Fair Housing Information for Landlords/Housing Providers
Most rental housing, including transitional housing for homeless households, is subject to federal and state fair housing laws. It is important that owners of rental housing understand and provide training for their staff about fair housing laws.
Fair housing laws prohibit a landlord from treating a tenant unfairly because of their protected class. Protected classes include a person's: race, skin color, national origin, religion, gender, disability, parental or familial status and marital status. Discriminatory treatment may occur if a tenant or prospective tenant is treated differently because of one or more of their class attributes.
Prohibited actions by a landlord include, but are not limited to:
- refusing to rent available housing;
- applying unfair or inequitable criteria when evaluating an applicant/household;
- refusing to rent to a person with a disability or refusing to provide reasonable accommodations or allow reasonable modifications (see section below for more information);
- setting unequal rental terms and/or conditions;
- providing unequal levels of service or facilities;
- enforcing rules unequally;
- terminating a tenancy or evicting a tenant for discriminatory reasons;
- threatening or intimidating a person from exercising a fair housing right;
- advertising or making a statement that indicates a lack of preference for a person/household because of their protected class.
If you are renting a single family house, this housing is exempt from fair housing laws, except for the last bullet above, the prohibition on discriminatory advertising.
We recommend that landlords display "We Believe in Fair Housing" sign(s) in the common area(s) of their housing. These signs are available from the civil rights agency with jurisdiction over their housing.
Housing Providers can also benefit from subscribing to the Fair Housing Update, a free publication about fair housing in Washington State.
Additional Protection for Tenants with a Disability
In addition to protection from discrimination for tenants with a disability, landlords have an affirmative duty to consider and grant reasonable requests for modifications and accommodations from a person with a disability, if necessary to allow them to use and enjoy the housing. Click here for forms and information. While it is unlawful under fair housing laws for a landlord to ask a tenant or prospective tenant if they have a disability, or to ask intrusive questions about a disability, if visible, a landlord must have a procedure to allow a tenant to request a modification or accommodation on their own volition.
We recommend that a landlord inform all tenants of the process to request modifications/accommodations and forms available to use for such a process. Having a written policy and forms available for all tenants will help to ensure a landlord's compliance with fair housing laws. The King County Office of Civil Rights has forms and information available to any landlord to download. Landlords should respond to accommodation or modification requests from tenants within about 10 business days or even sooner, if necessary. Accommodations vary widely depending on the circumstances of the tenant with a disability and should not be handled in a cookie cutter fashion by the landlord.
Modifications are generally at the expense of the tenant with a disability and they must seek permission in advance from the landlord. A landlord cannot unreasonably withhold permission, but can require that the tenant agree to restore the housing to its original condition, but only for those rare modifications that will substantially alter the housing for tenants without a disability, such as lowering cabinets. A landlord may be required to provide requested modifications or a portion of the modifications if they received federal funding to acquire, construct, rehabilitate or operate the housing.
Reasonable accommodations include allowing flexibility in the rules, policies, practices or services of the housing to accommodate the needs of a tenant with a disability. For more information, visit the King County Office of Civil Rights Resources for Housing Providers
Local Fair Housing Laws
If your building is in an unincorporated area of King County, the City of Seattle or the City of Bellevue there are applicable local fair housing ordinances in addition to state and federal fair housing laws.
King County's Fair Housing Ordinance has added protection for discrimination based on age, sexual orientation or possession of a Section 8 housing voucher. The City of Seattle has these same three additional protected classes plus protection for discrimination based on ancestry, gender identity, or political ideology.
The City of Bellevue has an ordinance that provides protection and enforcement for discrimination based on possession of a Section 8 housing voucher. For more information, see the Enforcement Offices section below.
Fair Housing Enforcement Offices
Landlords should be aware that tenants who believe that they may have been the victim of housing discrimination can make a complaint with a civil rights office or may seek the assistance of an attorney. In addition, landlords may seek information and assistance with fair housing compliance from the civil rights agency with jurisdiction over their housing.
HUD's Fair Housing Office and the Washington State Human Rights Commission have jurisdiction over all housing in Washington subject to fair housing laws (most multi-family housing and limited jurisdiction for single-family rental housing).
If your building is in an unincorporated part of King County, you are also in the jurisdiction of the King County Office of Civil Rights They can also help you figure out whether you are within their jurisdiction if you are not sure.
If your building is in Seattle, you are also in the jurisdiction of the City of Seattle Office for Civil Rights.
If your building is in Bellevue you are also in the jurisdiction of the City of Bellevue's Code Compliance office for the limited issue of Section 8 based housing discrimination only. For all other types of housing discrimination in Bellevue, you are in the jurisdiction of the Washington State Human Rights Commission or HUD.