The landlords say the new policy violates their right to rent property in a nondiscriminatory manner to the people they choose at the price they choose.
Some Seattle landlords are suing over the city’s new policy requiring them to choose among qualified renters on a first-come, first-served basis.
The landlords say the policy — believed to be the first of its kind in the nation — violates their right to rent property in a nondiscriminatory manner to the people they choose at the price they choose.
Their King County Superior Court lawsuit says the policy violates the state constitution and seeks a permanent injunction to bar the city from enforcing it.
“Each of the plaintiffs has suffered immediate and ongoing harm because the city appropriated their constitutionally-protected right to choose whom they will house and work with in these often-lengthy and interpersonal landlord-tenant relationships,” says the lawsuit filed Thursday.
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“The inability to exercise the right of discretion increases various risks faced by plaintiffs when renting their property.”
Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for City Attorney Pete Holmes, said Holmes has yet to receive a copy of the lawsuit.
The City Council adopted the first-come, first-served policy last August as part of an ordinance that also banned discrimination by landlords against renters who rely on alternative sources of income, such as veterans benefits and unemployment insurance.
The policy says landlords must establish screening criteria, review applications in the order they are submitted and make offers in that order to renters who meet the criteria.
Proponents such as Councilmember Lisa Herbold say the goal is to ensure renters are treated fairly and equally: When landlords are allowed to choose among multiple qualified applicants, unfair prejudices may come into play, the proponents say.
Though choosing renters based on characteristics such as race, gender and sexual orientation is against the law, discrimination by landlords can be hard to prove.
The Rental Housing Association of Washington says it advises landlords across the state to choose renters on a first-come, first-served basis — to avoid discrimination claims. But the association has called Seattle’s policy burdensome and poorly written.
The plaintiffs in Thursday’s lawsuit — represented by attorney from Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative Bellevue-based nonprofit focused on property rights and limited government — include Chong and MariLyn Yim, who own a duplex and a triplex and who live with their three children in one of the units.
The lawsuit says the Yims have never denied tenancy to anyone based on their membership in a group protected from discrimination. Seattle’s policy exempts people renting out granny flats and backyard cottages, but not live-in duplexes and triplexes.
“The Yim family cannot afford to absorb losses because of a tenancy gone bad. And for a family with three children, selecting a tenant who will also be their close neighbor requires careful discretion,” the lawsuit says. “The Yims treasure their right to ensure compatibility and safety by choosing among eligible applicants.”
The first-come, first-served policy technically took effect Jan. 1 but the council passed a bill in December setting a compliance deadline for landlords of July 1 and postponing enforcement until then.
The Yims have strengthened their screening criteria in response to the first-come, first-served policy, and that’s made it more difficult for one of their tenants to find a replacement roommate, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit says the city’s policy amounts to an unconstitutional taking of private property and violates due-process and free-speech protections.