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New Laws, New Screening Techniques

Non-payment of rent cannot be used as a basis to deny an applicant the right to rent from you. RCW 59.18.625 forbids landlords from discriminating against any applicant who did not pay rent at any time from March 1, 2020 through December 31, 2021. Also, landlords cannot tell other prospective landlords that one of their tenants didn’t pay rent for any part or all of those 22 months.

Landlords must take great care when providing a reference for a Tenant. If a new landlord calls you and asks about your old tenant’s payment history, don’t tell them! You might know and trust the new landlord – but you don’t know if your old tenant is now being used as a tester. If you receive such a call, tell the new landlord that you are not allowed to report any non-payment of rent that occurred 3/1/2020-12/31/2021. But you can say: “If I were asked if I would rent to them again, I would say (yes or no).” I cannot give you any reasons for my yes or no answer and my reason cannot be based on the tenant’s rent payments from 3/1/2020-12/31/2021.
Credit screening companies cannot tell you about your applicant’s eviction history. RCW 59.18.367 forbids the tenant-screening service provider from disclosing the unlawful detainer action or from lowering the applicant’s score based on that court action.

The laws allow the credit-screening company to tell you if the applicant had an order entered against them for eviction. But, most eviction orders are settled on the courthouse steps without an eviction order – and will be eligible for the gag-order established by RCW 59.18.367. And, if any landlord settled with the tenant in the new, mandatory Eviction Resolution Pilot Program, that entire dispute is not public record. Cases for non-payment of rent must go through the ERPP before the landlord is allowed to file a court action.

Fortunately, eviction court-proceedings are not sealed. Landlords can do their own digging through the courts’ records to find disputes or criminal actions involving people whose names you know. Start with a photograph of the applicant’s driver’s license so you have the correct spelling of a person’s name. (People with lots of contact with the courts tend to misspell their names on applications for credit and tenancy.)

To look up a person’s court record in Superior Court, go to the courts’ Odyssey Portal: https://odysseyportal.courts.wa.gov/ODYPORTAL/Home/Dashboard/29 . This search will pick up felonies, eviction actions, and other matters. It will not pick up DUIs and other misdemeanors. For district court matters, start here https://dw.courts.wa.gov/?fa=home.namesearchTerms , scroll to the bottom and click “accept.” This database isn’t as reliable or fluid as the Superior Court system, but it can provide helpful information.

Or, you can hire a private investigator to search the court records for you because they are not credit-screening companies.

Remember, beginning in 2022 you will be able to ask tenants to prove that they paid rent from January of 2022 forward (unless the laws change yet again).

Rani K. Sampson
Overcast Law Offices | Attorney

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