Washington does not directly prohibit landlords from discriminating against tenants based on their age. However, landlords should be careful to avoid discriminating against children and families (whom are protected under federal and state law). Additionally, discriminating against a senior because of their disability is prohibited under federal and state fair housing law which protects those with mental and physical health conditions.
Segregating by Age
A typical technique by landlords to minimize conflict between tenants is to group sections of buildings or advertise units for certain ages. For example, a landlord may advertise a trendy and loud neighborhood to younger tenants. A landlord might list a home in a quiet neighborhood is best for the elderly. Washington landlords are free to advertise units as ideal for certain age groups and to deny housing to people who do not fit those criteria since there is no law prohibiting discrimination by age.
Washington has no direct protections against landlords discriminating against the elderly. This means, for the most part, landlords are free to put (and advertise) age restrictions on buildings, to separate the elderly from other tenants, and to charge the elderly more for rent or other services.
However, Washington has a related law that may protect the elderly. The state protects tenants from discrimination against perceived mental or physical health conditions. This likely covers situations where a landlord discriminates against the elderly because they believe they are more likely to have disabilities or special needs.
In Washington, young adults and college students are not protected from discrimination by landlords based on their age. This allows landlords to charge higher rent to students (or inversely, lower rent to older tenants), to prohibit students from renting, to advertise units as being unavailable to students, or to otherwise treat students as a high-risk tenant.
Children and Families
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against children, families, and pregnant women in Washington (and all US states). Due to this anti-discrimination law, Washington landlords cannot designate an apartment as being suitable for children, charge different rents or prices to families, advertise that there’s a preference for tenants without children, or prevent children from accessing the same amenities and facilities as adults (e.g., a sign that says, “no children in the laundry area”).
The consequences are different based on whether the discrimination is against children or adults.
If the discrimination was against children or familial status, the tenant has a choice of whether to report the problem to Washington authorities or federal authorities (or both). It’s generally best for tenants to notify both authorities where possible, but they will most likely get a faster response from the state.
Apart from cases involving children, Washington does not protect directly protect discrimination based on a tenant’s age and neither does the federal government. Therefore, adults and the elderly have no remedy in Washington when landlords treat them differently due to their age.
What happens when a tenant reports a problem to the federal government? The most recent year we have data is from 2016. In 2016, HUD addressed 63.4% (57.3% from Washington) of discrimination cases resolved in the year they were filed. 20 out of the 171 discrimination complaints from Washington concerned discrimination against children or familial status (age discrimination is not otherwise enforced by the federal government). Landlords that violate the federal Fair Housing Act can face civil penalties up to $16,000 for a first violation and $65,000 for future violations (each act of discrimination is a separate violation). In cases where the Justice Department is involved, civil penalties may rise to $100,000 per violation and federal courts can add additional damages. Landlords should also keep in mind the time and costs involved in defending against an action by the federal government. About 36% of complaints end up with a charge or settlement, based on 2016 data. Data.gov
What happens when a tenant reports a problem to the authorities of Washington or a local government? They may ask the tenant for information to help bring the case, including any evidence (e.g., emails and pictures). If the government finds there’s sufficient information between the tenant’s complaint (as well as complaints from other tenants), the landlord may be charged and taken to court to defend themselves. Landlords will likely receive fines if they lose. The amount of the fines will be determined in part by the severity of the issue. Fines increase significantly for repeat offenders. Wash. Rev. Code Sec. 49.60.225 . In addition, landlords may receive a misdemeanor criminal charge in certain cases, especially for severe cases or repeat offenders. This may result in some jail time. Wash. Rev. Code 49.60.310 , Wash. Rev. Code Sec. 49.60.225 .
Reporting a Violation
Tenants may report violations of federal laws (i.e., discrimination against children and families) through the HUD website – it can be done online or via phone. Tenants can report issues to their state government by looking at the state website. A google search for “report fair housing violation in Washington” will likely provide applicable information. In either case, tenants may be able to call the number on the page to ask whether their situation legally qualifies as rental discrimination.
Retaliation by the Landlord
Federal law (the https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/online-complaintFair Housing Act ) makes it illegal for landlords to harass a tenant in retaliation for reporting a problem. Examples of such harassment may include raising the rent or threatening to evict the tenant. Each such attempt is an additional violation. These protections do not apply if the tenant complained about something that they don’t have right to, so tenants should know whether it’s a violation. 14 such cases were filed with the federal government from in last year we have data (2016). Data.gov. Dept of Housing and Urban Development.
State and Local Laws
Laws differ heavily by state, county, and city. Use RenterPeace to see more specific laws for to a given apartment and to see comments from people in your area.
Documenting the Problem
For most problems, tenants should document their issues, notify their landlord (document this too!), and stay informed about their rights. Renterpeace is a free website that helps with each step of this process. Tenants use RenterPeace to more easily see applicable laws, track their problems, and much more. There's a reason RenterPeace was selected "Best of" legal apps for both Android and iOS. It also includes household management tools, like a chore manager and bill tracker. Try it - you don't even to login first.
Using Property Management
To stay updated and organized about the problems in their apartments, landlords should use a property management system. Many are expensive or have high setup fees, but using RenterPeace for landlords is free. It's complete with legal compliance tips targeted to their problems, maintenance tracking, tenant screening, money-saving grant information, and tenant chat. It makes managing properties easier and staying updated about status of rental properties a breeze. Try it today.