WA State Supreme Court Upholds “First Qualified Applicant” Rental Law
The Washington State Supreme Court recently upheld Seattle’s “first qualified applicant” law. As the name implies, the ruling on November 14, 2019, means that all Seattle landlords must rent their property to the first applicant that meets the qualification criteria. Landlords are obligated to keep all applications for rental units in chronological order. If an applicant is qualified, then they must offer the apartment to that person and not someone who applied later.
Pros and Cons
Proponents of this bill contend that it will reduce any potential bias in the rental application process. If you set your criteria to say that applicants must have at least two years of rental history and two years of employment, then the first prospective renter that matches that is the one to which the landlord must offer the rental property. By doing this, the landlord also has a solid legal defense against any claims of discrimination. All they would need to do is retain all the applications and the date and time of each one. They could then point to the first one that met the criteria and show that they offered the lease to that applicant.
Critics of the bill contend that this law will cause smaller landlords to leave the city. It’s just one more potential legal headache. Without having enough control over who they are allowed to rent to, individual and small landlords may opt out and sell their properties. They also say the law has the potential to do the opposite of what’s advertised, because standards to qualify to rent would be increased, therefore singling out the marginalized renter population it seeks to help. It’s worth noting here however that approving the first qualified applicant is considered a best practice among property management companies already.
Other Landlord-Tenant Law Changes in WA
Whether the bill has a positive effect on the Seattle rental landscape remains to be seen. What we do know is that affordable housing and renter’s rights are hot topics within Washington state. The 2019 legislative session passed a slew of changes to landlord-tenant laws.
Landlords in Washington state will need to provide longer notices for rent increases. The current rule says that you need to provide at least 30 days of notice. The revised law requires 60 days. If you want to raise the rent on January 1, you’ll need to let the tenant know by November 1 now instead of December 1.
Tenants will also have longer to evict due to unpaid rent. The current law states that landlords can evict tenants in as little as three days. The revised rule will raise that to 14 days. This increase gives tenants some breathing room to seek other accommodations. Tenants are also on the hook for fewer fees and can have their tenancy restored more easily by judges.
Finally, if tenants will be displaced due to building demolition, the landlord must provide them with 120 days of notice.
Brush Up On Your Understanding of These Laws
If you are a landlord in Washington state, you will want to brush up on these changes. Similarly, if you’re the tenant, you’ll also want to know about them so you can delay eviction or rent increases.
As Washington state faces challenges with affordable housing, changes to the law will be inevitable. In the past, it may have been possible to find an affordable place within three days. Now, with the fierce competition for rentals, that’s not feasible. The government recognized that and increased the timeline. Renters and landlords alike should continue to read up on these legal changes and understand how these new laws impact their leases and renter rights.