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Lawmakers vote to end discrimination against renters who use government assistance

State representatives listen to testimony on the house floor, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash., during the 2018 regular session of the Washington State Legislature. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
State representatives listen to testimony on the house floor, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash., during the 2018 regular session of the Washington State Legislature. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

OLYMPIA – Landlords couldn’t turn down potential tenants who would use government assistance vouchers to pay for all or part of their rent under bills that passed both houses of the Legislature on Friday.

The bills would make it a violation of the state’s anti-discrimination laws for a landlord to refuse to rent to, or evict, a tenant who uses housing subsidies, veterans’ assistance or other public aid. A violation could result in a lawsuit.

They also set up an account in the state Department of Commerce that would reimburse landlords for the damage that tenants with income assistance might cause. The document recording fee would be raised by $3 to provide money for that account.

Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, sponsor of the House bill, said the legislation is a result of discussions that included representatives of both landlord and tenant organizations. Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, said housing assistance is one of the tools to help fight the homelessness crisis in the state, but that only works if people can use it to rent a home.

Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, said the legislation was sending a “mixed message,” saying in one section there are no grounds to discriminate against certain tenants, and in another section there would be a fund to compensate landlords for damage those tenants cause. Landlords should have the right to make their own decisions, he said.

The bills are essentially identical. Lawmakers will have to decide which one will be the final version for a vote in the other chamber.