(1) It shall be unlawful for a landlord to require a fee or deposit from a prospective tenant for the privilege of being placed on a waiting list to be considered as a tenant for a dwelling unit.
(2) A landlord who charges a prospective tenant a fee or deposit to hold a dwelling unit or secure that the prospective tenant will move into a dwelling unit, after the dwelling unit has been offered to the prospective tenant, must provide the prospective tenant with a receipt for the fee or deposit, together with a written statement of the conditions, if any, under which the fee or deposit may be retained, immediately upon payment of the fee or deposit.
(3)(a) If the prospective tenant does occupy the dwelling unit, then the landlord must credit the amount of the fee or deposit to the tenant's first month's rent or to the tenant's security deposit. If the prospective tenant does not occupy the dwelling unit, then the landlord may keep up to the full amount of any fee or deposit that was paid by the prospective tenant to secure the tenancy, so long as it is in accordance with the written statement of conditions furnished to the prospective tenant at the time the fee or deposit was charged.
(b) A fee or deposit to hold a dwelling unit or secure that the prospective tenant will move into a dwelling unit under this subsection does not include any cost charged by a landlord to use a tenant screening service or obtain background information on a prospective tenant.
(c) A portion of the fee or deposit may not be withheld if the dwelling unit fails a tenant-based rental assistance program inspection by a qualified inspector as defined in RCW 59.18.030
. If the inspection does not occur within ten days from the date of collection of the fee or deposit or a longer period of time that the landlord and tenant may agree upon, the landlord may notify the tenant that the dwelling unit will no longer be held. The landlord shall promptly return the fee or deposit to the prospective tenant after the landlord is notified that the dwelling unit failed the inspection or the landlord has notified the tenant that the dwelling unit will no longer be held. The landlord complies with this section by promptly depositing the fee or deposit in the United States mail properly addressed with first-class postage prepaid.
(4) In any action brought for a violation of this section, a landlord may be liable for the amount of the fee or deposit charged. In addition, any landlord who violates this section may be liable to the prospective tenant for an amount not to exceed two times the fee or deposit. The prevailing party may also recover court costs and a reasonable attorneys' fee.
Findings—1991 c 194: "The legislature finds that tenant application fees often have the effect of excluding low-income people from applying for housing because many low-income people cannot afford these fees in addition to the rent and other deposits which may be required. The legislature further finds that application fees are frequently not returned to unsuccessful applicants for housing, which creates a hardship on low-income people. The legislature therefore finds and declares that it is the policy of the state that certain tenant application fees should be prohibited and guidelines should be established for the imposition of other tenant application fees.
The legislature also finds that it is important to both landlords and tenants that consumer information concerning prospective tenants is accurate. Many tenants are unaware of their rights under federal fair credit reporting laws to dispute information that may be inaccurate. The legislature therefore finds and declares that it is the policy of the state for prospective tenants to be informed of their rights to dispute information they feel is inaccurate in order to help prevent denials of housing based upon incorrect information." [ 1991 c 194 § 1.