April 26, 2018

Seattle clings to oppressive first-in-time rule

By Ethan W. Blevins Attorney

Today, Seattle appealed PLF’s victory in our first-in-time case. The first-in-time rule stripped landlords of the right to choose their tenants. Under the rule, a landlord had to offer a rental unit to the first guy to walk in the door with an adequate application, reducing careful discretion to a roll of the die.

PLF represented a group of small mom-and-pop landlords in a lawsuit challenging the rule as unconstitutional. In late March, the trial court held that the first-in-time rule violated four separate constitutional rights. Soon after, the Seattle Times editorial board took the unusual step of urging the city not to appeal this “sensible ruling.”

But the city has barreled ahead anyway–another sign of the city’s supreme confidence that they know best. The irony is acute. After all, the city’s rationale for stripping landlords of choice is that landlords are human–they might unconsciously discriminate. But isn’t the City Council human, too? Why should we suppose that a cadre of clucking politicians know how to run residential housing better than landlords? The hubris calls to mind Frederic Bastiat’s penetrating question in 1850: “Since the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to allow them liberty, how comes it pass that the tendencies of organizers are always good?”

Landlords–and everyone else–deserve the dignity of making reasonable choices about how they run their businesses and their personal lives. They know their circumstances better than a distant bureaucrat, and they often wield their right to choose with good will, not irredeemable bigotry. The City, so enraptured with their own good intentions, ought to respect that. I’m confident the court of appeals will.

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