In 2016 Seattle adopted an ordinance known as the “First-in-Time” (“FIT”) law requiring landlords to accept the first prospective tenant who applied and met certain pre-established standards. The announced purpose was to eradicate implicit or unconscious bias in the selection of tenants by depriving landlords of any discretion in their choice among qualified applicants. The ordinance required each landlord to post written notice of all criteria used in qualifying applicants as tenants both in hard copy and in any electronic advertisement seeking tenants.
Last week a King County Superior Court held that the FIT ordinance was invalid under the Washington state constitution as both an unlawful taking of landlords’ property without compensation and as an impermissible restriction on landlords’ commercial speech.
In finding the FIT ordinance invalid the Superior Court judge noted that it deprived landlords of fundamental rights of property ownership by restricting their right to choose their own tenant. As a premise for her holding, that may prove more than intended since there are many accepted restrictions on an owner’s legal right to choose whomever they want as a tenant; an employer’s right to choose whomever they want as an employee; and on the right of a place of public accommodation to choose whomever they wish to serve.