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City Prevails in “First-in-Time” Lawsuit at State Supreme Court

SEATTLE – The Washington State Supreme Court unanimously upheld the City’s “first-in-time” ordinance today. The First-in-Time (“FIT”) Rule requires a landlord to notify prospective tenants of the landlord’s screening criteria and offer tenancy to the first applicant meeting them. The Rule does not dictate the criteria, require quantifiable or objective criteria, prevent a landlord from conducting an interview to satisfy a criterion, preclude negotiations over lease terms, or otherwise limit how a landlord may communicate with prospective tenants.

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said, “My office’s mantra has been to correct mistaken case law and give our elected policy makers the tools they need to govern a modern American city. This ruling has been years in the making, and we prevailed thanks to smart lawyering and an eye toward addressing antiquated decisions of the past.

“This case was argued at the State Supreme Court by the head of our Land Use Section, Assistant City Attorney Roger Wynne, and I could not be prouder to have him represent the City in this endeavor. His arguments and briefs built on his scholarly work and helped lead the Court to provide much-needed clarity to two complex areas of state constitutional law: regulatory takings and substantive due process. As the Court said, these cases ‘will have consequences far beyond the particular claims at issue here.’  These cases restore the appropriate level of deference to our locally elected policy makers.”

Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle – South Park), the legislation’s sponsor, said, “One of the first pieces of legislation I introduced in 2016 was ‘first-in-time’ and source of income discrimination bills to ensure all renters are treated equally.  

“I’m heartened that, three years after passage of the legislation, the (upper) courts agree: landlords must accept the first qualified applicant to live in a rental property. 

“Our judicial system understands that implicit bias has no place in our rental markets. Office for Civil Rights conducted housing discrimination testing using pairs of equally qualified applicants—one in a protected class, the other in no protected class— showed evidence of differential treatment in over 60% of the tests.

“Today’s ruling gives renters and the city the tools they need to set things right for renters, and is another accomplishment on a long list of legislation Seattle can use to encourage other municipalities to protect renters from the scourge of discrimination everywhere.

“Finally, I want to thank the City Attorney’s Office, and specifically Roger Wynne who argued the case before the State Supreme Court.”  

The City received amici curiae (friend of the court) support from the Tenants Union of Washington State, Futurewise, the Seattle Displacement Coalition, and the Washington State Association of Municipal Attorneys.

The Washington State Supreme Court’s decision can be found here.

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