Landlords Sue City of Seattle Over First-in-Time Law

Chong and MariLyn Yim live with their three children in a triplex in Seattle. The only way they can afford to live in Seattle is to rent out the other two units. The Yim family shares yard space with the renters. The children are occasionally home alone in the triplex.

The Yims cannot financially afford the losses caused by a bad tenancy. The Yims are concerned about compatibility and safety, as they and the children live in close proximity with their renters.  The Yims have never discriminated against anyone.

Kelly Lyles is a single woman living in Seattle. She is an artist who receive most of her income from a home she owns and rents out. She cannot afford to miss even a single rent payment from her tenants, and cannot afford the costs of an eviction. As a single woman who interacts with her tenants frequently, safety is a big concern for her. She has never discriminated against anyone.

Under the new Seattle first-in-time law the Yims and Ms. Lyles have no discretion in who they rent to. They cannot trust their intuition and judgment. Under Seattle landlord-tenant law landlords like the Yims and Ms. Lyles must now rent to whoever applies first and meets objective criteria, such as income and credit scores, even if renting to the applicant goes against their judgment and intuition.

These landlords have joined others in a lawsuit against the City, seeking to have the first-in-time law declared unconstitutional. [1]

The City of Seattle’s stated concern is “unintentional” bias.  According to the landlord’s complaint, the City is seeking to “reprogram” landlords in order to “debias” “implicit associations.”  The first-in-time law is designed to “remove the discretion that a landlord has when deciding between two or more potential tenants.”

The first-in-time law denies landlords discretion in who they rent to, regardless of whether there is any evidence that landlord is discriminating or has ever discriminated against anyone. A Seattle City Council member stated that the first-in-time law removes landlord discretion “even in cases when the landlord is deciding between tenants on factors not part of a protected class.”

The first-in-time law declares landlords’ use of discretion in renting decisions as an “unfair practice” and imposes penalties on landlords of up $55,000. Additionally, rental applicants can sue landlords in a private cause of action and seek damages and attorney fees.

The lawsuit against the City of Seattle was recently filed by the Pacific Law Foundation and is currently pending.


[1] These facts are alleged in a complaint filed in King County Superior Court.