Washington Landlord-Tenant Act: June 2016 Changes

As of June 9, 2016 a new law passed by the Washington State Legislature regarding Landlord-Tenant Screening Reports and Deposit Refunds went into effect. This bill amends RCW 59.18.257 (tenant screening) and 59.18.280 (security deposits), reenacts and amends RCW 59.18.030 (legal definitions of terms), and adds a new section (limited dissemination of unlawful detainer) to RCW Chapter 59.18. Note that, as of today, the text of the Revised Code of Washington for the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA) available online has not yet been updated to incorporate the changes this law makes, although notice of the applicable law is posted.

In terms of the Security Deposit refund timeframe, that’s not necessarily problematic for landlords because it expands the time landlords are allowed for the calculation and return of security deposits to 21 days. But, this could create confusion among both tenants and landlords, thereby escalating tensions if expectations of one party are not met. For now, it may be especially helpful for landlords who are providing the required itemized statement specifying the use of and/or refund of security deposits after 14 days (tenants' past expectation) to communicate the change in statute and the additional time allowed by law with the issuance of that statement and refund. Tenants who do not understand may become disgruntled and seek to file a claim, which, even if it is voided, can be costly in terms of finances and reputation. Keep in mind that the statutory prescriptions for how to enforce and retain a security deposit still pertain.

The change to tenant screening provides restrictions on the costs of screening that can be passed on to tenants and incorporates information notification and disclosure requirements regarding what data will be collected, how it is to be used and, if an adverse outcome results, the information on which that adverse action was based. The changes to tenant screening also require that any landlord who maintains a website advertising their services and conducts tenant screening must disclose the landlord’s treatment of comprehensive reusable tenant screening reports. Landlord liability for violating the screening process is limited to $100 and recovery by the winning party of court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.

The changes to definitions of terms used in the RLTA involve comprehensive reusable tenant screening reports and what is included in criminal and eviction histories.

The new section allows tenants (defendants) to obtain a court order limiting dissemination of an unlawful detainer action. This means that in certain cases where an unlawful detainer (eviction) action has been completed, the tenant can obtain an order preventing that eviction from being disclosed by a tenant screening provider or factored into any determination of a tenant screening score. The types of cases where such an order may be granted include reinstated tenancies, cases without sufficient basis in fact or law, and other "good cause" for limiting dissemination.