Rental application first come first served

Recently Seattle became the first city to put a “First Come First Serve” law into effect with tenant applicants. This means using a rental application first come first served process. You essentially screen the tenants in the order the rental applications were received.

The audio file above addresses this question as Avvo’s chief legal officer, Josh King, weighs in with his thoughts.

Below you can read the transcript of the conversation:

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Transcription of the audio file above

Interviewer: Seattle City Council recently approved a change to rental housing policy requiring qualified applicants to be approved by landlords on a first-come, first-serve basis. It also ends the practice of offering move-in discounts for certain desirable segments of the rental population such as tech workers. What are your thoughts on that as a policy? Should it be implemented elsewhere and do you think it will reduce bias and discrimination as intended?

Josh from Avvo: Yeah, it’s an interesting thing. I mean, I think Seattle is the first place to do this, to institutionalize this first-come, first-serve policy. I know that California has long encouraged landlords to do that, and I know that there are lots of landlords and property managers who make that a practice of doing the first come first serve. I think it will be interesting to see how it plays out and

I worry a little bit, with smaller landlords, how it’s going to work because the details of that provision are fairly extensive. And so, I can picture a smaller landlord who, maybe, has a three-unit building, perhaps vacancies don’t come up in the building very often, maybe they’re very, very desirable. And so, if one comes on the market, you’re going to have 20 applicants for it in a single Saturday afternoon. As a landlord, obviously, what you want to do is you want to pick the person who looks like they’ve got the most stable income, they’re going to be paying you, and they’re going to be staying there the longest so you don’t have turnover. Now obviously, you have fairly incomplete information on which to base that, but it’s great to have choices. Under this new provision, you basically have to time-stamp every application, you have to detail in advance all of the criteria in which you are going to make your decisions in choosing a tenant, you have to time-stamp every application that comes in, and then you have to give people time, in that order.

So, if they have an incomplete application you have to give them three days to fill in the supplemental information. If they were to ask for more time, you have to give them two days, and so it creates this whole weird staggering thing and a lot more logistics that landlords have to go through. Which again, I think would be a lot easier to manage for a larger property management company, but that I think would be problematic for smaller landlords. Now, I’m sure that it will have some measure of impact on housing discrimination. Because I’m sure that housing discrimination happens in a variety of ways and there are certainly people who, maybe, have a harder time winning out in, let’s call it a more competitive, tenant environment. But one of the good things is there is going to be an audit of this program after 18 months to see if it’s actually had an impact. And I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the things they find is that it’s had minimal impact on discrimination while adding a lot of logistical headaches and potential additional lawsuits for property managers and landlords.


Our thoughts at RentPrep :

This is certainly a tough law for Seattle landlords as Josh describes it in the audio above.

As a rule of thumb we always encourage landlords to start from the top with their tenant applications. It helps to reduce bias and discrimination and if well documented as part of your process it provides one more layer of protection from a lawsuit.

As of right now we haven’t heard this law signed into effect anywhere else but be sure to research your local laws before setting up your screening criteria.

If you’re still unsure what to do in your particular situation, you can search and consult with a lawyer by clicking here. That link will take you to Avvo and give you 15% off your consultation.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box below.