Civil Rights Enforcement

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights enforces Seattle's civil rights laws which include protections against discrimination in employment, public places, housing, and contracting. We enforce the All-Gender Restrooms Ordinance and the Ban on Providing Conversion Therapy to Minors. Our investigations are free, and we assist people in filing claims.

Our office has jurisdiction within Seattle city limits. For incidents outside Seattle or if your situation does not qualify for investigation by us, we will refer you to the appropriate agency for help. 

Enforcement Areas

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights enforces Seattle's Fair Employment Practices Ordinance. A worker can file a claim of employment discrimination against an employer located in or doing business in Seattle based on a protected class that happened in the last 18 months

Seattle's fair employment laws offer protection from discrimination related to employment. People may file claims for different treatment in areas such as:

  • Hiring, firing, and layoffs
  • Advertising
  • Wages
  • Promotion or assignments
  • Hostile work environment
  • Discipline

For example, if someone applied for a job and believed they were rejected because of a protected class like race, they may be able to file a claim of employment discrimination. The law also protects people from retaliation if they opposed discrimination, because they filed a claim, or because they assisted in a fair employment investigation.

For more information:

SMC 14.04
Chapter 40 Administrative Rules

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights enforces Seattle's Open Housing Ordinance. A person can file a claim of housing discrimination (also called fair housing) against an owner, landlord, housing provider, or property management company located in or doing business in Seattle based on a protected class that happened within the last year. 

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and Detached Accessory Dwelling Units (DADUs)

If you are an owner who lives in a house and rents rooms in the same house to others, or if you rent backyard cottage on the property that you live on, you may be exempt from many fair housing laws. The one fair housing law that will always apply to you is advertising. Advertising should be free of preferences or limitations based on protected class. For example, advertising "no men" for a room for rent is a preference based on protected class.

Fair Housing Posters

Owners, landlords, housing providers, or property management companies must post a fair housing poster at the property for rent. If you are renting a unit to a tenant and need a poster, you can download one in many different languages. If you are an applicant or tenant and do not see a poster at a property, let us know the address of the property and we'll follow up. 

Fair Housing Poster (English) (in translation)

Accessibility

Housing accessibility allows applicants or tenants with disabilities to live independently. Accessibility issues can include stronger walls for grab bars, how much space is needed for a wheelchair to turn around, how hard it is to open a door, and more. It can also cover things outside a building like a ramp, elevator in a parking garage, or disabled parking stalls. 

Reasonable Accommodation and Modification

Applicants or tenants with a disability can ask for a reasonable accommodation or modification. An accommodation is a change in rules, policies, practices, or services that allow an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. An example of reasonable accommodation is to make an exception in a parking policy so a person in a wheelchair can have a spot closest to their unit.  

A reasonable modification allows an applicant or tenant with a disability to make changes to the property that are necessary to make it accessible. The applicant or tenant is responsible for paying for reasonable modifications unless the owner, landlord, property manager, or housing provider receives federal funds. An example of a reasonable modification is asking permission to widen the bathroom doorway beyond what the building code requires to accommodate a large scooter.

Service Animals

Service animals are broadly defined in Seattle and include therapy, emotional support, companion animals and more. Fair housing requires reasonable accommodations and a service animal falls into this category. Owners, landlords, property managers, and housing providers can ask for verification of an applicant or tenant's disability-related need for the animal from a qualified third party.  

Service animals are not pets so "no pet" policies do not apply, and training of the animal is not required in Seattle. Owners, landlords, property managers, and housing providers cannot charge pet deposits for service animals or restrict breeds. If a service animal causes damage, the applicant or tenant is responsible for the costs. 

Preferred Employer Programs

In Seattle, owners, landlords, property managers, and housing providers cannot allow special terms like discounted rent or free parking to applicants and renters who work for specific employers. 

Source of Income Protections

Seattle's alternative source of income protections make it illegal to discriminate against applicants and tenants if their income comes from sources other than wages from a job like social security or aged, blind, or disabled cash assistance. Owners, landlords, property managers, and housing providers must accept short-term or long-term housing subsidies from a third party that pay part or all of a tenant's rent. Examples of housing subsidies include Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8) and VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing).

Applicants are often faced with having to make three times the monthly rent to qualify for rental units. If an applicant or tenant receives subsidies, the subsidy amount must be subtracted from the monthly rent in this calculation. After that is done, all sources of income must be added up to see if tenants meet the criteria of making three times the rent. 

A person can file a claim of housing discrimination (also called fair housing) against an owner, landlord, housing provider, or property management company located in or doing business in Seattle based on source of income that happened in the last year. 

