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Overturned! No More First-Come, First-Served Rental Law

Posted by Johnine Larsen on April 2, 2018
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Judge Suzanne Parisian overturned Seattle’s controversial first-come, first-served rental law last week. Previously, the City of Seattle ordinance had required landlords to rent to the first qualified applicant. Whoever met the official criteria (background check, credit check, etc) and submitted their rental application first became the tenant. No comparing candidates allowed.

Seattle created the law to protect tenants’ rights, but landlords argued that the law went too far and infringed upon their property rights as landlords. Judge Suzanne Parisian agreed. She ruled that the ordinance was an “uncompensated taking” by government because it eliminated a property owner’s discretion to choose a renter. She noted that although the ordinance had a worthwhile goal (preventing discrimination against would-be renters), it did not “directly and materially advance the city’s interest in preventing discrimination because it precludes the use of landlord discretion.”

Some disagreed with the ruling. “The City Attorney’s office and I disagree with today’s ruling,” said city councilor Lisa Herbold in an emailed statement. “First-in-time is good policy that helps landlords screen tenants and avoid claims of fair housing violations. If landlords won’t screen tenants in a way that intentionally addresses bias, we have no recourse but to increase fair housing law enforcement because the reality is that, intentionally or not, far too many landlords are discriminating in the practices they use to select renters.”

Others (particularly landlords) rejoiced. “Today’s ruling is a major victory for property rights and our clients, who can once again make basic judgment calls over who will live on their property,” said attorney Ethan Blevins, who represented a group of landlords. “A landlord isn’t just a convenience store where customers come and go within minutes. They have long-term relationships with their tenants, and they deserve the chance to decide who those tenants will be. The court’s ruling today is a major relief for Seattle’s small landlords who just want to protect their investment and decide who they are comfortable renting to.”

This is ruling affects all Seattle landlords, and we want to hear your opinion. Is this just? Unfair? Whose rights deserve more protection? Was this law protecting the rights it wanted to protect? Let us know on our Facebook page!