As landlords, we have not consented to having our homes or livelihood co-opted as part of some Seattle City Council testing ground for a reckless social-engineering experiment.
IMAGINE you’re a Seattle landlord renting out your childhood home. You’re first contacted by a highly compensated manager who works at Amazon. He has a great credit score and a high income. But when you meet him, he talks angrily about his prior landlords and neighbors. He sends you abrasive, pushy emails several times a day about his application.
Under Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold’s new first-come, first-served rental measure, approved unanimously last week by the City Council, you’ll now be required to rent your family’s home to the Amazon manager. Under this new law, landlords must provide strict rental requirements and only rent units to the first-in-line, qualified applicant. They may no longer use their personal judgment, unless the landlord lives in the home in question. Otherwise, the landlord would be subjected to litigation by the city’s Office for Civil Rights.
This nightmare is the new reality that the City Council is foisting onto small landlords in 2017. It was a backroom deal that sidestepped public outreach and failed to engage small landlords like myself.
The goal of this policy is noble — it seeks to correct the very real “unconscious bias” that leads some landlords to discriminate based on race. Herbold’s measure was added to an ordinance that bans discrimination by landlords against renters who rely on alternative sources of income, such as Social Security benefits, veteran’s benefits or child-support payments.
But the solution of stripping landlords entirely of their decision making is just plain wrongheaded. As small landlords, we don’t have the luxury of property managers or attorneys to manage Seattle’s lengthy and expensive eviction process if we rent to the wrong tenant.
Councilmember Herbold’s first-come, first-served policy creates an unprecedented and untested social-engineering experiment — again, without the consent of small, private-property owners. I think this experiment will fail. It may not just harm Seattle’s small landlords. It likely could hurt the renters it’s intended to benefit in three ways:
I think this experiment will fail. It may not just harm Seattle’s small landlords. It likely could hurt the renters it’s intended to benefit in three ways:”
• Rents may increase. It’s a best practice among small landlords to underprice rentals by 5 percent to 10 percent to get the best pick of tenants. By taking away any incentive to undercharge, this law will absolutely raise rents.
• Rental units may be pulled off the market. When this law inevitably forces landlords to rent to an angry and abrasive applicant or risk litigation by the city, landlords may pull rentals off the market. Some will be converted into Airbnb units, some will be sold and others will simply stay vacant indefinitely.
• Rentals may no longer be advertised publicly. Small landlords will shift to private marketing because advertising units publicly opens the possibility of litigation for not renting to high-risk tenants. Instead of Craigslist, landlords will be forced to advertise to friends and work colleagues.
As small landlords, we have not consented to having our homes and livelihoods co-opted as part of some City Council testing ground for a reckless experiment. With our city’s epidemic of drug use and homelessness, it reflects wasteful prioritization to commit $200,000 a year to staff and support this gamble.
We were sorry to learn that Mayor Ed Murray signed the legislation on Wednesday without seeking first to research its impact on small landlords, who will be hurt the most by this policy.
We deserve a say in who moves into our properties.