City of Seattle Enacts New Open Housing Rules

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In an attempt to address concerns of housing affordability, the Seattle City Council approved an ordinance that seeks to ensure access to rental housing for tenants while imposing new rules on landlords.  The new ordinance is set to go into effect on September 7, 2016.
In general, the ordinance includes the following changes in Seattle’s housing laws:

  1. Provides that is unlawful to discriminate against a person seeking to lease or rent who relies on a verifiable “alternative source of income,” such as Social Security benefits, supplemental security income, unemployment benefits, other retirement programs, child support, the Aged, Blind or Disabled Cash Assistance Program, Refugee Cash Assistance, and any federal, state, local government, private, or nonprofit-administered benefit program.
  1. Requires landlords to accept pledges from community-based organizations for past due or current housing costs if the money is to be paid within five days.
  1. Require landlords to abide by a first-in-time methodology for choosing tenants, which requires the landlord to:
    1. Provide a written disclosure of the criteria the owner will use to screen prospective occupants and the minimum threshold for each criterion that the potential occupant must meet to move forward in the application process;
    2. Note the date and time of when the owner receives a completed rental application, whether submitted through the mail, electronically, or in person;
    3. Screen completed rental applications in chronological order to determine whether a prospective occupant meets all the screening criteria that are necessary for approval of the application; and
    4. Offer tenancy to the first prospective occupant meeting all the screening criteria necessary for approval of the application. If the first approved prospective occupant does not accept the offer of tenancy within 48 hours of when the offer is made, the owner shall review the next completed rental application in chronological order until a prospective occupant accepts the owner’s offer of tenancy.
  1. Prohibits advertising, instituting or maintaining a “preferred employer program” that offers different terms or conditions, discounts or waiver of fees or deposits based on the prospective tenant being employed by a specific employer, with minor exceptions.

Landlords leasing housing in the City of Seattle will need to review this legislation in order to comply with the new record-keeping requirements for tenant screening and other requirements of the ordinance.


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Daniel Findley

Dan Findley provides general business, real estate, tax and intellectual property counsel to closely held and family-owned businesses.

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