Renters dealt a blow as judge rules against Seattle’s ‘First-Come, First-Served Screening Practice’ law

One of the key elements in a legislative package of renter protections passed in Seattle in the summer of 2016 has been struck down in King County Superior Court.

The “first-in-time,” “First-Come, First-Served Screening Practice” legislation required landlords to, as it was described in the Seattle City Council’s press release that summer, “review applications one at a time, on a first-come, first-served basis” in order to prevent “housing providers from giving applicants with alternative sources of income a lower priority.”

Tuesday, a judge sided with a suit brought by the Rental Housing Association and a group of land owners agreeing that the law infringed on property and speech rights.

The City of Seattle is expected to appeal the ruling.

It will have more legal work on its hands defending other legislative efforts to give tenants greater protections in Seattle’s rough and tumble — and hugely profitable — rental market. A move-in fee cap championed by District 3 rep Kshama Sawant also faced nearly immediate legal challenge. And a recent decision to temporarily ban the use of rent bidding services in the city is also entangled in the “first-in-time” decision.

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8 thoughts on “Renters dealt a blow as judge rules against Seattle’s ‘First-Come, First-Served Screening Practice’ law

  1. Good to see some sanity prevail here.

    Might be too late given the number of apartment blocks which have been sold lately.

    All it has done is push small owners to cash in, leaving the new owner to increase rents to recapture the ever higher price of buying / owning a rental property in Seattle. It’s a lot of hassle and risk for a 5% return on $m

  2. Yeah, this one was so obviously illegal that I’m surprised it came to a vote. Perhaps the Council wanted a “Hey, at least we tried” moment.

  3. Also pushed small owners to use professional property management companies, whose increased expense necessitates rent increases to cover the cost. These laws sound simple, hell, they fit on Sawant’s signs, but they add many layers of complexity to the process of renting apartments. And they do not make apartments any less expensive. I applaud RHA for opposing them and hope they are successful in their efforts.

  4. I disagree with the headline — this law was just as bad for renters as it was for landlords.

    As a Cap Hill small landlord, my reaction to the law was to:
    – try to advertise a rental through word of mouth (keeping housing off the market for a month during that process)
    – jack up the rents ~30% (and wait for the highest-paid renter), rather than just put it at the market at a below-market rent and pick the most qualified applicant.
    – hand my property over to a paid professional manager (since it was too scary to do it on my own any more) who naturally wants higher rents

    I was also getting psychologically prepared to sell off my 100+ year old vintage property for demolition and resale for microapartment conversion (which my neighbor recently did) if we were getting bad tenants beyond our control.

    I can give more examples of how other non-white collar employees missed out on housing because they couldn’t reply as swiftly as tech workers, but I’ll leave that to others.

    I’m really glad this was invalidated, and we can go back to sub-market rents and picking the best tenant we can.

    • Yup – once properties are sold then the cost is going to be rebased way higher and rents are going to go up. Between that, ever increasing property tax, interest rates and the worlds most expensive WSG owning a rental can be a slow bleed.

      I am glad I only own one rental property. I can only imagine the joys of owning a whole block and managing it yourself….

  5. Listening to the bloviations of the council members who advocated this (and still would) remind me of the mentality of the people they’re pandering to.