Plaintiffs Matthew Bentley, Wesley Williams, and Joseph Briere—along with their landlords, plaintiffs Sarah Pynchon and William Shadboldt—know firsthand that Seattle does not respect tenants’ privacy. On May 14, 2018, Ms. Pynchon and Mr. Shadbolt received an inspection notice for the rental home located at 12708 2nd Avenue, NW, the house in which Bentley, Williams, and Briere live with their three roommates. These tenants like their home, treasure their privacy, and have a good relationship with their landlords. To that end, on July 11, 2018, the six housemates wrote to the city to object to the inspection. The letter stated that they would not voluntarily allow a city or private inspector inside the home. The tenants’ letter stated that they were invoking their “rights under Article I, Section 7 of the Washington Constitution, which requires the government to obtain a warrant based upon individualized probable cause before it can conduct a rental inspection without consent.”
On July 14, 2018, Ms. Pynchon, their landlord, also wrote to the city to inform the city that the residents of the property were refusing a government inspection of their home and that she fully respected her tenants’ decision in the matter. When the city responded to Ms. Pynchon’s letter it extended the date by which the inspection must occur to October 15, 2018, but otherwise ignored the tenants’ constitutional arguments against the inspection—indeed, the city has never actually responded to the housemates, just the landlords. The letter threatened Ms. Pynchon and Mr. Shadboldt with penalties of up to $150 a day for the first ten days of noncompliance and $500 per day thereafter for their tenants’ refusal to grant consent to the city’s inspection.
After the tenants sent another letter refusing to submit to an inspection, the city responded on November 14, 2018, to Ms. Pynchon and threatened action against her for respecting her tenants’ privacy: “[U]nder RRIO it is your obligation to complete the inspection. Any enforcement action resulting from failure to complete the RRIO inspection will be taken against you. At the same time, your tenants have an obligation to not unreasonably deny you access for activities such as an inspection.”