New tenant protections passed into law today

This afternoon the City Council passed an ordinance to create new protections for tenants from discriminatory practices by landlords.

The bill passed today does four things:

  • It bans landlords from discriminating against potential tenants based upon the form of income they use to pay their rent — including most notably the various forms of public and private housing assistance.
  • It creates a “first in time” requirement where landlords must offer a property to the first qualified tenant, rather than cherry picking tenants. This is already identified as a best practice within the rental housing industry and in the Fair Housing Act.
  • It protects tenants who have fallen behind in their rent and have received a “pay or vacate” notification by requiring landlords to accept pledges of financial support from housing assistance agencies as long as those pledges turn into real money within five days.
  • It bans “preferred employer” programs where the employees of a desirable company such as Amazon or Microsoft get preferential treatment over other potential tenants.

This afternoon Council members offered several amendments to fine-tune the details of the bill.

Council members Burgess and Johnson offered one requiring the city auditor to do an evaluation of the impact of the first-in-time requirement. This is driven by concerns that first-in-time would favor those whose work schedule and means allow them to get out to a rental property first, and disadvantage those who face life constraints that make them slower to respond. Council member Herbold clarified that the ordinance already exempt rental units set aside for low-income tenants from the first-in-time requirement., Nevertheless, the amendment was adopted 8-0 (Council member Sawant was absent today).

Council members Burgess and Johnson offered another amendment asking for an evaluation, this time on the impact of requiring landlords to accept short-term vouchers even when the tenants using them cannot show a means for paying the rent beyond the term of the voucher.  This also passed 8-0.

Council member Herbold proposed clarifying the “meaningful access” part of the first-in-time policy, allowing for reasonable accommodation for a disability or those who have limited or no English proficiency. She also proposed some technical changes that streamline the timeline for landlords in following the new first-in-time process. Both of her amendments passed.

Council member Bagshaw offered an amendment clarifying that this ordinance doesn’t apply to single family dwelling, including accessory dwelling units such as backyard cottages, when the owner maintains a primary residence on the property. That also passed unanimously.

Council member Herbold amended the ordinance to add a very important comma. Yes, that really happened. It even required waiving the Council’s standing rules that prohibit the consideration of amendments that had not been circulated before noon on Monday.

The final, amended ordinance passed unanimously.