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.
- Application Fee – In Washington, a landlord may only charge an application fee equal to the costs incurred in obtaining a screening report of the applicant.
- Discrimination Laws – Washington offers specific state protections against discrimination against classes like gender identity and source of income in addition to FHA laws that protect classes like religion, race, and familial status.
- Notice of Eligibility Requirements – Landlords must provide the method of background screening used, the information that will be collected, and the criteria that would lead to a rejection.
- Notice of Adverse Action or Conditional Approval – If the landlord takes an adverse action or conditionally approves the applicant, they must disclose the reason for the action or outline the conditions that must be met.
- Consent for Credit Checks – the Federal Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires that application screeners obtain written consent for a credit check to be conducted.
Washington Rental Application Laws
The following laws apply to the application and tenant screening process in the state of Washington.
Collecting an Application Fee in Washington
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).
Illegal Housing Discrimination in Washington
Federal and state laws are in effect in Washington to protect potential renters from unfair discrimination during the application process.
Fair Housing Act
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)
As a result, asking about any of these items on a rental application form (and/or using them to base an application decision on) is not allowed.
Washington Fair Housing Laws
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.
Exemptions to Fair Housing Laws
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 if children will occupy the rented premises in any of the below cases:
- Two-family owner-occupied buildings.
- Housing for Older Persons Exemption – landlords may ask for an applicant’s age in the case of age-restricted communities such as senior housing. This federal exemption, known as the “Housing for Older Persons” exemption, can apply to 55+ or even 62+ communities that meet the requirements.
- Mrs. Murphy Exemption – dwellings with four units or less where one unit is occupied by the owner are exempt from Fair Housing Laws, unless a real estate agent represents the landlord. Additionally, race cannot be a deciding factor as per the Civil Rights Act of 1866
- 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
Federally, race is a non-exemption criteria that cannot have an influence on the choice of whether to rent to an applicant or not regardless of existing exemptions.
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, and what would cause a denial. RCW 59.18.257
Notice of Adverse Action or Conditional Approval
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
Consent for Credit 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 (example template).
Washington Security Deposit Law
If an applicant is approved, the following laws apply to the collection of security deposits in Washington:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount: There is no limit to what Washington landlords may charge as a security deposit.
- Receipt Requirements: The landlord must provide a receipt for the security deposit.
- Financial Holdings: 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
Sending Rental Application Forms
Landlords can send rental application forms to tenants in one of two ways:
- Manually – using the PDF and Word templates available for free on our website (see the top right of this webpage), landlords can send a rental application form to tenants via a physical copy or email.
- With Software – most popular property management software services include an online rental application form that can automate the collection and screening process for landlords.
For reviews of popular property management software, click here.
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. This can be done online at the Washington Courts portal.
To access the eviction records:
- Visit the Washington Courts Odyssey Portal.
- Enter the applicant’s name, and any cases involving the applicant will pop up.
- Select the case number to be taken to the case summary. Note: Not all counties using the Odyssey Portal utilize Odyssey’s Document Management, in which case you must contact the court directly to request documents.
Responding to Rental Applications
If an applicant meets all of your tenant screening criteria, then there’s nothing you need to do beyond notifying them and moving forward with the normal leasing process.
However, if you acquire a consumer report for an applicant (i.e. credit, eviction or criminal history) and you make an “adverse action” against them (EVEN IF the report’s information wasn’t the primary reason for doing so), you are required to provide the tenant with a notice letter that includes certain details, known as an “adverse action notice”.
An adverse action is defined as either rejecting the applicant or instituting additional/higher requirements than you have for another applicant (i.e. requiring a co-signer, larger security deposit, higher rent or an additional deposit).
In these cases, an adverse action notice is required to be sent to the applicant, and must include the following:
- The agency’s name, address and phone number that supplied the report.
- A statement explaining that the CRA didn’t make the decision for the adverse action themselves, and as a result, that they can’t explain why the decision was made.
- A statement explaining the applicant’s right to dispute such information and their right to a copy of the report in question within 60 days.
To learn more about requirements surrounding adverse action notices, see this article from the Federal Trade Commission. To get an idea of what an adverse action notice might look like, see this example letter.
Additionally, to protect against accusations of illegal discrimination, it is always recommended to include the exact reason why the application was not approved in the rejection letter.