Seattle Council forces rental owners to accept first applicant

15. August 2016 09:39 by Admin

On Monday, August 8, Seattle City Council adopted new legislation which forces rental housing owners in Seattle to process applications beginning with the first peson in line (submits a complete application w/supporting info, and pays a screening fee). Called "first in time," the legislation essentially mandates a "first come, first served" policy. While this is the recommended practice for conducting tenant screening, it omits several key variables in the screening process, such as being able to interview an applicant, as well as having discretion to rent to a lesser qualified individual who is second in line to give that individual a new housing opportunity.

Setting aside the normal fair housing rules related to protected classes, there has always been a component during the screening process which allowed owners to "interview" an applicant as a part of their process to determine if that person was a good match. This process is no different than a job hiring process where candidates are interviewed based upon their qualifications, and an offer is then made to the person who both meets the minimum qualification requirements, but who also is the best fit at the company.

In essence, this new legislation does the equivalent of forcing an employer to hire the first applicant who meets minimum qualifying standards without the opportunity to interview that person. Perhaps there is a reason why Seattle is the first city to pass such legislation. It either doesn't make sense, is illegal, or is a combination of both.

For rental housing owners this poses a serious threat to the screening process, and removes a great deal of discretion owners would typically be allowed to determine whether or not an applicant is someone they would wish to rent to.

Picture yourself as a woman who owns a large apartment building with a majority of female tenants. Now, imagine having a vacancy and the first person to view the apartment and apply for tenancy ends up sharing a completely misogynistic perspective of life. The Seattle first in time policy will no longer allow that apartment owner to deny that applicant for being a misogynist. Essentially, Seattle City Council has just enacted legislation which protects individuals who have any number of reprehensible life-perspectives from being denied housing by an owner who does not wish to rent to such a person.

This, of course, leads to the logical conclusion that rental housing owners are now going to ratchet up their screening criteria to a very high standard to ensure that the first person in line who applies is very well qualified. That will not help many of the individuals already struggling to find housing in an increasingly competitive and expensive rental housing market.

Perhaps most ironic about a "first in time" policy is that the individuals most likely to be able to respond and apply quickly for a vacant unit are those with higher incomes who have quick, easy access to internet and transportation.

RHAWA is reviewing this legislation, and expects to have more information and recommendations available for members soon.

The "first in time" rules take effect January 1, 2017.

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August 2016 09:39

Seattle source of income discrimination legislation raises issue of “What’s in a name?”

14. July 2016 08:13 by Admin

Source of income legislation has slowly worked its way through the legislative process in the city of Seattle, with revised legislation scheduled for a special July 22nd committee meeting.

Among other issues recently legislated in Seattle, this may be the most confusing as it has quickly morphed from “source of income protections” to including regulation of tenant screening practices.

The process was borne out of Mayor Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) stakeholder committee last year which found general support for a number of strategies recommended for relieving housing affordability issues in Seattle.

Final HALA recommendations framed the source of income discrimination problem, and directed a specific solution to this issue.

“Renters who receive a verifiable source of ongoing legal income, such as Social Security, child support, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Housing Choice vouchers (or any other governmental or nonprofit subsidy) deserve a rental environment that treats these types of income fairly. Currently, it is illegal under the City’s Fair Housing law to discriminate against a tenant based on the use of a Housing Choice voucher. The City should expand protection to include other verifiable sources of income. Representatives of the City of Seattle, tenant advocates, and local landlords should collaborate in determining which additional sources of income should be protected.”

Setting aside ongoing concerns about short-term rental vouchers and a lack of a floor on minimum income required to ensure an applicant can pay for life necessities, original legislation presented on source of income discrimination was narrowly tailored to ensuring all legal sources of income were considered by rental owners when reviewing an applicant’s ability to pay rent.

Now, after subsequent stakeholder meetings, Councilmember Lisa Herbold has expanded the legislation to outright regulation of the tenant screening process. The new draft – which accommodates zero RHAWA concerns, but addresses many raised by tenant and low-income advocates - has moved the source of income legislation to a point of confusion.

The legislation now seeks to address “first in time” – the concept of first come, first serve when screening applicants, as well as situations where a screening reveals insufficient or concerning information on the applicant.

Practically speaking, “first in time” was considered best practice for an owner to exercise when determining how to run their tenant screening practice, and is not a new concept to the industry. The first applicant or group of applicants to complete the required rental application(s) and pay the screening fee(s) are first in line to be screened and qualified for the rental unit.

The newly amended legislation, however, overly complicates an owners’ ability to make tenant screening decisions without fear of liability or reprisal by an applicant. Concerns within the draft legislation are numerous, many details of which are unknown to an owner during the screening process, such as:

***A requirement to tell applicants of the time available for them to apply, and where they would fall in line with other applicants.

***A requirement that an owner disclose what additional criteria an applicant may have to satisfy if unknown scenarios were to arise in the screening process.

***A requirement which would allow applications sent by mail to be placed in the order of screening from the date which it was stamped as mailed by the post office – without consideration that another applicant may have applied in-person that same date and already have been approved and signed an agreement prior to receiving any applications in the mail.

Additional requirements for situations involving adverse action where an applicant needs to provide additional information to an owner, or an owner would approve an applicant pending the receipt of additional securities, force owners to give the applicant at least seven days to satisfy either of those issues. That’s seven days of uncollected rent and lost opportunities to rent to another tenant who is qualified and prepared to sign a lease.

A mandate for owners to allow the applicant seven additional days to comply with providing additional information or securities also appears likely to incentivize owners to simply deny an applicant without opportunity for additional consideration under adverse action – a detriment to the very individuals the legislation is intended to assist in finding housing.

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July 2016 08:13

City of Seattle Roundtable: Tools to Preserve Affordable Private Market Housing

31. May 2016 13:57 by Admin

The City of Seattle is convening a roundtable discussion of multifamily rental property owners to provide advice and feedback on several proposed and existing tools to preserve affordable private market housing. RHA has partnered with the Seattle Office of Housing to engage property owners in this conversation on a toolkit of strategies to preserve existing affordable housing as part of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA).

HALA, convened by Mayor Murray, is a multi-pronged approach to increase the affordability and availability of housing in Seattle. Part of the HALA road map charges the City with developing a program to preserve existing housing in the private market that is affordable to low-income people. The City Council has also prioritized preservation by creating a new loan program as part of the 2016 Seattle Housing Levy on the August 2 ballot that can help property owners make critical repairs and keep rents affordable. 

Topics to be covered at the roundtable include:

  • New Ideas – Share your ideas to preserve existing affordable housing.
  • Rental Affordability and Rehabilitation Program - Low cost financing to assist with property rehabilitation in exchange for affordable rents.
  • Preservation Tax Exemption - Tax exemption in exchange for reserving 25% of building as affordable to low-income renters.
  • Sale of Property – City financed purchase of privately owned building.
  • Notice of Sale - Required property owner notification to city 60 days before listing, if any unit in the building has a rent affordable to tenants earning 80% of Area Median Income or below (currently required).

Be part of the conversation.

Monday, June 13
4:00 to 6:00 PM
Seattle City Hall, Bertha Knight Landes Room
600 Fourth Avenue

Refreshments will be served.

Please register at: http://bit.ly/PrezTools

Inquiries may be sent to the Seattle Office of Housing at 206.684.0721 or housing@seattle.gov.

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May 2016 13:57