For more information:

SMC 14.08 - Unfair Housing Practices
Chapter 40 Administrative Rules
SHRR-110-010 Administrative Rules
Frequently Asked Questions

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights enforces the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance. The law outlines rights of applicants and tenants and obligations of landlords and others. A person can file a Fair Chance Housing claim if the incident happened in the last year. Since this is a newer law, reading the Frequently Asked Questions is a great way to learn about it. 

Advertising

Landlords and others cannot advertise that they will not consider applicants or tenants with criminal history. For example, when posting a unit for rent, using language like "no felonies" would be a violation of the law.  

Applications

Applications cannot ask about a person's criminal history. Landlords and others cannot deny applications because of a person's criminal history. Each rental application must include information about this law. The language that should be used is: 

"The landlord is prohibited from requiring disclosure, asking about, rejecting an applicant, or taking an adverse action based on any arrest record, conviction record, or criminal history, except for registry information as described in subsections 14.09.025.A.3, 14.09.025.A.4, and 14.09.025.A.5, and subject to the exclusions and legal requirements in Section 14.09.115." 

If a landlord uses a sex offender registry to look for a prospective occupant, the written notice on the application shall also include these screening criteria and must inform applicants that they may provide any supplemental information related to their rehabilitation, good conduct, and facts or explanations about their registry information. 

Sex Offender Registry

Landlords and others can look on a sex offender registry for adult applicants and take adverse actions against a person if the conviction happened when they were an adult but specific rules have to be followed. The law requires a legitimate business reason analysis before taking an adverse action. 

Adverse Actions

Landlords and others cannot take adverse actions against tenants based on criminal history. Examples of adverse actions include, but are not limited to, evicting a tenant because of criminal history and refusing to add applicants to a lease because of criminal history. 

Retaliation

It is a violation of the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance to take an adverse action against a person because they exercised their rights under this law. For example, if a tenant is evicted within 90 days of filing a Fair Chance Housing complaint, the landlord is presumed to have violated the law. If the landlord had a reason for evicting the tenant such as non-payment of rent, the landlord can show that the eviction was permissible because the tenant violated the lease. 

For more information

SMC 14.09 - Use of Criminal Records in Housing
Chapter 40 Administrative Rules
SHRR 130-010 Administrative Rules
Frequently Asked Questions

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights enforces Seattle's Unfair Public Accommodations Ordinance. A person can file a claim of public accommodations discrimination against a business located in or doing business in Seattle based on a protected class that happened within the last year. 

A place of public accommodation is where people gather or buy goods and services. Examples of places of public accommodation include, but are not limited to:

  • Grocery stores
  • Hotels
  • Government services
  • Restaurants and shops
  • Recreational facilities
  • Theaters
  • Cafés

People may file claims for being denied services, being treated differently, or being charged more based on a protected class, and more. The law also protects people from retaliation if they opposed discrimination, because they filed a claim, or because they assisted in a public accommodations investigation. 

Service Animals

Service animals are broadly defined in Seattle and include therapy, emotional support, companion animals, and more. Although State and Federal laws are more restrictive, a business in Seattle must comply with these broader laws which include any animal that is medically necessary to meet the needs of a person with a disability. Service animals are not pets and special clothing for the animal is not required. Training is not required in Seattle and service animals not need special certification. 

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 requires the City of Seattle to provide people with disabilities an equal opportunity to access City services, programs, and activities. 

For more information:

SMC 14.06 - Unfair Public Accommodations Practices
Chapter 40 Administrative Rules

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights enforces Seattle's Fair Contracting Practices Ordinance. A person can file a claim of contracting discrimination against a licensed business located in or doing business in Seattle based on a protected class that happened in the last 18 months.

Seattle's fair contracting laws offer protection from discrimination related to contracts. People may file claims for different treatment, contract pricing, performance standards, and more. For example, if someone believes they were not awarded a contract because of a protected class like gender, they may be able to file a claim of contracting discrimination. The law also protects people from retaliation if they opposed discrimination, because they filed a claim, or because they assisted in a fair contracting investigation. 

A person filing a fair contracting claim against the City of Seattle may also have a claim under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI bans discrimination based on race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. Since the City of Seattle receives federal financial assistance, it must comply with Title VI.

For more information

SMC 14.10 - Fair Contracting Practices
Chapter 40 Administrative Rules
Chapter 50 Administrative Rules

The All-Gender Restroom Ordinance helps achieve greater access for transgender and gender diverse individuals. Everybody has basic needs, including using a restroom. Despite protections on the basis of gender identity, transgender and gender nonconforming people often experience harassment, intimidation, refusal of access, and in some cases, violence, when trying to use public restrooms and other gender-specific facilities consistent with their gender identities. These experiences can sometimes lead to significant health problems from having to avoid using public restrooms.  

