PLF: New Seattle ordinance obliterates landlords' rights

By Charmaine Little | Mar 22, 2017

SEATTLE (Legal Newsline) – The Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) has taken a stand against a new ordinance in Seattle that is intended to prevent discrimination in rental property; but is now being accused of doing just the opposite.

The “first-in-time” regulation forces landlords to rent out the piece of property to the first tenant who is approved. If more than one applicant is a candidate, the landlord must always pick based on a first-come, first-served basis.

The PLF has officially taken legal action against the city and an ordinance that hopes to stop landlords from acting out prejudice habits against potential tenants.

“The Pacific Legal Foundation is a public interest law firm that litigates for constitutional rights on a variety of issues across the country. We’re especially involved in property rights issues. This addresses the question of whether Seattle can obliterate rights as to who can rent their property. We’re interested in protecting individual property rights, and this is a major obstacle for property owners in Seattle,” attorney Ethan Blevins told Legal Newsline.

As for why the PLF decided to take such measures against the ordinance and the city council, Blevins made it clear this isn’t the method the city should use in trying to end discrimination in rental property.

“The city pretty much has two reasons,” he continued. “One was to address unconscious bias. They assume that landlords are going to be prejudice. The city thought the best way to do that was to remove it.

"The other, they feel like it’s too hard to prove intentional discrimination. So instead of proving it on an individual basis, they’re taking the guilty until proven innocent stance. It’s addressing discrimination both on an unconscious and getting rid of the city’s responsibility to prove intentional discrimination.”

Blevins also said in an article on the topic that while the city wants to stop any level of bias, whether it’s intentional or unintentional, the “first-in-time” ordinance still leads to discrimination and doesn’t protect victims who might not be able to apply to rent their home as quickly as others, making the process unfair for the tenant and the landlord.

“I think the key of the case is whether or not we should trust people with the ability to make their own decisions about their property. It’s a fundamental right and the city can’t get rid of it just assuming that you’re prejudice by how you operate.”

So far, the Rental Housing Association of Washington has supported the PLF in its lawsuit. As of now, no other jurisdictions have followed the actions of Seattle.

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