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What You Need to Know About Fair Housing Laws in WA state

What is fair housing?

Fair housing refers to laws that give people the right to choose housing without being discriminated against, based on certain characteristics such as race or religion.

The laws were created to ensure that “every neighborhood is a place of opportunity” and to prevent discrimination and segregation based on someone’s inclusion in protected classes. Fair housing laws for apartments and other rentals prohibit landlords and property managers from taking any of the following actions because of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin.

These categories of citizens are referred to as protected classes:

  1. Race

  2. Color

  3. National Origin

  4. Religion

  5. Sex

  6. Disability

  7. Familial Status (families with children)

  8. Age

  9. Marital Status

The laws apply to any party involved, directly or indirectly, in a housing transaction, such as the sale, rental or financing of housing. This includes landlords, property managers, real estate brokers, appraisers and mortgage lenders. Local government and public agency policies and procedures are also governed.

Government building

The Federal Government granted states the right to enact additional laws regarding fair housing. The 1988 amendments (FHA) protect people from negative housing actions that occur because of their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or familial status, which are "protected classes" under FHA.

Washington state took that opportunity and added more protections than currently in the federal law. The state created an agency (Washington State Human Rights Commission) with powers to eliminate and prevent discrimination. State law grants police the power to eliminate and prevent discrimination within the workforce, public facilities, financial sector, and real property transactions.

State and local fair housing laws cover more groups of protected people than the federal law, such as marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, veterans and status as a breastfeeding mother. Fair housing laws in Washington cover most property types including leased or rented apartments, houses or condominiums that are sold (leased or rented), homeowners' associations, rooming houses, cooperatives, transitional housing, temporary shelters, mobile home parks, roommate situations (except a renter can specify a roommate's sex), construction sites, and even empty lots.

Washington real estate offices, rental offices, sellers, agents and anyone else involved in real estate activities are required to abide by the federal and state laws of discrimination. Included is the Washington Fair Lending Acts, and the Washington Law Against Discrimination. Enforcement of the state laws is done by the Washington State Human Rights Commission.

While there are many prohibited actions with respect to Washington fair housing laws, the following represent the most important with respect to real estate.

  • Refusing to rent to someone or telling someone that a rental is not available even though it is, because of his or her protected class.

  • Discriminating in the terms and conditions of rental because of a resident's protected class.

Example: Sending violation notices to an Asian resident who breaks a rule, but not to a Caucasian resident who breaks the same rule. Charging additional deposits to families with children or to wheelchair users.

The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) is a part of HUD which administers and enforces federal laws and establishes policies that make sure all Americans have equal access to the housing of their choice.

Washington State Human Rights Commission

The Washington State Human Rights Commission is responsible for handling the bulk of all fair housing complaints and enforcing the state laws. The commission has many rules and policies which dictate how and when the laws are to be enforced. Some of the laws which the Washington State Humans Rights Commission must enforce include:

  • Unfair practices with respect to HIV or hepatitis C infection.

  • Unfair practices of financial institutions.

  • Unfair practices with respect to insurance transactions.

  • Employers

  • Labor unions

  • Employment agencies

  • Age discrimination

  • Retaliation against whistleblowers

  • Trained guide dogs and service animals

The Washington State Humans Rights Commission laws are more relevant to the real estate industry and licensees. The law is about unfair practices with respect to real estate transactions, facilities, or services. The law covers the following:

It is an unfair practice for any licensee, whether acting for himself, herself, or another, because of sex, marital status, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, national origin, families with children status, honorably discharged veteran or military status, the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability, or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability:

  • Refusing to engage in a real estate transaction

  • Discriminating in terms or conditions of a transaction

  • Discriminating in providing services or facilities in connection with a real estate transaction

  • Refusing to receive or failing to transmit a bona fide offer

  • Refusing to negotiate

  • Representing that a property is not available for inspection, sale, rental or lease when it is in fact available

  • Failing to advise a prospect about a property listing or refusing to allow him/her to inspect the property

  • Publishing any advertisement, notice or sign which indicates directly or indirectly an intent to discriminate

  • Using any application form or making any record or inquiry which indicates, directly or indirectly, an intent to discriminate

  • Offering, soliciting, accepting or retaining a listing with the understanding that a person may be discriminated against

  • Expelling a person from occupancy based on specified classes

  • Discriminating in negotiating, executing or financing a real estate transaction

  • Discriminating in negotiating or executing any service or item in connecting with a real estate transaction (such as title or mortgage insurance)

  • Inducing or attempting to induce, for profit, anyone to sell or rent by making representations regarding entry into the neighborhood of a person of specified classes (blockbusting)

  • Inserting in a written instrument relating to real property or honoring or attempting to honor any condition, restriction or prohibition based on specified classes (any such deed discriminating in any credit transaction (whether or not real estate related) in denying credit, increasing fees, requiring collateral, or in any other terms or conditions.

  • Discrimination based on the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal. If the owner of the real property occupies the property and the property is 4 or less units, the following do not apply.

    • Not to permit at the person's expense, to make reasonable modifications of accommodations to the disabled as long as the person agrees to restore any modifications made.

    • The use of a service animal or trained dog.

Fairness Lending Act in Washington

In Washington state, legislators passed a law specifically regulating fairness in regard to single family loans. Its intent is to ensure fair practices and prevent discrimination for anyone seeking financing. The law states:

  • It shall be unlawful for any financial institution, in processing any application for a loan to be secured by a single­-family residence to:

    • Deny or vary the terms of a loan on the basis that a specific parcel of real estate offered as security is located in a specific geographical area, unless building, remodeling, or continued habitation in such specific geographical area is prohibited or restricted by any local, state, or federal law or rules or regulations.

    • Utilize lending standards that have no economic basis.

Brokers cannot choose who to provide services to, and must provide equivalent services to all. HUD requires display of a fair housing poster with the Equal Housing Opportunity logo at real estate offices. HUD requires that owners and managers display a fair housing poster with this logo at rental offices as well. This applies to rentals covered by the federal Fair Housing Act, and to dwellings rented through a real estate broker/agent. The Seattle Municipal Code requires residential property managers and real estate professionals within the city limits to prominently display a letter-sized fair housing poster in their place of business. Failure to display the poster can result in fines. Free posters with this logo are available from the fair housing agencies for each jurisdiction.

Equal Housing Opportunity
Equal Housing Opportunity Logo


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