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Supreme Court Deals Blow On Property Rights

November 14, 2019

Today the Washington Supreme Court dealt a devastating setback for property rights in Washington state. Earlier this year, BIAW filed an amicus brief in a suit brought by the Pacific Legal Foundation against the City of Seattle against its First In Time (FIT) rule. In 2016, FIT was adopted and required landlords to rent to the first “qualified” rental applicant regardless of the relative qualifications of a different applicant or any other considerations. This morning, the Supreme Court sided with the City of Seattle, finding the FIT rule constitutional and overturning decades of established precedent.

“The court’s decision allows a city to dictate to a landlord what to say to, and whether to accept, a prospective tenant,” stated BIAW General Counsel Jackson Maynard. “Not only does this decision overturn decades of established precedent that protected property rights in our state, but the rule the court enforced, as we noted in our brief, will make rental housing in Seattle less affordable. Best of intentions don’t substitute for protection of constitutional rights and good policy.”

Previously, the Supreme Court held that the right of first refusal went to the core of property ownership and is a protected legal right. For decades, those in the home building industry and others involved in the selling of property have relied upon this ruling. Overturning it now creates a lot of uncertainty in the housing market. Additionally, the FIT ruling creates unintended consequences that will make housing more expensive.

“According to the studies in our brief, FIT actually reduces the pool of qualified tenants as landlords are forced to add extremely detailed qualifications. Landlords also face increasing costs in advertising and legal fees, as they attempt to navigate the rules,” added Maynard. “Complying with FIT while trying to get tenants who will fulfill their obligations takes time and money. These costs are, naturally, passed on to tenants who will consequently pay increased rent.”

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