The Washington Supreme Court recently upheld Seattle’s “first come, first served” rental law requiring Seattle landlords to rent to the first qualified person to apply to a listing. In doing so, the Supreme Court overruled a lower trial court, which had struck it down as unconstitutional last year.
The law, which is the first of its kind anywhere in the country, was originally adopted in 2016, requiring landlords to publicize their criteria for prospective renters and then to accept the first qualified applicant. The concern being that if landlords are allowed to choose, biases may come into play, leading to outright discrimination or, at a minimum, implicit biases. Some Seattle landlords sued in 2017, claiming the law was unconstitutional. Based on their argument, the law was a regulatory taking of private property and violated their due process and free speech rights.
King County Superior Court Judge Suzanne Parisien had sided with the landlords in 2018, describing the ability to pick among qualified rental applicants as “a fundamental attribute of property ownership.” The city appealed, leading up to the recent reversal by the Washington Supreme Court. In its ruling, the Supreme Court dismissed an earlier precedent defining a “property taking” and adopted the nationwide standard of law. Under the nationwide standard, a “property taking” is when a government creates a “permanent physical invasion of” property or when regulations “completely deprive an owner of all economically beneficial use” of their property. The court found that Seattle’s law did neither. It also found that the law neither limited free speech, nor violated due process, so there was no violation of the landlords’ constitutional rights.
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Please contact Tenant Patrol, a division of Hire Image LLC and leader in tenant screening services, if you have any questions about this or other rulings affecting your rights to choose tenants.