All-gender restrooms benefit many people, including transgender and gender diverse individuals, people who require the assistance of a caregiver of different gender, and parents of children of a different gender. 

The law applies to existing and newly-built City facilities as well as in public places in Seattle. Anyone can use a single occupant restroom regardless of sex or gender identity and the law prevents those restrooms from being restricted to a specific sex or gender identity. Scroll down to see examples of appropriate signage.  

To report a non-compliant restroom: 

  • Tweet #AllGenderRestroomSEA with a picture of the sign and name and location of the business, or 
  • Submit a report through our system and send a picture to discrimination@seattle.gov with the inquiry number you are given, or 
  • Call us at (206) 684-4500 with the name and location of the business and email the picture to discrimination@seattle.gov.  
  • For technical assistance or questions, call us at (206) 684-4500 or email us at discriminationquestions@seattle.gov

Example Signs

Example of All-Gender Restroom sign Example of All-Gender Restroom sign Example of All-Gender Restroom sign

For more information:

SMC 14.07 - All-Gender Single-Occupant Restrooms Requirements
SHRR 100-010 Administrative Rules
Frequently Asked Questions

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights enforces Seattle's Ban on Providing Conversion Therapy to Minors. Conversion therapy (also known as reparative therapy) are practices or treatments that attempt to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, based on the discredited theory that being LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) is a defect or disorder.  

Examples of conversion therapy include:  

  • Shaming same-sex attractions. 
  • Making patients' behavior more feminine or masculine.  
  • Exclusively teaching heterosexual dating skills as the only acceptable form of dating or a superior form of dating.  
  • Inducing nausea, vomiting or paralysis while showing the patient same-sex erotic images.  
  • Having a patient snap a bracelet around the wrist when aroused by same-sex erotic thoughts.  
  • Using hypnosis to try to redirect desires. 

The law covers licensed medical or mental health professionals in Seattle that engage in the use of conversation therapy on persons under the age of 18. Examples of medical or mental health professionals are therapists, chemical dependency counselors, and physicians. For more information, read the Frequently Asked Questions. 

Anyone can report a violation of this law. If you're not sure whether a practice is conversion therapy, contact us to talk about it. 

For more information:

SMC 14.21 - The Use of Conversion Therapy on Minors
Frequently Asked Questions
Ending Conversion Therapy

Frequently Asked Questions

Discrimination is illegal when:

  • You are treated differently from others in a similar situation; and
  • You are harmed by the treatment; and
  • You are treated this way because of your membership in a protected class (i.e., race, gender, etc.) or
  • Your request for a reasonable accommodation due to a disability is refused without a valid business reason.

Simply, a protected class is a group of people who have a common characteristic and who are legally protected from discrimination on the basis of that characteristic.

Seattle currently includes these protected classes:

  • Age¹
  • Ancestry
  • Breastfeeding in a public place
  • Color
  • Creed
  • Disability
  • Gender identity
  • Marital status
  • National Origin
  • Parental status²
  • Political ideology
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Use of a Section 8 certificate²
  • Use of a service animal
  • Military status or Veteran

¹ may not be applicable in all Employment or Fair Contracting cases.
² not applicable to Public Accommodations cases.

It is against the law for someone to penalize or discriminate against you because:

  • You file a discrimination complaint
  • You cooperate with a discrimination complaint
  • You cooperate with the enforcement of a discrimination complaint
  • You comply with anti-discrimination laws

You can file a separate charge of discrimination if you believe someone has retaliated against you. We will conduct a separate investigation concerning retaliation.

Seattle's anti-discrimination laws also protect you from harassment. Harassment is conduct that is directed at you because of your race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, national origin, etc.

Harassment can include:

  • Threats
  • Slurs or epithets
  • Threatening acts
  • Posting offensive materials on walls, bulletin boards, e-mail, etc. 

To be considered harassment, conduct must:

  • Be serious and frequent enough to create a hostile environment;
  • Interfere with your ability to work, live, or enjoy a public place.

To file a claim of discrimination, the following criteria must be met:

  • The issue must be covered by the laws we enforce;
  • The incident must have occurred in the City of Seattle;
  • The incident must have happened within the eighteen (18) months for employment and contracting claims or the last twelve (12) months for housing and public accommodation claims; and,
  • The business or person responsible must be covered under Seattle laws. 

If you have any questions, please call or e-mail our office.