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Landmark rulings pave way for renters rights in Seattle

A big win for Seattle renters. (Sounder Bruce, Flickr Creative Commons)

Renters in Seattle scored a pair of major victories this week, after a pair of favorable rulings from Washington State’s Supreme Court.

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The first lawsuit related to something known as “first in time” tenant protection, akin to a “first come, first serve” approach to renting for landlords. The measure was originally passed by Seattle City Council in 2016, and was later struck down by a King County judge.

The “first in time” concept requires a landlord to agree to rent an apartment or home to the first qualified applicant, rather than weighing all applicants at once. Supporters argue that it’s paramount to ensuring equitable renting decisions from landlords, while opponents have dubbed it a violation of landlord property rights.

The Washington State Supreme Court’s decision overturns dozens of previous rulings over the years, with the court citing an evolving federal precedent as its justification.

“This ruling has been years in the making, and we prevailed thanks to smart lawyering and an eye toward addressing antiquated decisions of the past,” Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said in a statement published by The Seattle Times.

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In a second ruling, the court helped clear the way for Seattle’s “Fair Chance Housing” ordinance. The ordinance prevents landlords from denying applicants based on criminal history, and is currently being challenged in federal district court. The federal court had asked the state’s Supreme Court to interpret the standards by which the ordinance should be weighed.

Ultimately, the court advised in favor of something called “rational basis review,” making it so landlords opposing the ordinance must prove it doesn’t serve government interests. That could prove to be a death knell for the lawsuit against Fair Chance Housing, representing a difficult legal standard to meet for the plaintiffs in the case.

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