The Washington rental application form is a legal document that is used by landlords and rental agents as part of leasing a property. The form collects information from potential tenants that helps to screen them and decide whether the tenant will be accepted. This includes income, rental history, and criminal history.
Washington Laws on Rental Application Fees
Washington law prohibits landlords from charging any amount higher than the costs incurred in obtaining tenant screening reports for an application fee. (WA Rev. Code § 59.18.257(1)(b))
If a prospective tenant’s application is approved, the landlord may collect a security deposit. According to Washington state law, a landlord may charge any amount for a security deposit as there is no limit. Additionally, a security deposit receipt must be provided and landlords have three holding options in Washington — placing the security deposit in a trust account solely for security deposits, placing the deposit with a Washington licensed escrow agent, or depositing the sum in an account in a state or federal financial institution. The name of the institution and the account information must be disclosed. RCW 59.18.270
Notice of Eligibility or Selection Criteria Requirements
Along with an application form, Washington landlords or agents must provide a notice that outlines the source of the screening, the criteria used for screening, the cost and what would cause a denial. RCW 59.18.257
What Washington Rental Applications Can’t Ask About
Federal and state laws are in effect in Washington to protect potential renters from unfair discrimination during the application process. The Federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate against the following protected classes:
- National Origin (Nationality)
- Familial Status (Having or not having children)
- Disability (Physical or Mental)
Additionally, Washington state laws add additional protections for the following classes:
- Sexual Orientation
- Gender Identity
- HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis C Status
- Marital Status
- Military/Veteran Status
- Source of Income (Public/Government Assistance)
Asking about any of these items on a rental application form (and/or using them to base an application decision on) is not allowed. Additional protected classes may vary by city or county.
In Seattle, criminal history is protected for prospective tenants except in the case of methamphetamine production/storage or sex offender status. A Seattle landlord must provide the following required written notice:
“The landlord is prohibited from requiring disclosure, asking about, rejecting an applicant, or taking an adverse action based on any arrest record, conviction record, or criminal history, except for registry information as described in subsections 14.09.025.A.3, 14.09.025.A.4, and 14.09.025.A.5, and subject to the exclusions and legal requirements in Section 14.09.115.”
Exemptions from Fair Housing laws do exist. In Washington, the following exemptions are allowed:
- Familial Status – it is acceptable to ask about and base an application decision on applicant age and/or if children will occupy the rented premises in any two-family owner-occupied dwellings.
- Age – landlords may ask for an applicant’s age in the case of age-specific communities, such as senior housing or 55+ communities, due to the Housing for Older Persons exemption. 18VAC135-50-210
- Owner Occupied Properties – if an owner lives in one of the units of a single-family property, it has 4 dwellings or less and the owner represents themselves during the leasing process, then they are exempt from abiding by FHA laws under the “Mrs. Murphy” exemption. However, race can never be a deciding factor (per the Civil Rights Act of 1866) and there cannot be any discriminatory advertisements to discourage applicants of a certain group.
- Religious Organizations – religion can be used as a basis for giving preference to certain applicants for property that is owned, operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious organization that does not rent for commercial purposes. However, other protected classes may not be the basis for making a decision as a result of this exemption. 42 U.S. Code § 3607
- Private Clubs – private clubs that operate without public access or commercial intent may provide preferential treatment of applications for lodgings owned or operated by the club. 42 U.S. Code § 3607
Consent for Background Checks
Before a landlord can run a credit check based on the prospective tenant’s information on the submitted rental application, the Federal Credit Reporting Act requires that written consent must be given by the applicant. This written consent can be given via a statement of such and signature on the rental application form itself, or via a separate consent form (such as this one).
Processing a Rental Application
The next step in the tenant screening process is to use the information on the rental application form to conduct a background check:
- Credit Check – subject to the tenant’s written consent, a credit check will either provide a simpler “pass/fail” report, or a full credit report including the tenant’s credit score and information about their income, employment, past addresses, credit inquiries and more.
- Eviction Check – an eviction check aims to show the tenant’s history of eviction filings or judgments against them at any point in the last 7 years.
- Criminal History Check – a criminal history check aims to show any records involving the tenant in state court criminal records or in databases such as the national sex offender public registry.
Washington Eviction Record Search
Eviction records are a part of public record, so Washington landlords can complete their own eviction record search for free instead of paying for a third-party service. The Washington Courts Odyssey Portal is where landlords can access records.
To access the eviction records:
- Go to Washington Courts Odyssey Portal.
- Search for the applicant’s last county and search for the email of the County Clerk.
- Landlords may email the County Clerk directly to access and request records.
- Additional information can be found on the Clerk’s website which is provided on the right-hand side of the email.
Adverse Action Notices
If you acquire a consumer report for an applicant (i.e., credit, eviction or criminal history) and take an “adverse action” against them such as any of the following:
- Rejecting the applicant
- Requiring a co-signer (when they didn’t include one before)
- Requiring a larger security deposit
- Requiring higher rent
Then you are legally required to provide the tenant with a notice letter that includes certain details, known as an “adverse action notice”. This is required even if the consumer report’s information wasn’t the primary reason for the action.
Washington’s Notice of Adverse Action or Conditional Approval
Washington has a specific template if a landlord rejects an application or otherwise takes an adverse action they must provide an explanation for why the application was rejected. This should resemble the following template:
“ADVERSE ACTION NOTICE
This notice is to inform you that your application has been:
….. Approved with conditions:
….. Residency requires an increased deposit
….. Residency requires a qualified guarantor
….. Residency requires last month’s rent
….. Residency requires an increased monthly rent of $……..
Adverse action on your application was based on the following:
….. Information contained in a consumer report (The prospective landlord must include the name, address, and phone number of the consumer reporting agency that furnished the consumer report that contributed to the adverse action.)
….. The consumer credit report did not contain sufficient information
….. Information received from previous rental history or reference
….. Information received in a criminal record
….. Information received in a civil record
….. Information received from an employment verification
Dated this ….. day of …….., ….(year)
(2) Any landlord who maintains a web site advertising the rental of a dwelling unit or as a source of information for current or prospective tenants must include a statement on the property’s home page stating whether or not the landlord will accept a comprehensive reusable tenant screening report made available to the landlord by a consumer reporting agency. If the landlord indicates its willingness to accept a comprehensive reusable tenant screening report, the landlord may access the landlord’s own tenant screening report regarding a prospective tenant as long as the prospective tenant is not charged for the landlord’s own tenant screening report.
(3) Any landlord or prospective landlord who violates subsection (1) of this section 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.
(4) This section does not limit a prospective tenant’s rights or the duties of a screening service as otherwise provided in chapter 19.182 RCW.”
Conditionally approved applications also require the landlord to outline the terms under which the tenant may enter a lease agreement. RCW 59.18.257