Challenge overturns rental rule in favor of landlords
MariLyn Yim owns a duplex and a triplex in Seattle with her husband, but Seattle has a rule that says landlords have to rent their units to the first person who walks through the door with an adequate application. Or at least Seattle had that rule until last week when a King County superior judge ruled in favor of Yim.
“If so-and-so walks in the door, they have a complete application and they satisfy your criteria, [the city said] you’d have to rent to that person if they were the first person to apply regardless of whatever legitimate reason you might have for not wanting to rent to them,” says attorney Ethan Blevins of Pacific Legal Foundation, the organization representing MariLyn Yim.
“Perhaps they’re rude to you [or] maybe they make you feel unsafe – whatever the rationale might be, [the city said] you can’t reject that applicant,” the attorney continues. “[But] the ruling by the court a few days ago that said that landlords have a fundamental right to choose their tenants subject to the sort of anti-discrimination laws that we’re used to seeing where you can’t discriminate intentionally based on race or other protected classes.”
The Yims live with their children in one of the units. According to the attorney, that was a major factor in the Yims’ actions.
“They share a yard with their other tenants, they share a wall, and sometimes their kids are at home alone when other tenants are in their unit,” says Blevins. “[The Yims] were worried about safety, they were worried about protecting their investment, they were worried about just being able to control who is going to be in a relationship with them for years to come – and so the Yims felt strongly that they needed to protect themselves by challenging this [city rule] under the Constitution.”
That’s the Washington state constitution, which Blevins and others relied on for all the claims in the case.
“But a lot of that can extend elsewhere,” he continues. “For example, [the judge] held that landlords have a fundamental right to choose who is going to live on their property. I think that that holding can certainly apply in other contexts where someone might raise a due process claim and say, ‘Hey, you cannot remove my right entirely to exclude people from my property.'”
OneNewsNow contacted the Seattle city attorney’s office and received the following response: “We disagree with the court’s ruling, and we’re studying it to determine our next steps.”
Meanwhile, Blevins says the rule in Seattle didn’t help the people that the city claims to be helping.
“Part of the problem with this rule is that it means that whoever gets the apartment or house is up to the roll of the dice as to who applies first; and in most circumstances, people who are going to apply first are going to be people with a lot of Internet access, people with vehicles, and people who can take time off in the middle of the day to go visit a unit,” he explains.
“In other words, it’s not the vulnerable populations the city of Seattle claims it’s trying to help.”