Do you have ‘a constitutionally-guaranteed choice to decide who to allow on your private property, and who to exclude’?
Can you prevent unwanted individuals – whether rental inspectors, or prospective renters – from, respectively, forcing entry, much less forcing residency?
Not if you are a landlord unfortunate enough to own rental property in Seattle.
Just days before Christmas, Attorney Ethan W. Blevins, with Pacific Legal Foundation, believes the City of Seattle has decked the halls with boughs of folly.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before but does this not sound familiar?
“Under Seattle’s ‘first-in-time’ rule,” writes Blevins, “a landlord must offer a rental unit to the first person who submits an adequate application. 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.”
What is the difference between “banning choice across the board” as to inhabitant, and requiring all rental properties – across the board – to be inspected?
“Approximately 55% of Lakewood’s housing is rental,” wrote Lakewood City Attorney Heidi Wachter in a February 8, 2016 memo to the Mayor and City Councilmembers.
How many of those rental units will be inspected, according to the law Lakewood passed August 1 that same year?
All of them. Across the board.
Same rationale as that displayed in Seattle. “To save you and others from your own flaws, the City just makes important decisions for you,” said Blevins.
And where does such thinking: government knows best, and lawmaking: government after government joins with the rest, lead?
“If government can strip you of choice,” writes Blevin in Yim v. City of Seattle, “just because unconscious bias might influence that choice, its power would have no bounds.
“The logic of the war the City is waging could extend to any facet of life.”
When reasonable precedent as exists in the Landlord-Tenant Act is considered, briefly, by the Lakewood City Council: to “educate tenants to report substandard living conditions” (p.5), but is discarded in favor of a broad, sweeping policy that requires, i.e. demands, all rentals, with few exceptions, to be entered upon by government- and government-approved inspectors, is this not also, as contended by PLF in Seattle, an “oppressive and brazen violation of fundamental rights”?
It’s insalubrious, that’s what it is.
“Whether it’s the smog in the city, the atmosphere at your workplace, or a load of coal tar” – or a lump of coal in your Christmas stocking – “they all sound insalubrious.”
To hear Lakewood tell it, based upon what other cities have found, ‘up to 15 percent of the nearly 14,000 rentals in the city’ will be found insalubrious.
To find these insalubrious – “unwholesome, unhealthy” – dwellings, Lakewood will search them all.
“Even the word has a slightly disreputable sound to it, like you’ve been out doing something you shouldn’t be doing. Use it as a fancy way to describe something unhealthy that’s also a little bit common — like Las Vegas or fried chicken.”
Or your rental.
As the owner or designated manager, you will be required to acknowledge the insalubrity of your property which will include, but is not limited to, the following: “The interior is free of peeling, chipping/flaking or abraded paint. All habitable rooms, other than a kitchen, shall be not less than 7’ in any dimension. All spaces used for food preparation contain suitable space and equipment to store, prepare and serve foods in a sanitary manner.”
Reading the City of Lakewood’s rental inspection criteria is not unlike perusing – discreetly – an insalubrious tabloid.
Be assured post-Christmas, you will be found out.