Fair Housing Information for Tenants/Renters
Most tenants in King County are protected from discriminatory housing practices by federal and state fair housing laws. Depending on where you live in King County, you may also be protected by a local fair housing law.
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. All persons have one or more class attributes. Discriminatory treatment may occur if you are treated differently than other tenants or prospective tenants because of one or more of your class attributes.
Fair housing laws protect you when you are looking for rental housing as well as when you are living in rental housing. 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 or attempting to rent a single family house, this housing is exempt from fair housing laws, except for the last bullet above, the prohibition on discriminatory advertising.
Additional Protection for Tenants with a Disability
In addition to protection from discrimination, tenants with a disability are also entitled to reasonable modifications and reasonable accommodations, if necessary to allow them to use and enjoy the housing.
Modifications are generally at the expense of the tenant and with the permission of the landlord. The landlord cannot unreasonably withhold permission, but can require that the tenant agree to restore the housing to its original condition for those modifications that will substantially alter the housing for tenants without a disability (such as lowering cabinets).
Tenants may seek financial assistance for the modifications from the owner of the housing if the owner received federal funding to acquire, construct, rehabilitate or operate the housing.
Eligible tenants may also apply for financial assistance for modifications through the King County Housing and Community Development Program's Home Accessibility Service.
In addition, tenants with a disability have a right to reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services of the housing if needed by the tenant to use the housing. Reasonable accommodations and modifications must be requested by the tenant, and it is suggested that the tenant make their request in writing and keep a copy. Requests can be made when applying for housing or during an established tenancy. You should receive a response to your request within about 10 business days or even sooner if you are applying for housing.
For more information about fair housing laws, visit the King County Office of Civil Rights resources for tenants.
Local Fair Housing Laws
Residents of King County who live within the unincorporated areas of King County, the City of Seattle and the City of Bellevue have protection from 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 and possession of a Section 8 housing voucher. King County's ordinance only applies in the unincorporated areas of the County.
The City of Seattle has these same three additional protected classes plus protection for discrimination based on ancestry, gender identity, and 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.
Fair Housing Enforcement Offices
Tenants who believe that they may have been the victim of housing discrimination can make a complaint with a fair housing enforcement agency. Where you live will determine which agency you can file a complaint with.
All tenants in Washington State can make complaints to HUD's Fair Housing Office or the Washington State Human Rights Commission.
If you live in an unincorporated part of King County, you may make a complaint to 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 you live in Seattle, you may make a complaint to the City of Seattle Office for Civil Rights.
If you live in Bellevue you can make a complaint for Section 8 based housing discrimination to the Code Compliance office of the City of Bellevue. Bellevue's ordinance is limited to Section 8 based housing discrimination; therefore, this is the only fair housing claim that Bellevue has the jurisdiction to enforce. For all other types of housing discrimination in Bellevue, tenants can complain to the Washington State Human Rights Commission or HUD.
Tenants that may have been the victim of housing discrimination may also seek the assistance of a private attorney or legal services office. Our Resources section provides information on legal service referrals.