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Regulation madness: Seattle landlords are fighting to be allowed to choose their tenants

In Seattle. landlords are suing to stop a new city policy requiring housing be rented on a first-come, first-served basis. The new policy requires landlords to develop specific screening criteria for prospective tenants, review the applications in the order they were received, and make offers in that same order to those who meet the criteria. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The city of Seattle has a newly adopted first-come, first-served policy for residents looking to rent a house, and Seattle landlords are not happy about it.

Landlords in the city filed a lawsuit last week claiming that the new policy violates the state constitution and requesting a permanent injunction preventing the city from enforcing it, which would essentially make the law void. The law went into effect Jan. 1 but is not slated to be enforced until July.

The first-come, first-served policy was adopted by the city council in August as an effort to prevent landlords from discriminating against renters who receive government assistance as a secondary form of income. It requires landlords to develop a specific screening criteria for prospective tenants, review the pending applications in the order they were received, and make offers in that same order to those who meet the criteria. Landlords would not be able to deviate from the order applications were submitted.

Landlords are already prohibited from discriminating against prospective tenants on the basis of gender, race and sexual orientation, but advocates of the new Seattle policy say that it is too hard to prove discrimination in court and the new law will help with that problem.

However, landlords involved in the lawsuit assert that the new policy is an unconstitutional seizing of private property and that it violates free speech protections along with due process rights, according to the Seattle Times.

Landlords Chong and MariLyn Yim own a duplex and triplex and reside in one of the units with their children. The Yim family argues that the policy unfairly offers exemptions to those renting out mother-in-law apartments or backyard cottages but not to those renting out duplexes or triplexes. The Yims also say the policy prevents them from keeping their family safe in the best way they see fit.

"The Yim family cannot afford to absorb losses because of a tenancy gone bad. And for a family with three children, selecting a tenant who will also be their close neighbor requires careful discretion," the lawsuit reads. "The Yims treasure their right to ensure compatibility and safety by choosing among eligible applicants."

They also say the policy has made it much harder for one of their tenants to find a replacement roommate, due to the stringent regulations.

The plaintiffs are represented by attorney Ethan Blevins with Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative nonprofit firm that works exclusively on property rights and protecting citizens from an encroaching government. Blevins told TheBlaze that Seattle has taken a fundamental right away from Seattle landlords, adding, "This is like forcing an employer to hire the first job applicant who looks good on paper, regardless of how they perform in an interview."


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