Tenant Challenges Landlord Screening Policy That Discriminates Against African-American Women

News Release: 
Thursday, March 30, 2017
First Federal Lawsuit Objects to Common Practice of
Rejecting Housing Applicants for any Prior Eviction Filing

SEATTLE – Landlord policies that disqualify housing applicants who have ever been named in an eviction case are unfair and especially discriminate against African-American women, according to a federal lawsuit filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union, Northwest Justice Project, and Virginia Poverty Law Center.  The case is the first to challenge the widespread practice of denying housing based on any prior eviction suit, even when the eviction was not ordered.

Plaintiff Nikita Smith, an African-American woman, was named in an eviction case five years ago by her landlord, but the parties resolved the issue and she was never evicted.  When she applied for housing at another complex operated by Wasatch Property Management in Renton in 2015, she was stopped from applying because of the prior record. 

“I was shocked to learn that I could be denied an apartment, even though I was never evicted,” said Ms. Smith.  “Landlords should give renters like me the opportunity to show that we would be good tenants.” 

“These unjust screening policies mean that doors are slammed shut for families based on a prior landlord’s decision to file an eviction case, not the applicant’s own actions,” said Sandra Park, senior attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Qualified tenants should not be blacklisted because of an eviction case that lacked merit or is several years old.”

Blanket eviction screening policies disproportionately exclude African-Americans, particularly African-American women, from housing.  In King County, African-American tenants are nearly four times more likely to have an eviction case filed against them compared to white tenants, according to research commissioned by the legal organizations. The disparity is even starker for African-American women, who are more than five times as likely to have a filing against them compared to households headed by white men.

“These policies lock out black women from housing, as well as the many opportunities that come with where one lives – better jobs, schools, healthcare, and transportation,” said Prachi Dave, an attorney with the ACLU of Washington.

Blanket eviction screening policies also are harmful because they discourage tenants from fighting unlawful evictions.

“Far too many tenants choose to leave their homes when a landlord threatens eviction, even when they have every right to remain,” said Eric Dunn, an attorney with the Virginia Poverty Law Center.  
The case is Nikita Smith v. Wasatch Property Management, Inc., and Wasatch Pool Holdings, LLC and was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.