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TMLG and the ACLU Bring Suit on Behalf of Woman Unfairly Denied Housing by Tenant Screening Company

April 04, 2013

Press Release
April 4, 2013
Seattle, Washington

Suit Says Company Violated Consumer Protection Law by Reporting Conviction Record from Two Decades Earlier

A Kent woman who was unfairly denied rental housing is suing the tenant screening company that recommended she be denied housing because of a two-decade-old criminal conviction, the ACLU of Washington announced today. It is a violation of the Washington Fair Credit Reporting Act for tenant screeners to report criminal history information older than seven years. Attorneys for the ACLU of Washington and the firm of Terrell Marshall Law Group PLLC are representing the woman in the case.

“People who have turned around their lives should not be denied housing because of mistakes they made long ago. Washington law limits the information companies can report so that people are not prevented from having a fair chance to make a fresh start,” said ACLU-WA staff attorney Vanessa Hernandez, who heads up a Second Chances project at the ACLU-WA to reduce barriers to employment and housing faced by individuals with criminal records.

In July 2012, Markeletta Wilson applied for rental housing with her daughter in a complex in Tukwila. The landlord used the services of RentGrow (which in 2010 was acquired by Yardi Systems, Inc.), a corporation that specializes in tenant screening. RentGrow issued a report that recommended denying the application on account of Ms. Wilson’s 1988 and 1995 convictions for drug possession. Relying on RentGrow’s recommendation, the landlord denied Wilson’s housing application. Ms. Wilson was then forced to obtain rental housing elsewhere, at additional cost and at a location significantly further from her daughter’s workplace.

Washington’s Fair Credit Reporting Act (WFCRA) prohibits consumer reporting agencies from making a report containing “records of arrest, indictment, or conviction of an adult for a crime that, from date of disposition, release, or parole, antedate the report by more than seven years.”

The Act requires credit reporting agencies to follow reasonable procedures to avoid violations of the WFCRA. A violation of the WFCRA is per se a violation of the Consumer Protection Act.

“One in four Americans today has a criminal history, and criminal history record information increasingly is used to screen applicants for housing. Rejections based on past convictions disproportionately impact people of color, who are arrested, charged, and convicted at higher rates than Caucasians, both in Washington state and nationwide,” explained Hernandez. In addition, criminal history older than seven years is not an accurate predictor of an individual’s likelihood to commit future crimes.

“Compiling and commercially reporting criminal history information older than seven years is an unfair practice that undermines confidentiality and privacy,” said attorney Toby Marshall.

Filed in King County Superior Court, the lawsuit seeks a court order requiring RentGrow and Yardi Systems to end their violations of Washington’s Fair Credit Reporting Act. The lawsuit also seeks an order requiring the defendants to pay each individual who has suffered from its unfair practices a penalty of $1,000. Ms. Wilson’s attorneys believe that the companies’ unlawful practices have impacted numerous other people in Washington state, and they are seeking to have the case certified as a class action lawsuit.

Attorneys Toby Marshall and Erika Nusser of Terrell Marshall Law Group PLLC and ACLU-WA legal director Sarah Dunne and staff attorney Vanessa Hernandez are handling the case.

Contact Information:
Toby Marshall and Erika Nusser – 206.816.6603
ACLU-WA, Doug Honig – 206.624.2184