A King County judge has struck down a new Seattle rule requiring apartment landlords to rent to the first qualified person who applies for tenancy.

A handful of landlords sued a year ago, saying the “first-in-time” rule passed by the City Council in 2016 violates state protections for rights of property, due process and free speech.

King County Superior Court Judge Suzanne Parisien lauded the City Council’s for aiming to eliminate “the role of implicit bias in tenancy decisions,” but invalidated the law, ruling that “choosing a tenant is a fundamental attribute of property ownership.”

The Rental Housing Association of Washington hailed the decision.

“The ability to select a tenant is fundamental to the successful operation of rental housing, “ Sean Martin, the group’s interim executive director, said in a news release.

“What is equally important, however, is that this ruling restores the ability for rental housing owners to provide opportunities for underqualified renters who would otherwise have difficulty with being first in line to apply for a rental unit or meeting higher screening criteria standards,” Martin added.

It was not clear whether Seattle will appeal the ruling. City Attorney Pete Holmes was not immediately available for more information.

In filing the suit, landlords said the city rule endangered their personal and financial safety.

One plaintiff, Marilyn Yim, who owns a small apartment building where she lives with her husband and three children, said she wanted to choose who’s living next door.

Another small-time landlord, Kelly Lyles, said she was “terrified of no longer having a choice over whom I entrust with the majority of my yearly income – and life savings – not to mention my personal safety.”