Seattle, First in Time Rule is Coming Back!

Posted By: Chartrice Young Law , Screening , Tenant Screening ,

Seattle’s “First in Time” ordinance is coming back and may be in effect by the time you are reading this article. As its title makes clear, the law requires landlords to screen and make offers of tenancy, based on the order completed applications are received, to the first qualified applicant.

In general, the aim of the legislation is to prevent landlords from cross-shopping applicants and picking the best qualified from a pool of renters which could include multiple applicants who meet the stated rental criteria.

“First in Time” effectively creates protections for individuals who would otherwise fail an initial “interview” process due to questionable or offensive character traits – ie, a prospective tenant arrives late, under the influence of drugs / alcohol, makes offensive comments about other groups or individuals, etc.

There were many unintended consequences that hit the rental industry when the law was first instituted, particularly with regards to the minimum screening criteria used by landlords to ensure a first applicant is well qualified. Increased screening criteria to reduce the risk of issues arising during the tenancy also means less access and opportunity for underqualified and low-income tenants looking for housing in a competitive market.

A 72-hour wait requirement when making conditional offers of tenancy to underqualified applicants, such as asking for a higher deposit or shorter lease term, also makes it less likely that landlords will make such offers.

RHAWA’s new Criteria Example – Seattle is now available online for Seattle landlords looking for the most effective way to create their screening criteria in consideration of the First in Time rules. (This form is available only to RHAWA members.) RHAWA is also offering a course called Seattle First in Time Tenant Selection which addresses this issue, as well as other new Seattle laws and how they impact your tenant screening process.

Screening Criteria to be Provided

Must provide minimum screening criteria to an applicant prior to screening, including all info and documents needed.

Track Order of Applications Received

Must note the date and time of receipt of applications submitted electronically, by mail, or in person.

Additional Time Request

Applicant may make request for more time to complete application. Request based on need for meaningful access or reasonable accommodation serves as time of application for order of screening.

Processing Order

Must run screenings in the order of applications received.

Interview Process

Owners no longer able to use individual judgment based on interactions with applicants.

Offer of Tenancy

Must be made in order, with 48 hours given to .applicant to respond criteria to an applicant prior to screening, including all info and documents needed.


If you have any questions about our policies or products, please feel free to contact our screening department or by (206) 283-0816, option 2. You may also learn more by visiting RHAwa.org/tenant-screening.