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City of Seattle
Ed Murray, Mayor

SUBJECT: Landlord cannot use renter’s reference to retaliate

3/11/2002  4:40:00 PM
Roberto Bonaccorso  (206) 684-5282

Landlord cannot use renter’s reference to retaliate
Seattle Hearing Examiner upholds findings of Civil Rights Office

Landlords cannot provide a bad reference to retaliate against a tenant, said Seattle’s Hearing Examiner in a recent decision, affirming an earlier finding by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights.

On February 12, City of Seattle Hearing Examiner Meredith A. Getches ruled that Beacon Crest Apartments had retaliated illegally against their former tenant, Robert Hall, by issuing a bad reference after Hall had filed a charge of discrimination with the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR). The Hearing Examiner also awarded $1,908 in damages to Hall, $1,000 of which was to compensate Mr. Hall for the violation of his civil rights.

SOCR found last year that Beacon Crest Apartments had retaliated illegally against Mr. Hall. When the property manager challenged the finding and refused to negotiate a settlement, the case was referred to the Hearing Examiner. Joining the Hearing Examiner were two members of the Seattle Human Rights Commission.

"We are pleased that the Hearing Examiner upheld our own conclusion that discrimination occurred," said Barbara Osinski, SOCR’s Enforcement Manager. "The vast majority of these cases settle long before they reach this stage."

The case stems from an earlier dispute 18-months earlier between the tenant and landlord. On August 30, 2000, Robert Hall moved out of his unit at Beacon Crest Apartments, after complaining of racial harassment from other tenants, as well as substantial rent increases. A few weeks later, Mr. Hall filed a formal complaint with the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) alleging discrimination based on race.

While SOCR investigated the charge, Mr. Hall applied for tenancy with the King County Housing Authority in October 2000. The Housing Authority requested a reference check with Beacon Crest Apartments as part of its standard screening process.

In response to the reference check, Beacon Crest’s property manager informed King County Housing Authority that they would not rent again to Mr. Hall because he had "filed a groundless harassment claim against the company."

After Mr. Hall learned of the reference, he filed a second charge with SOCR in February 2001 alleging retaliation by Beacon Crest. It is illegal under Seattle’s Municipal Code to retaliate against someone because they have filed a charge of discrimination.

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights eventually issued a finding of no probable cause on Mr. Hall’s original charge, but found probable cause on the charge of retaliation. When the management of Beacon Crest Apartments refused to negotiate a settlement with either SOCR or the City of Seattle’s Law Department, the case went to the Hearing Examiner.

"This case serves to remind property managers that reference checks should focus on their tenants’ record as residents, and not be used to punish people," said Osinski. "It is illegal to refuse services because someone has filed a discrimination complaint. When people believe they have been retaliated against because they complained about discrimination, the Office for Civil Rights will investigate."

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights investigates cases of alleged discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and contracting. For more information call (206) 684-4500, or find SOCR on the Web at

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Office for Civil Rights

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