State Supreme Court Rules Seattle's “First in Time” Constitutional

Posted By: Heather Pierce (deleted) Advocacy, Government, Law, Seattle Laws, Screening, Tenant Screening,

Earlier this morning, the State Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Seattle’s “First in Time” (FIT) ordinance, previously thrown out by Superior Court, to be legal in a unanimous ruling. The FIT ruling means that Seattle landlords will once again be subject to the rule, which requires them to post all rental criteria, subject applicants to only the posted criteria, and rent to the first person who applied and satisfies those criteria.

In making its ruling, the Court overturned decades of Washington takings and due process law and held that the government 1) needs to only have a “rational basis” for its actions, and 2) government regulation is not a “taking” just because landlords can’t choose who comes onto their property. On the free speech argument, the Court held that rental criteria rule is just a disclosure requirement like anything you might see in a commercial setting, and the government has a rational reason for imposing it.

Sean Martin, Executive Director for the Rental Housing Association of Washington, commented that “A recent survey completed by the University of Washington indicated that 40% of small landlords have or will leave the market due to onerous city regulations. Small landlords provide the most affordable housing in the city and fewer units available just makes the housing crunch worse. This decision will speed up that exodus.”

The basics of the ordinance require Seattle owners to run applicant screenings in the order in which rental applications are received. The new process dictated by Seattle law will require:

  • Minimum screening criteria to be provided to applicants prior to screening.
  • Date and time stamps on completed applications as they are received.
  • Applications must be processed one by one in the order they are received, with offers of tenancy made in that same order.

RHAWA has created an updated "Seattle First in Time Tenant Selection" class for rental housing owners, investors, and managers to learn or re-learn how to comply with the requirements of the First in Time ordinance. Classes are scheduled for November 21 and December 18, and will also be available as ONDEMAND recordings.

See our class calendar for more on this and all of our other educational offerings.