Seattle Landlords Lose First-Come, First-Served Case Petition

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The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Seattle landlords’ appeal of the controversial first-come, first-served law, requiring landlords to accept the first qualified tenant who applies and clearing the way for the rule to stand permanently.

The Pacific Legal Foundation had sued on behalf of the landlords over the ordinance, claiming it violated landlords’ due process, free speech and property rights.

“The Supreme Court has turned down an important opportunity to strengthen constitutionally protected property rights and provide much-needed relief to Seattle property owners,” said Ethan W. Blevins, staff attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, in a statement.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to deny the petition means that Seattle landlords have no say over who ends up living on their property. As a result, small-time landlords have lost basic property rights, and tenants will struggle to find affordable housing that meets their needs. The city now has the green light to go forward with the regulatory slaughter of its own housing market.”

In an email reported by the Seattle Times, Blevins wrote, “Seattle’s law has caused some landlords to sell their units and others to tighten their rental criteria. The city’s victory in the courts, unfortunately, will not translate into a victory for either landlords or tenants,” he wrote.

Seattle Councilmember Lisa Herbold championed the first-come, first-served law in 2016, saying her goal was to ensure all renters were treated equally. At the time, officials said they were unaware of any other U.S. city with such a law.

In a statement hailing the news, Herbold said the first-come, first-served law was “a necessary tool” to guard against discrimination and even more important now that the city’s existing housing crisis has been “compounded by an economic crisis” because of the coronavirus.

The denial by the U.S. Supreme Court means the case has now run its course, City Attorney Pete Holmes told the newspaper.

A Seattle judge first struck down Seattle’s ordinance in 2018, saying landlords must accept the first qualified tenant who applies, according to reports. King County Superior Court Judge, Suzanne Parisien, struck down the ordinance, determining that “choosing a tenant is a fundamental attribute of property ownership.”

However, the Washington State Supreme Court heard the case and last year upheld the law, reversing the King County ruling.

Earlier this year the landlords asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case but the court denied the petition Monday without comment.

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