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Know Your Rights

Housing Discrimination FAQ

What is a rea­son­able modification?

A “reasonable modification” is a physical change made to a resident’s living space or to the common areas of a community, which is necessary to enable a resident with a disability to have full enjoyment of the housing. Examples of reasonable modifications include adding bathroom grab bars, lowering closet rods, and the installation of a ramp. Housing providers may not require people with disabilities to pay extra fees or deposits as a condition of receiving a reasonable accommodation or modification.

Do I have to pay for the cost of a mod­i­fi­ca­tion to my unit that is nec­es­sary because of my disability?

Generally, reasonable modifications to the unit must be approved by the landlord but paid for by the tenant. The tenant must also agree to return the unit to the condition it was in before the modification, minus normal wear and tear, unless the modification would not interfere with the next tenant’s use and enjoyment of the unit. For example, a closet rod that is lowered as a modification must be raised upon move out, but a door that is widened can remain.

Can I bring in a ser­vice ani­mal even if my build­ing has a no pet policy?

It is a reasonable accommodation to allow residents to live with service animals that meet their disability-related needs. Service animals are not pets. A person with a disability uses a service animal as an aid, similar to the use of a cane, crutches or wheelchair. Fair housing laws require that service animals be permitted in all units despite “no pets” rules.

How do I make a rea­son­able accom­mo­da­tion request?

In order to get a reasonable accommodation or modification approved, tenants must first make a request to the landlord. The request does not have to be in writing, but whenever possible it is best practice to send all communication with the landlord in writing, certified mail return receipt and regular first class mail, and keep a copy. A request for reasonable accommodation or modification cannot be refused only because the tenant did not send it in writing. The request should describe the accommodation or modification, and explain the disability-related need for the requested action. Requests may be made any time during the tenancy, including in the application process and eviction process. The landlord has an obligation to respond to the request promptly.

What is rea­son­able accommodation?

A “reasonable accommodation” is a change made to a policy, program or service that allows a person with a disability to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use areas. For example, reasonable accommodations may include providing rental forms in large print, providing a reserved accessible parking space near a tenant’s unit, allowing a resident to have a service animal in a building with a no pet policy, or permitting a resident who has developed mobility limitations to move to the ground floor of their building.

Where do I file a dis­crim­i­na­tion com­plaint against my landlord?

Enforcement of fair housing laws is handled by a number of different agencies, depending upon the location of the housing. The Washington State Human Rights Commission has jurisdiction over rental housing in the entire state of Washington. Properties located within unincorporated King County can make discrimination complaints to the King County Office of Civil Rights. Tenants living within the cities of Seattle, Bellevue or Tacoma may make fair housing complaints to the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, City of Bellevue Development Services Department, or the City of Tacoma Human Rights & Human Services Department.
Complaints can be filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and whichever state or local fair housing agency that has jurisdiction over the rental property.

How long do I have to file a dis­crim­i­na­tion complaint?

Tenants have one year from the date of the incident of discrimination to file a fair housing complaint against the landlord.

Is an emo­tion­al sup­port ani­mal still cov­ered under ser­vice ani­mal laws?

Emotional support or companion animals are animals that provide support for persons with mental and emotional disabilities, and do so without any particular training. Companion animals are considered to be service or assistance animals, and tenants with disabilities have the right to request reasonable accommodation for them. See Assistance and Service Animals for Tenants Who are Persons with Disabilities for more information.

Do I have to pay a pet deposit for my ser­vice animal?

Landlords cannot charge tenants extra fees, deposits or cleaning charges for having service animals. Tenants with service animals are still required to follow all pet-related rules and guidelines, and must observe leash laws, waste disposal laws, and noise policies.

What are some resources and shel­ters for domes­tic vio­lence survivors?

You can call Washington State Domestic Violence Hotline: 1.800.562.6025 or the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence for more information and resources.

Do I need to give my land­lord notice before I leave because of domes­tic vio­lence, stalk­ing, sex­u­al assault, or unlaw­ful harassment?

Tenants must notify the landlord that they will be moving out within 90 days of the specific domestic violence incident. The 90-day time frame specifically refers to the date of the incident of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or unlawful harassment and not the date the order for protection was granted, nor the date the incident was reported.

What can I do if my land­lord is the perpetrator?

If your landlord or apartment manager is the perpetrator or abuser, you have the right to break your lease and vacate the unit without having to pay rent remaining on the lease. You must obtain a valid protection order or report from a qualified third party and deliver it within 7 days of vacating the unit. You can deliver it by mail, fax, or personal delivery from a friend or relative. This record of report must not contain the name of the abuser, but if the landlord requests the name, and the abuser was an employee of the landlord, the qualified third party must supply it to them. See RCW 59.18.575, or Washington Law Help’s Landlord-Tenant Issues for Survivors of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and/or Stalking.

I do not have a pro­tec­tion order filed yet but I have a domes­tic vio­lence advo­cate. Does the law con­sid­er them a qual­i­fied third par­ty if they write a let­ter to help break my lease to flee my abuser?

Tenants needing to break their lease for these reasons must provide the landlord with either a valid order of protection or a report from a qualified third party regarding the incident. “Qualified third party” can include law enforcement, health care professionals, state court employees, mental health professionals, clergy members, or domestic violence/crime prevention advocates. See a sample form and more information at Landlord-Tenant Issues for Survivors of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and/or Stalking

I broke my lease due to domes­tic vio­lence and fol­lowed the legal process, but my land­lord sent me a bill for dam­ages to the unit my abuser caused. What can I do?

Under RCW 59.18.575 a survivor of domestic violence cannot be charged for damages caused by the abuser. Write a letter to the landlord disputing the charges and include a copy of the law. If the landlord sends you to collections, send the same dispute letter and laws to the collection agency. See Collection Agencies for more information.

Do land­lords have to accept my Sec­tion 8 voucher?

It depends on where the rental unit is located. In the city of Seattle, unincorporated King County, Bellevue, Redmond, it is illegal for landlords to discriminate against someone because of their status as a Section 8 voucher holder. Landlords in these areas cannot legally decide not to rent to someone just because they use a Section 8 voucher to pay their rent. Landlords in these areas must offer one-year leases for Section 8 voucher tenants, and cannot charge Section 8 tenants a rental rate that exceeds the rate charged to a non-Section 8 tenant. Rents and utility costs must be reasonably affordable to Section 8 voucher tenants, unless the units are considered “luxury” units. See Section 8 Voucher Discrimination for more information.

What is con­sid­ered domes­tic violence?

Domestic violence is often not easy to understand or to define. The Landlord-Tenant Act defines domestic violence as a pattern of abusive behavior (physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, or psychological) used by someone to control an intimate partner. It is physical harm, injury or assault, or the fear of imminent physical harm, injury or assault, between family or household members, past or current intimate partners, or people who have a child together (RCW 26.50.101). See Definitions for more information.

If I break my lease because of domes­tic vio­lence, am I enti­tled to my deposit back?

Tenants who break their lease because of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or unlawful harassment will be entitled to an accounting for their deposit within 14 days and a refund of the deposit, minus any damages to the unit beyond normal wear and tear (survivors can sometimes be held responsible for damages caused to the unit as a result of the incident of domestic violence, but may be able to access Victims of Crime Financial Benefits to pay these costs. The perpetrator of the domestic violence may also be liable for these damages). For more information, see Deposits.