Landlords Sue Over First-Come, First-Served Law

Seattle (CN) – Several Seattle landlords sued over the city’s new law requiring them to rent to the first qualified applicant, saying it violates their civil rights.

Seattle passed the law last summer and is the first city in the nation to mandate that landlords offer a rental unit to the first applicant who satisfies the advertised rental criteria.

Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who spearheaded the measure, says it is meant to ensure prospective renters are treated equally.

But four landlords and two rental companies claim it violates their due process and free speech rights, among other things, in a lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court last week.

The landlords say they have “a constitutionally protected right to rent or sell their property, in a nondiscriminatory manner, to whom they choose, at a price they choose—which includes a right of first refusal.”

Chong and MariLyn Yim, owners of a duplex and triplex, say they couldn’t afford to live in Seattle without rental income from their properties.

According to the complaint, “The Yims value their right to select their tenants. 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 Yims share a yard with their renters, and the Yim children are occasionally at home alone when their renters are home. The Yims treasure their right to ensure compatibility and safety by choosing among eligible applicants.”

“We aren’t corporate landlords sitting on large capital reserves or with hundreds of rentals to spread our risk,” MariLyn Yim said in a statement.  “One bad tenant could take us years to recover from financially.  The primary way we have to manage our risk is by carefully selecting tenants and collecting adequate deposits up front.  The new city rule deprives us of that flexibility.  With this added, undue risk, we can no longer afford to charge below-market rents or give a break to good people who are just starting out or rebuilding from their own setbacks.”

“By telling landlords, including mom-and-pop property owners, that they basically have no say in who can live in their rental units, Seattle is stripping them of a fundamental right,” the landlords’ attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, Ethan Blevins, said in a statement.

Landlords Kelly Lyles and Beth Bylund, along with rental companies CAN Apartments and Eileen LLC, are also named as plaintiffs in the case.

They want a permanent injunction against enforcement of the rule.

Landlords who violate the law can pay up to $11,000 for a first offense, and $55,000 if two offenses occur within seven years.

The rule took effect January 1, but enforcement will begin July 1.