Washington state’s Supreme Court handed freedom a massive setback in declaring that landlords in Seattle do not have the right to select their tenants. Instead, they must accept the first submitted application for the property.
To make matters worse, landlords aren’t permitted to deny housing to criminal applicants, be they fraudsters, convicted pedophiles or simply someone who has accrued a few DUI convictions. In fact, landlords can’t even legally review the criminal history of potential tenants, which means that landlords would take a huge risk every single time they rent out a house.
The fight over tenant rights began in 2016 when Seattle made draconian new laws to limit landlord freedom in the name of “removing conscious or unconscious bias” from the renting process. It allows landlords to set down conditions for renting the property. These may include a minimum credit score, a minimum level of annual income, or even a good past rental history. The catch is, whichever prospective tenant is the first to meet these requirements and then turn in a filled-out application must be offered the house.
The requirement is anathema to many landlords who feel they have the right to sift through various qualifying applicants to select the one they like the best. While this may represent “bias” to some, the truth is that it benefits entire neighborhoods. For instance, renting a home to a young party animal would be a bad idea of most of the other homes in the area are populated by senior citizens. Renting a home to someone on the sex registry would be disastrous if there are families with young kids living nearby.
The new law is intended to increase affordable housing options in Seattle, but it will almost certainly have the opposite effect. As one of the lawyers who argued the landlords’ case in court aptly noted, the people who are likely to get in their applications first are middle to upper class individuals who have their own cars, internet access at home, and the time to peruse ads and immediately arrive at the scene of a good home to rent.
Affordable homes for rent in Seattle are becoming a scarce commodity as landlords are leaving the rental market altogether. It isn’t hard as a landlord can make good money renting the home on AirBnB, or put the home up for sale.
The idea that the government can tell private citizens what they can and cannot do with their own homes is a bad precedent. Without reversal, rental housing would become both difficult to find and expensive to acquire, putting immense financial pressure on those who don’t have the money on hand to buy their own home.