Court upholds the first-come, first-served law for Seattle renters

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The Washington state Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a Seattle law that requires landlords to publicize their criteria for prospective renters and accept the first qualified applicant.

The Seattle Times reports that the court reversed a decision by a King County judge last year to strike down the first-come, first-served law for renters, which was adopted by the City Council in 2016.

In a unanimous opinion, the court rejected claims by landlords who said the law amounted to regulatory taking of private property and claimed it violated their due-process and free-speech rights under the state Constitution.

Justice May Yu wrote that the law is “unquestionably an experiment” and that “there is room for substantial debate about whether such an experiment is likely to succeed.” But she added that it is allowed under Washington’s constitution.

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes praised the decision, saying his office’s goal has been to “give our elected policy makers the tools they need to govern a modern American city.”

Proponents have said the law helps ensure equal treatment for all renters.

Landlords sued after the law took effect in 2017 argued it restricted their ability to choose tenants.

King County Superior Court Judge Suzanne Parisien sided with the landlords in 2018, describing their ability to select renters among qualified rental applicants as “a fundamental attribute of property ownership.”

In a separate case related to a Seattle law that mostly prohibits landlords from screening and choosing renters based on criminal records, the Supreme Court has also sided with the city.

Brian Hodges, a senior attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation libertarian group of lawyers that represented the landlords, called both rulings “troubling for Washington state property owners whose rights have been under constant assault.”