Seattle’s First-in-Time Ordinance Will Remain the Law After U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Hear Appeal

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This week the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of Seattle’s First-in-Time ordinance. The First in Time ordinance – believed to be the first in the country – was passed by Seattle City Council in 2016. After initially being declared unconstitutional by King County Superior Court Judge Suzanne Parisien, it was appealed directly to the Washington Supreme Court. In November 2019, the Washington Supreme Court unanimously reversed the lower court and held that the First-in-Time ordinance passed constitutional muster. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the appeal, the First-in-Time ordinance will apply to the vast majority of Seattle rental properties for the foreseeable future.

The First-in-Time ordinance requires that landlords rent to the first qualified applicant. The law is meant to fight implicit bias by landlords who may unconsciously discriminate against potential tenants because of factors like race, gender, or disability. It requires landlords to clearly state their rental criteria and then rent to the first applicant who meets those criteria. The law does not apply to accessory dwelling units (commonly known as mother-in-law and backyard cottages) or to a dwelling in which the owner resides. The law is administered by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights and is codified in Seattle Municipal Code 14.08.050. If a landlord violates the ordinance, they can face a multitude of penalties, including rent refunds or credits, reinstatement of the tenancy, civil penalties and attorneys’ fees. More information can be found on the Office of Civil Rights website here:

Please contact one of Helsell Fetterman’s Land Use and Real Estate attorneys with any questions or if you would like to learn more.

About the Authors

Brandon Gribben

Brandon’s practice focuses primarily on land use and general real estate issues as well as real estate and general commercial litigation. His clients include real estate developers, housing cooperatives, condominiums and individual homeowners

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