Seattle's "first come first served" landlord law is upheld

In 2016, the Seattle City Council passed a new law requiring landlords in the city to publish a list of “criteria” for prospective renters and then rent the property to the first applicant who met the basic qualifications. This obvious intrusion into the rights of the property owners was immediately challenged and the law was struck down in county court. But now, on appeal, the state supreme court has reversed that decision and allowed the law to go into effect. (Seattle Times)

The Washington state Supreme Court has upheld Seattle’s first-come, first-served law for renters, believed to be the first of its kind in the country.

In a unanimous written opinion published Thursday, the court rejected claims by landlords who said the groundbreaking law amounted to a regulatory taking of private property and who said it violated their due-process and free-speech rights under the state Constitution.

The court reversed a decision by a King County judge last year to strike down Seattle’s law, which was adopted by the City Council in 2016 and which required landlords to publicize their criteria for prospective renters and accept the first qualified applicant.

Why did the City Council want the law in the first place? Racism, of course. They were fearful that if landlords could take their pick of any number of qualified applicants, the landlord might make their choice based on race or some other “ism” related criteria. What that means is that the council was proactively accusing all the landlords in the city of racial discrimination without any specific actions to back up the claim.

The reality is that it’s already illegal to discriminate in housing based on any of a number of protected demographics, including race. In fact, you can be charged with a felony for doing so. But that’s not even the worst part of this legislation.

If you take the risk of investing in a rental property and making it available to the public, you are doing so with the intent of making a profit, not to act as a charitable institution or social justice agent. You don’t want just the first, barely qualified person who applies. You want the best candidate with a good credit history, a solid income and the greatest likelihood of actually paying the rent and not destroying the place.

These are the sorts of socialist rules that drive investors away. It’s the idea that the government knows better than you how to run your business, how much you should charge and who you should deal with. By forcing property owners to potentially take non-profitable renters in while missing out on better-qualified applicants, the government does actual harm to the owner. But somehow the Washington State supreme court didn’t see it that way.

Between these flawed business policies, the lax police protection and the general mess you see in the streets every day, people with the funds to do so and a lick of common sense should flee Seattle while they still have the chance. Let the government figure out how to run housing if they are so interested in dictating every aspect of commerce.