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US Supreme Court Rejects First-in-Time Appeal

The United States Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to Seattle’s “First-in-Time” ordinance today. Without even asking the City to respond, the Court denied a petition for certiorari the Pacific Legal Foundation filed after the Washington State Supreme Court unanimously upheld the ordinance in November 2019. 

The First-in-Time (“FIT”) Rule requires a landlord to notify prospective tenants of the landlord’s screening criteria and offer tenancy to the first applicant meeting them. The Rule does not dictate the criteria, require quantifiable or objective criteria, prevent a landlord from conducting an interview to satisfy a criterion, preclude negotiations over lease terms, or otherwise limit how a landlord may communicate with prospective tenants.

“Just as the high court rejected Pacific Legal Foundation’s petition regarding the Democracy Voucher lawsuit, the court had little interest in considering this challenge, either. This decision isn’t surprising considering the dispute centered on an interpretation of state law that mirrored long-established federal law,” said Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes. “Petitioners only get one bite at the apple, which means there’s no second opportunity to have their case heard. First-in-Time is now settled law.”

“The ‘first-in-time’ law, one of the first pieces of legislation I introduced in 2016, was enacted to make sure all renters are treated equally. In the face of unabated housing discrimination, this was a necessary tool to implement, and is important now more than ever as our city faces an existing housing crisis now compounded by an economic crisis,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1 – West Seattle and South Park). “Assistant City Attorney Roger Wynne skillfully argued before our State Supreme Court where this legislation was upheld. To the Pacific Legal Foundation, I say thank you: this single case advanced a sixty-year effort of the City and housing advocates to better balance the public interest of many and property rights interest.”

The Seattle City Attorney’s Office successfully defended the ordinance at the Washington State Supreme Court, represented by Assistant City Attorney Roger Wynne. The Washington State Supreme Court’s landmark opinion corrected and clarified Washington’s regulatory takings and substantive due process law and upheld the FIT Rule.

More information about the City’s “First in Time” law, which is enforced by Seattle’s Office for Civil Rights, is available here.