The recently passed Seattle Open Housing Ordinance (SOHO) is a product of the mayor's Housing Affordability & Livability Agenda (HALA). It will impact landlords and property managers in several ways. In a nutshell, it:
- Requires owners and managers to... accept “legal and verifiable” income from virtually any legal and verifiable source...
- Apply the income multiple threshold to the applicant's share of the rent only...
- Assist applicants (more often, residents) to access rental assistance and subsidy programs... and
- Expand criteria to include a list of all the information, documentation & other submissions required to apply/qualify for the rental home.
- Prohibits preferred employer programs that...
- Offer favorable terms to employees of particular companies which may inadvertently discriminate against some protected groups.
- Requires owners and managers to screen applicants on a first come, first served basis starting with the first applicant to present a completed application, all the required information, documentation and other submissions.
The Source of Income and Preferred Employer provisions are effective September 16, 2016. The First-in-Line provisions are effective January 1, 2017.
Seattle has protected access to housing using Section 8 (vouchers) for 25 years. The original legislation passed unanimously in 1989. The goal was to address homelessness – which totaled 3,000-5,000 per night at the time. It was noted at the time that people of color were over-represented among voucher holders - even though the concept of disparate impact or discriminatory effects had yet to become part of the common vernacular.
SOHO expands the protection to include other forms of lawful and verifiable sources of income, such as:
- Child support
- Social Security
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Veteran’s benefits, etc
SOHO goes further by prohibiting Preferred Employer promotions and requiring a First-in-Line approach to applicant screening.
There is little doubt that the Seattle Office of Civil Rights (SOCR) will be vigorous in their enforcement of the new ordinance. There is equally little doubt that some poor soul will be made an example of. The question becomes:
- How do we avoid being the victim in this tragedy; and
- How will this change impact our ability to adequately screen prospective residents - how will it impact our resident profile?
The answer is:
- Obey that law.
- Utilize a comprehensive screening model. One that delivers thorough & accurate public records searches and that includes rental references - which done well, are the most direct and accurate predictors of future performance.
- Screen applicants in the order received and lease to the first one who meets or exceeds your criteria - period. It is the right thing to do, a well-established best practice and a good way to stay out of court.