Screening tenants in Seattle and some surrounding cities is a bit different than screening tenants in other parts of Washington State or the nation. The city has some laws and requirements that are stricter than the regulations in place statewide.
There are some best practices to follow when you’re screening tenants in any Washington community such as Tacoma, Burien, Normandy Park, Des Moines, Federal Way, and the surrounding area. When you work with ACRES Property Management as part of our onboarding and education process we’ll talk about what you should do to find a high-quality renter. Then, we’ll go into the specifics of tenant screening laws in Seattle or the specific city your property is located in and the unique needs in that city.
Wherever you’re renting out a property, remember that working with a professional Seattle property management company can reduce your risk and ensure you have a well-qualified tenant in place.
Establish Rental Criteria
Documenting your entire process and putting your tenant screening criteria in writing is a requirement in Seattle. You’ll want to share these standards with any potential applicants so the people applying for your home know what you’ll be looking for to approve their application.
Check Credit and Criminal Backgrounds
Most landlords start with a simple credit check and a look at criminal history. However, that is against the law in Seattle. In surrounding areas, where it is allowed, we suggest you do a nationwide criminal background check and pull up eviction records as well. Those don’t always show up on a credit report.
This does not apply to Seattle tenant screenings. You cannot advertise “no criminal record” in your screening criteria and you cannot disqualify an applicant who has a record. Even asking for an applicant’s criminal history on your application can be problematic. More on that later.
When you’re evaluating credit, remember that the type of debt an applicant has is often more important than the amount of debt. People fall behind on student loans and medical payments. That doesn’t mean they’re risky tenants. Look at how financially responsible the applicants are overall. If there are debts owed to former landlords, management companies, or apartment buildings, you’ll want to think twice. Utility bills are also important to take note of and should not be in collections.
Verify Employment and Income
You need tenants who can afford rent. Moving in a tenant who doesn’t earn enough money to meet their obligations will only result in disaster. Don’t set them up for failure. We often recommend an income that’s at least three times the monthly rent. Ask for verification in the form of pay stubs, tax forms, or bank statements. Besides, these documents we also verify the applicant’s employment and income directly with their employer.
Explore an Applicant’s Rental History
We are always surprised when landlords don’t call rental references. Current and former landlords can tell you a lot about renting to a specific tenant, and the phone call will not take more than 10 minutes. A previous landlord can tell you how a tenant paid, took care of the property, and communicated. Always ask for contact information, and do a little research to make sure you’re actually talking to former landlords or property managers. Tenants with a terrible rental history may try to give you contact information for friends or family members. Always take into consideration the potential bias of those references.
Seattle-Specific Tenant Screening
Seattle property investors will want to work with a property manager to ensure all screening is compliant and legally enforceable. Put your criteria in writing and make them available to any potential applicants. List anything that might appear in a background screening that would prevent an applicant from being approved. For example, an eviction within the last two years.
Then, remember these rules:
- You must provide the name and address of the consumer reporting agency you use and provide access to a free copy to an applicant who is turned down for your property.
- You can only charge the actual cost of screening. Your application fee must match the amount of the credit and background fee.
- If you deny an applicant, you must provide a written statement explaining why.
- You cannot disqualify a tenant who has a criminal record.
- Seattle First-in-TIme law requires you to accept the first applicant that meets your criteria. Date and time stamp every application you receive.
Screening tenants is more complicated than ever. If you need help with Seattle property management or any residential rental you own in Tacoma, Burien, Normandy Park, Des Moines, or Federal Way, contact us at ACRES Property Management.