First come, first served. This phrase is the backbone of fair customer service. The first one in is the first one to be helped. When you go to a deli, you expect this to be true. When you’re at the DMV, you take a number. The order in which you arrive is the order in which you are helped. It seems easy enough, but not for every experience.
This week the Seattle City Council approved a new law requiring all landlords to process applications in the order they received them. The first applicant that meets the landlords chosen criteria gets first choice to rent the apartment. This ordinance was enacted to cut down on landlords discriminating against tenants with government assistance and to make securing an apartment fairer. The city council will review this ordinance in 18 months to see if it’s having the desired effect.
As you can imagine, this has been a big topic with my clients and friends across the city. At a party recently, I overheard a couple talking about how their jobs don’t allow them to drop everything and go see an available apartment as soon as it’s listed. For them, this new ordinance raises fears they won’t have the ability to woo a landlord who may have already shown the apartment to multiple people. The fear is that everything will be rented before they get there. They won’t be able to react quickly enough to secure an apartment first.
On the other hand, one of my landlord clients sent me an email this week talking about his fears. He is worried that the first potential tenant may not be the best fit for the neighborhood and his home. In his example, he pitted the “tech bro” vs “loving family.” If the “tech bro” shows ups first and applies, he will get the home over the “loving family” who, in his mind, would be a better fit.
Some have expressed fears that landlords will raise rents in an attempt to deter the “wrong kind of tenant.” Others fear that more houses will be sold in order to avoid the process. This would take much needed rental inventory offline. Some landlords worry that by only advertising with a sign, they will limit the number and types of renters that will see the home.
This first come first served application process may seem like a novel new idea, or a major new burden for landlords, but it isn’t. Property managers and Real Estate brokers have been using this rule for years. In fact, it’s a law. It’s the backbone for fair housing and equal housing opportunities. To the landlords, when you rent out part or all of your home, it becomes a publicly facing business. You have to play by the rules. And though they may seem like it, these rules are not new.
Personally, I think this is a great system. I have been living with it and educating my clients to follow it for years. It will help clear up the open house panic that can happen when 35+ people converge on a house with applications in hand. It will also cut down on the applicant who offers a few hundred dollars cash to the landlord as a “thank you” for his time from winning the apartment. My hope is that it will help stop landlords from looking for the client that “qualifies more” for the apartment than others. In order to stop discrimination, you have to have a clear set of guidelines.
The pessimistic side of me thinks that landlords will still choose the applicant that fits them best. They will just be a little more sly about it. For the rest of the landlords out there, they will finally start playing by the same rules as property management companies. In a city where tenants rights are very much looked after, I think there needs to be a more systematic education for landlords in order to keep the playing field fair. If you think you have been discriminated against you should contact a real estate lawyer or the Tenants Union of Washington: http://www.tenantsunion.org/en
If you haven’t brushed up on the Seattle Landlord-Tenant Laws in a while, take a few moments here: http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/cs/groups/pan/@pan/documents/web_informational/dpdd016420.pdf
This copy is from July 2016