William Shadbolt I RHAWA Board President
Edited by Sean Flynn | RHAWA Board Past President
On Friday, February 23, Judge Suzanne Parisien heard oral argument in the First In Time case (Yim et al v. Seattle). The ordinance requires rental housing providers to rent to the first person who completes an application for tenancy and who qualifies under the owner's minimum screening criteria. The primary issue comes down to whether or not the city has the authority to regulate a rental provider's ability to choose a tenant based on who they deem the best fit, in compliance with all federal / state / local fair housing and protected class status rules.
MariLyn Yim, Kelly Lyles and three teenage boys who each owned a 20% interest in CNA Apartments LLC as their college fund, were in attendance. I say the teenage boys owned as they and their parents decided to sell the building in Seattle.
Ethan Blevins, an attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation who is representing the rental housing providers, went first. He spoke eloquently and directly to the legal issues with the Seattle ordinance:
Roger Wynne, a seasoned attorney for the City of Seattle on this matter, then spoke on the City arguments:
When questioned on RHAWA’s and other associations’ stance that processing applications in chronological order as a best practice, Ethan Blevins noted there is a huge difference between a recommendation and a law requiring you to do so. He used the analogy that often the government recommends that we should exercise, but does not mandate that we do. The judge, in a rather humorous moment, pointed out that Seattle now has a sugar tax. My personal thoughts on that is even with a sugar tax, we still have the right to select which soda we want to drink.
The attorney for the City, when asked about rental criteria, repeated his theory from his motion that “Contrary to their assertions, nothing on the face of the Rule precludes an interview as part of the application.” Given this is the complete opposite of what Seattle’s Office for Civil Rights has instructed rental owners, this was a surprising stance from the city.
The idea that every single possible circumstance could be documented in a set of rental criteria is absurd and impossible to do. As the judge said, “What the landlord wants and what this law appears to do is… they want to be able to have their gut check, we use our guy all the time in the real world… Every day we’re making a million choices based on how somebody makes you feel.”
On the whole, the questions from the bench together with the oral presentations makes me believe there is a good chance the judge finds the law illegal. But we will have to wait and see. The judge stated that she would let the attorneys know next week the approximate date of her ruling.
Want to help RHAWA fight unconstitutional laws? Then please consider donating to the RHAWA Legal Defense Fund.