tenant’s record, with absolutely no means to remove it, no matter the circumstances.

The new law creates a procedure for an "order for limited dissemination," which will enable tenants to have their case records excluded from future tenant screening reports. A tenant may request this order from a judge on the grounds that there was insufficient basis for the lawsuit in the first place or that their tenancy was "reinstated" after paying off eviction judgement, or on a showing of "other good cause." Tenants who have existing eviction records can also request orders for limited dissemination.

This law Is not just for new evictions that happen after June 9, but retroactive. However, the eviction will still be in public record. Also if a judgment is attached, that would still show up on a credit report. For more information and for the forms needed to file, tenants should visit the court where their eviction hearing happened.

A step forward in fair tenant screening advocacy efforts

Tenant advocates have been fighting for years for greater protections around the ubiquitous and expensive tenant screening process. Currently, many tenants are forced to pay for multiple screening reports within a very short timeframe as they navigate the extremely competitive rental market and often need to apply at multiple housing sites before approval.

Under the recently passed new law, landlords are now required to inform prospective tenants whether the landlord will accept a "comprehensive reusable tenant screening report." Tenants can purchase these portable reports from a tenant screening company to secure the tenant’s screening information for a period of 30 days. The tenant can then apply for housing an unlimited number of times using that report within those 30 days for no additional charge.

While the new law does not prohibit landlords from refusing to accept these portable screening reports, the law does require that a landlord disclose whether they accept the portable screening report as part of their required pre-selection disclosures. Additionally, if the landlord does accept the portable screening report, the landlord may not charge the tenant for a separate screening report. In other words, if the landlord wants to run another screening report, the landlord must may for it.

Currently, the only company/product that meets the statutory definition of a Comprehensive Reusable Tenant Screening Report is through Moco.Inc and their®. Tenants should be referred to to buy their reports.

Moco, Inc has 2 packages available for tenants – the basic for $35.95 and the comprehensive for $49.95. Since the law states that the report must contain credit, criminal, eviction, employment and rental history, the tenants will have to purchase the comprehensive package. According to Moco, Inc., they are the same packets, i.e., same information, that landlords would be purchasing/getting if they bought a report.

Widespread support for bill

This bill saw remarkable support from landlords as well as tenant advocates. In exchange for these added tenant protections, the landlords involved in the legislative process requested that the length of time allotted to landlords to return security deposits after tenants vacate be increased from 14 to 21 days. This request was based on the premise that 14 days is not enough time for landlords to be able to present tenants with actual invoices for damages incurred versus simple estimates.

Although the new law now gives landlords 21 days to return the full deposit, the rest of Washington state’s deposit law remains the same. Importantly, if the landlord is going to retain any portion of the deposit, the landlord must send a "full statement of the basis for retaining any of the [security] deposit."

If you are a tenant with an eviction record and think you might qualify for an order for limited dissemination of your eviction filing, please follow up with legal resources directly. If you need assistance locating legal resources in your area or have any questions regarding the new law, call our Tenant Services Workshop & Legislative Advocacy Line at (206) 694-6748.