Landlords in Seattle will no longer be legally allowed to discriminate against tenants because they pay their rent using assistance programs like housing vouchers or disability payments.
With praise from housing advocates and concern from the landlord lobby, the Seattle City Council today unanimously approved a new law, sponsored by Council Member Lisa Herbold, outlawing housing discrimination based on source of income. While the city already bans discrimination against people with Section 8 vouchers, this law will cover all types of income and housing vouchers.
The law will also ban special deals for tenants based on where they work, and will require landlords to rent to the first applicant who qualifies, an effort to offset implicit or explicit bias. More about how the law works and who will be exempted right here.
"If we want to ensure people aren't discriminating, especially against people of color...we really need to pass the first-in-time amendment," said Xochitl Maykovich, an organizer with the Washington Community Action Network.
Landlord lobbyists said renting to the first qualified applicant is an industry "best practice," but raised other concerns about the law. Representatives from the Rental Housing Association of Washington and the Washington Multifamily Housing Association said today they were concerned that requiring landlords to accept all forms of housing subsidies could result in renting to tenants with only temporary subsidies. If a tenant had a three-month rent voucher, for example, but then couldn't find permanent income in time to continue paying their rent after those three months, the landlord could be left without rent payments and the tenant evicted, said Sean Martin, a spokesperson for the RHA. In response to those concerns, Council Members Rob Johnson and Tim Burgess amended the law to request a city audit of the law and its effects by the end of 2018.
Liz Mills, advocacy and policy director for the YWCA, praised the law ahead of the council vote, saying "it will, especially in such a tight housing market, literally open doors for people that have been locked out."