Washington law statutorily provides an avenue for a former tenant who was a defendant in an unlawful detainer action to seek a court order prohibiting tenant screening services from sharing the prior unlawful detainer action with a prospective landlord. This order is called an Issuance of Order for Limited Dissemination (OLD). The statute allows for the issuance of an OLD under three main scenarios, one of them for “other good cause.” In Housing Authority of Grant County v. Parker, No. 390-89-6-III, WA. Ct. of App. (Sep. 21, 2023), the court explored the meaning of “other good cause” as provided for by the statute and directed the parties accordingly.
Facts of the Case
Christina Parker leased an apartment from the Housing Authority of Grant County. The Housing Authority filed suit against Parker after she failed to pay her utilities as was required under her lease agreement. The superior court granted a writ of restitution and Parker was forcibly ousted from the apartment. Parker then filed a motion in the unlawful detainer action for an OLD pursuant to RCW 59.18.367(1)(c). In her motion, Parker submitted a sworn declaration explaining that there were mitigating circumstances surrounding her eviction and failure to pay the utilities. These reasons included losing her job and method of transportation to get to work. She also offered the fact that she had since paid off the debt that led to her eviction as well as the legal fees incurred by the Housing Authority. She further claimed that she and her children were negatively impacted by the eviction as she is not able to secure permanent housing due to the tenant screening providers reporting of her prior eviction. The Housing Authority responded with a litany of other events and infractions that occurred, but Parker claimed that they were all irrelevant to her case as well as being proffered in an untimely manner.
The superior court orally denied Parker’s motion for an OLD. The court explained that it could not find specific case law defining the meaning of “good cause.” It went on to say in its purely oral ruling, “I just don’t find that this is good cause to order the limited dissemination. This wasn’t good cause where there was a confusion of maybe possibly not realizing you do have to, you know, leave the home because the homeowner is going to move in and so they think they have a right to stay. This is just, I just can’t find sufficient good cause to order the limited dissemination. So, I am going to deny the motion at this time.” The court denied the motion without any further analysis. Parker moved for reconsideration, which the court denied, and she then appealed.
The Applicable Statute: RCW 59.18.367
Under Washington law, a former tenant who was a defendant in an unlawful detainer action may ask the court to stop tenant screening service providers from disclosing that fact during the tenant’s search and application for a new living situation. This is termed an Issuance of an Order for Limited Dissemination or (OLD). In order to successfully obtain an OLD, a tenant must show one of three circumstances were present in the unlawful detainer action:
- The landlord’s case was factually or legally flawed,
- The tenancy was restored, or
- Other good cause. RCW 59.18.367(1).
What Does “Other Good Cause” Mean in This Context?
The statute does not provide a clear definition of “other good cause” as it applies to an OLD. The only thing that was made clear by the legislature is that an OLD may successfully be established purely on “other good cause” without the other two circumstances (reinstatement of tenancy or legal flaws in landlord’s case) being present. Thus, a tenant may be able to show good cause for an OLD “even when the prior unlawful detainer had legal merit and even when the tenancy was not restored.” Housing Authority of Grant County v. Parker, 535 P.3d 516, 519 (2023); see also Ski Acres, Inc. v. Kittitas County, 118 Wn.2d 852, 856, 827 P.2d 1000 (1992) The Parker court noted that statutory context indicates the legislature intended that the good cause assessment reflect on whether the prior unlawful detainer action accurately represents the risk the tenant would actually pose to landlords in the future.
The Court’s Analysis
The wording of the statute indicates that the legislature intended reinstatement of the tenancy or a legal flaw in the landlord’s case to constitute per se good cause for the granting of an OLD. “Other good cause” was included to give courts the flexibility to issue an OLD in circumstances that it had potentially not contemplated. See, e.g., Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission v. Bauer, 22 Wn.App.2d, 934, 938, n.2, 514 P.3d 710 (2022). The Legislature provided in its commentary to the law that, “tenant screening reports purchased from tenant screening companies may contain misleading, incomplete, or inaccurate information, such as information relating to eviction or other court records.” LAWS of 2012, ch.41 §1. Thus, the legislature recognized that there may be situations where an unlawful detainer is not an accurate reflection of a tenant’s ability to pay rent and follow the directives of a lease in a future landlord tenant relationship.
The Housing Authority in this case contended that “other good cause” should be limited to instances in which the tenant ameliorated the legal relationship with their former landlord. The court, however, disagreed and found that the Housing Authority’s interpretation of the statute was too narrow. It determined that the Legislature’s omission of a definition of ”other good cause” revealed that it wanted the courts to have flexibility to determine the right path on a case by case basis. It did not intend for a tenant to continue to be plagued by an unlawful detainer action that disseminated misleading, inaccurate, or incomplete information.
Based on this, the court held that RCW 59.18.367(1)(c) allows the “issuance of an OLD upon a judicial finding of good cause to believe that a prior eviction does not fairly reflect the risk a prior tenant poses to future landlords.” In addition, it found that a court may find good cause even if the prior unlawful detainer was lawful and the tenancy was never reinstated. Thus, the superior court abused its discretion in denying Parker’s motion for relief under the OLD statute. The court of appeals remanded the case for further consideration based on applicable legislative history and case law and requested that the court make written findings to preserve the record.