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To read the specific laws in the WA State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act, click on the RCW (Revised Code of Washington) links throughout the Tenant Services website.
Tenants Union Tenant Counselors are not attorneys, and this information should not be considered legal advice. Please read our full Tenant Union Disclaimer.
Fair Housing & Disability Laws
Tenants in Washington State are protected against discrimination because of their race, color, national origin, religion/creed, sex/gender, because of the presence of children, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity, marital status, and military/veteran status. Fair housing laws in Washington State are governed by the federal Fair Housing Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination. Federal laws are enforced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and state laws by the Washington State Human Rights Commission.
Enforcement of fair housing laws is governed by a number of different agencies, depending upon the location of the housing. Tenants have options of where to file a fair housing complaint based on where they live. Tenants in jurisdictions served by multiple fair housing agencies can file with the closest agency, and may choose to file with HUD as well. Applicants and tenants have one year from the date of the incident of discrimination to file a fair housing complaint against the landlord or property management company.
Federal law defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. “Major life activity” means activities that are of central importance to daily life, such as seeing, hearing, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, caring for one’s self, learning, and speaking. Someone who is regarded as having such an impairment, or who has a record of having such an impairment, is also considered a person with a disability. The Washington State Law Against Discrimination and local fair housing laws define disability more broadly, and include some people with temporary disabilities.
Some landlords may screen out tenants who have criminal records, assuming that they will not be trustworthy renters, regardless of the nature of the crime, the circumstances surrounding the conviction, and the amount of time that has passed since the criminal activity occurred. If you have a criminal record, you might want to be upfront about it in order to avoid paying screening costs for a unit where the landlord refuses to accept tenants with criminal records. If you can get a personal letter of reference from a community member, case manager or even a friend, bring that along. Some tenant screening services check criminal history and some don’t. You can ask the landlord if they will rent to someone with a criminal record. If you know right away that the landlord will not consider you for tenancy because of a criminal history or eviction on your record, you can save the money you would have spent on a tenant screening or application fee and apply for another unit.
In the City of Seattle, unincorporated King County, Bellevue, and Redmond it is illegal for landlords to discriminate against someone because of their status as a Section 8 voucher holder. Landlords in these areas cannot legally refuse to rent to someone just because they use a Section 8 voucher to pay their rent. Landlords in these areas must initially offer one-year leases for Section 8 voucher tenants, and cannot charge Section 8 tenants a rental rate that exceeds the rate charged to a non-Section 8 tenant. However, landlords do not have to lower their standard market rental rates to make the unit reasonably affordable to Section 8 voucher tenants. Civil rights agencies enforce these laws. Find out more information at the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, King County Office of Civil Rights, and the City of Bellevue Development Services Department. The City of Redmond recently passed an ordinance requiring Section 8 protections. They are working on developing an enforcement mechanism, which will likely have their Code Enforcement Dept. following up on tenant complaints.