Fair Housing

Seattle's fair housing laws protect you from discrimination in accessing and maintaining housing. It's important that you know your rights as you search for your new home. These protections are designed to remove barriers, so everyone has an equal opportunity to access housing by:

  • Prohibiting individual acts of discrimination
  • Breaking down neighborhood segregation and the concentration of poverty
  • Eliminating institutional acts of discrimination and segregation to "affirmatively advance fair housing." An example of an institutional act of discrimination is the practice of using restrictive covenants in certain neighborhoods which disallowed people of color from buying or renting a property there. Making this act illegal is an example of affirmatively advancing fair housing.

Fair housing applies to almost everyone involved in renting property. It also applies to all types of housing such as:

  • Apartments
  • Houses
  • Condos
  • Rooming houses
  • Shelters
  • Co-operatives

Fair Chance Housing

As of February 19, 2018, a landlord cannot deny a prospective renter based on their criminal history. Advertisements for rental units cannot make statements such as "no felons" that automatically exclude people with arrest records, conviction records, or criminal history. Rental application forms must tell you about this law, which is designed to give everyone a fair chance at housing.

Landlords can, as part of their screening process, check to see if an adult (not a juvenile) applicant is on a sex offender registry. Landlords may be able to deny your application if the conviction occurred when you were an adult. They must follow additional rules if denying you housing because you are on a sex offender registry.

Preferred Employer Programs

Seattle does not allow special terms like discounted rent or free parking to applicants and renters who work for specific employers. If you encounter this when you are searching and applying for housing, let us know by contacting the Renting in Seattle Helpline.

Occupancy

Seattle's Housing and Building Maintenance Code (HBMC) establishes "minimum space and occupancy standards" for rental housing. They describe the minimum square footage for rooms in living spaces, but do not regulate how people occupy their homes. For example, a room used for sleeping purposes shall not have less than 70 square feet of floor area and an additional 50 square feet is required for each occupant over two. A larger family may use their living room for sleeping purposes. Having an arbitrary limit on how many people can live in a unit can be a violation of fair housing law by having a disparate impact on families with children. "Disparate impact" is when a neutral rule has a discriminatory, often unintentional effect on a protected class, like families with children.

Source of Income Protections

Seattle's alternative source of income protections makes it illegal to discriminate against you if you use alternative sources of income like social security benefits to pay for rent. Landlords cannot deny you housing or treat you differently because your income comes from sources other than wages from a job like aged, blind, or disabled cash assistance.

It is quite common on rental applications to see eligibility criteria requiring renters to make three times the monthly rent. This can make finding housing difficult for many people, especially those who may not derive all their income from employment. Landlords must subtract subsidies from the monthly rent and include all sources of income when making the calculation.

A landlord cannot refuse to rent to a someone because of their income source. Landlords must accept short-term or long-term housing subsidies from a third party that pays a portion or all of a tenant's rent. Examples of housing subsidies include Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8) and VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing).

For more information, see the Seattle Office of Civil Rights' website.

Fair Housing Poster

Landlords, owners, property managers, and housing providers must post a fair housing poster at the place they are renting. If you don't see a poster, let us know.

Fair Housing Posters

If a landlord does not have a fair housing poster, they could be fined $250. Free posters are available online or contact the Seattle Office for Civil Rights to get a hard copy.