Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell has vetoed a recently passed bill that would have required landlords to report the rent they charge, an effort by the Seattle City Council to gather better data about the local rental market that property owners complained would be onerous and invasive.

The council has 30 days to vote on whether to override or sustain the mayor’s veto. Supporters would need six votes to override the veto. That’s unlikely since the bill originally passed the council 5-4.

The proposal would have required landlords to twice a year report the rent and other fees they charge for each rental unit, plus other details such as square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and whether the house or apartment is occupied. Landlords would have reported the data to a research university and would not have included tenants’ names.

Supporters said the data was essential to inform city policies affecting growth, displacement and affordable housing, and was not a burden on landlords.

Landlords said it would require them to share proprietary information.

Finding reliable information about local rents is a challenge. Some private firms publish information about the costs of new leases, but there is less comprehensive data about rents currently being charged to tenants who stay put. 

The company Dupre + Scott collected rent information voluntarily from local landlords for years, but closed in 2017.

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In a letter to the city clerk Friday, Harrell cited various concerns about the proposal, including its cost. 

City staff estimated the new program could cost $2 million to $5 million. Sponsor Councilmember Alex Pedersen said when the bill passed that he hoped the program could cost less if the city used a competitive bidding process to choose the university that would analyze the data.

“I have asked Executive Departments to identify significant budget reductions for 2023 and 2024,” Harrell wrote. “I cannot support moving forward with an expensive new program that is unlikely to achieve its stated aims and has no clear source of funding to pay for it.”

Harrell also pointed to questions from the head of the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at the University of Washington about the accuracy of the data.

Instead of mandatory reporting, Harrell wrote Friday that he was “calling on private industry to establish a replacement to the now-shuttered Dupre + Scott Apartment Advisors.”

In response, Pedersen and co-sponsor Councilmember Tammy Morales said they were disappointed. 

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Landlords often argue that they provide “naturally occurring affordable housing,” where rents are not subsidized but are below market rate. Pedersen said the city needed better data on where that housing is located.

“Rejecting this law seems to be a victory for landlords unwilling to share data and a loss for those seeking data to make informed decisions on preserving and expanding affordable housing in our city,” Pedersen said in a statement.

Morales said relying on private industry for data “would provide us with incomplete, voluntary data that would cost money every time we seek it.”

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