More good news for renters: The Seattle City Council is likely to pass a new law today banning landlords from denying housing applicants because they use programs like housing subsidies or disability payments to help pay their rent.
The city already has a protection like this on the books for Section 8 recipients, but this proposal, sponsored by Council Member Lisa Herbold, would extend that to all types of income. City testing of rental housing has repeatedly found discrimination, including testing last year that found discrimination based on Section 8 and other vouchers in 63 percent of cases and discrimination based on disability in 64 percent of cases.
The proposal, known as "source of income discrimination legislation," has repeatedly been introduced in the state legislature and killed with help from landlord lobbyists. So last summer, the mayor's housing affordability committee, known as HALA, recommended that the city take up a Seattle-specific version of the law.
Along with the source of income rule, the ordinance would do two other big things:
1) The law bans special move-in deals based on tenants' employers. The Stranger first reported on these deals—usually reduced deposits or fees—last summer. While they are often advertised for Amazon or Microsoft workers, some property management companies offer them for non-tech companies like Boeing and Starbucks corporate, too. Housing advocates questioned whether deals like that could be illegal under fair housing rules.
In April, the city's Office for Civil Rights offered landlords guidance for how to offer these deals legally, but the mayor's office stopped short of banning them outright. The city council took a more aggressive path, adding the ban to this law in recent months.
2) The ordinance sets up a "first in time" policy requiring landlords to accept the first applicant who qualifies for a house or apartment, rather than just choosing whoever they favor. This is meant to address implicit bias against people based on race, sexual orientation, or other factors. "It's the kind of discrimination that occurs and people don't even realize it's happening," Herbold says. (This would be enforced through complaints and testing.)
The legislation exempts landlords from this rule if choosing someone other than the first qualified renter would "affirmatively further fair housing." In other words: Landlords could pick a tenant who is a member of a protected class because, Herbold says, "you're righting a structural wrong." Under an amendment introduced by Council Member Sally Bagshaw, this rule would also not apply to single family homes in which the homeowner lives on site.
Council Members Rob Johnson and Tim Burgess expressed concerns about this rule, worried it might actually favor wealthier people who have the time to scroll Craigslist all day and easily be the first to apply for an apartment. Burgess said Seattle would be the first city ever to pass a "first in time" law. Burgess and Johnson have asked for an audit of the rule a year and a half after it takes effect.
The council will vote on the law at its 2 p.m. meeting.