Council Adopts Tenant Protection Legislation, Bans Discrimination Based on Income Source

Council unanimously adopted comprehensive tenant protection legislation today.  Currently it is illegal to discriminate against a prospective renter whose primary source of income is a Section 8 voucher.  The legislation adopted today expands that legal protection to include people who receive alternate sources of income such as a pension, Social Security, unemployment, child support or any other governmental or non-profit subsidy.  It also creates a new First- come, First-served screening process that will seek to help address discrimination in housing across all protected classes.

According to the Seattle’s Renting Crisis Report from the Washington Community Action Network, “48% of individuals who pay for rent with Social Security Disability Insurance or Social Security retirement income said that discrimination prevents them from having successful rental applications.”

Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle & South Park), the legislation’s sponsor said, “When the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) conducted secret shopper fair housing testing relating to applicants who applied for housing using Section 8 vouchers, 63% of applicants were shown different treatment, which is already illegal. Today we’re expanding those protections, and I expect this new law will have positive impacts for renters.”

The legislation adopted today is aimed at making the housing application process more objective as a tool to mitigate unconscious bias and ensure the city investments in addressing our affordable housing crisis and homeless crisis are effective.

The source of income discrimination proposal was developed following recommendations from the Mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda task force.  Council further amended the proposal to provide further protections:

  1. First-Come, First-Served Screening Practice

Prevents housing providers from giving applicants with alternative sources of income a lower priority. It requires landlords to review applications one at a time, on a first-come, first-served basis.

  1. New Eviction Protections

Ensures that tenants can fully utilize community resources to prevent eviction. Landlords will be required to accept pledges from community-based organizations to remedy nonpayment of rent if funds are received within 5 days of an eviction notice.

  1. Preferred Employer Programs Banned

Encourages landlords to offer non-discriminatory move-in incentives. In 2015, both media and community members reported discounts on deposits and other move-in fees for rental applicants working for preferred employers. The Seattle of Office of Civil Rights recently concluded that some preferred employer programs that provide discounts or other terms and conditions in rental housing to certain groups over others may constitute discrimination under Seattle’s Open Housing Ordinance (SMC 14.08).

Councilmember Herbold added, “Tenants benefitting from preferred employer rental discounts aren’t the tenants that need assistance in the affordability crisis Seattle faces. It’s the renters who are on social security or who receive child support assistance that need a helping hand, and that’s who this law was intended to aid.”

The legislation will take effect 30 days following the Mayor’s signature.