Seattle

A court fight has erupted over Seattle’s demand that landlord’s offer a rental unit to the “first person” who submits a valid application, in essence telling property owners that the city will pick their tenants because they might be hindered by “unconscious bias.”

Under Seattle’s “first-in-time” rule, a landlord must offer a rental unit to the “first person who submits an adequate application,” explains Ethan Blevins of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which sued over the Big Brother policy.

“This goes far beyond preventing intentional discrimination by banning choice across the board. No discretion, no chance to sift among potential tenants, no right to make a basic judgment call about who you want on your property for years to come. If the first person to apply is rude on the phone, too bad – you have to rent to them. If you notice a swastika tattooed on an applicant’s shoulder when he visits the unit, too bad – if he applied first, he gets the house. If someone who applied second, though, makes a good impression and needs a break, too bad – you have to reject them,” Blevins said.

The case, in King County Superior Court, names the city as a defendant. It’s on behalf of Chong and Marilyn Yim, Kelly Lyles, Beth Bylund, CNA Aparements and Eileen LLC.

They are asking the court to declare the city’s ordinance 125114, “requiring residential landlords to offer a tenancy to the first qualified person who applies for a rental unit,” in violation of the state constitution’s provisions for takings, due process and free expression.

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The state’s Supreme Court already has ruled that “an owners’ right to sell a property interest to whom he or she chooses is a fundamental attribute of property ownership, which cannot be taken without due process and payment of just compensation,” Pacific Legal argues.

But the new demand by Seattle that landlords be given no choice about their renters was imposed because, the complaint alleges, city officials want “to protect against the possibility that a rental decision may be motivated by unconscious bias.”

“The first-in-time rule also abridges other constitutional rights regarding property and speech. The uncompensated taking, for instance, is not for a public use as the state constitution requires. Rather, the city grants a right of first refusal – a valuable property interest – to the first qualified applicant,” the case argues.

City officials have claimed it is an “unfair practice” to rent to someone other than the first qualified applicant.

The author of the changed standard, which was adopted in 2016, expressly targeted “implicit biases.”

“[Lisa] Herbold reasoned that landlords – when left to their own judgment – might subconsciously discriminate against protected classes. … She called the city’s decision to ban landlord discretion a ‘transformational’ means of teaching them to ‘unlearn the implicit associations” that might affect their judgment.”

Blevins said if government “can strip you of choice just because unconscious bias might influence that choice, its power would have no bounds.”

He explained: “The city is glad to gut the many innocent and virtuous reasons for selecting a tenant in order to strike at unconscious biases that may or may not be subtly influencing any given landlord. Your subconscious might manipulate you, so to save you and others from your own flaws, the city just makes important decisions for you.”

Blevins said the “fact that unconscious bias exists is not a good enough reason to just exterminate choice.”

“For example, there is evidence that unconscious bias affects hiring decisions. So could your government force you to hire the first person who applies for a position, so long as they meet the basic qualifications? Could they forbid a personal interview because it would reveal someone’s ethnicity and therefore create a risk that your subconscious might discriminate? What about other settings, like healthcare? Some evidence indicates that Asian Americans are more likely to contract cancer than other groups, yet doctors are less likely to recommend cancer screening for Asian-American patients. So can Seattle require doctors to make medical decisions based on standardized, uniform criteria rather than individualized care? If government can ban individual judgment just because that judgment might be faulty, then we’ve abandoned the basic premise of limited government.”

“Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare Is Becoming Our Reality” chronicles how America has arrived at the point of being a de facto police state, and what led to an out-of-control government that increasingly ignores the Constitution. Order today!

 

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