The one-year ban targets platforms that facilitate prospective tenants bidding against each other. The Associated Students of the University of Washington board approved a resolution late last year calling on the city to take action.
The Seattle City Council voted Monday to impose a one-year moratorium on rent-bidding platforms, which allow landlords to take competing bids from prospective tenants and then sign leases with the highest bidders — a little bit like eBay, but for apartments.
The council began looking at the platforms after the board of directors of the Associated Students of the University of Washington approved a student-senate resolution calling on the city to ban them.
The student group’s resolution late last year named two platforms, RentBerry and Biddwell, that have been active in Seattle.
By allowing landlords to easily take bids, the platforms can drive up the cost of housing, and that isn’t welcome in a city where “apartment values are already high, driving some students into homelessness,” the resolution said.
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The council approved the moratorium with an 8-0 vote Monday, also calling for a review of how the platforms relate to city housing laws. Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who sponsored the ordinance, attributed the move to the UW students “putting this on our radar.”
“We have an opportunity to be proactive, to be thoughtful and to really think about how we fold these new technologies into our regulatory system,” Mosqueda said.
The rent-bidding services are relatively new. Both San Francisco-based RentBerry and Vancouver, B.C.-based Biddwell launched in 2016.
RentBerry CEO Alex Lubinsky expressed disappointment over the council’s vote. In an interview, Lubinsky said his platform can save tenants money by allowing them to compare themselves to other applicants and seek discounts.
“If you know you’re much more qualified … why should you offer what the landlord asks?” he said.
An email requesting comment from Biddwell wasn’t immediately returned Monday.
Though RentBerry says its platform streamlines the rental-application process and offers transparency to landlords and prospective tenants alike, Lubinsky told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2016 that landlords using RentBerry could expect to see average income increases of 5 percent, the UW student group pointed out.
Seattle’s ordinance prohibits landlords and tenants from using such platforms, and taps the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections to enforce the ban.
The ordinance also requests that a number of city departments work together to determine whether the platforms are compliant with Seattle’s housing laws and to carry out a study of how the platforms may impact the city’s housing market.
A new city policy requiring landlords to choose among qualified tenants on a first-come, first-served basis took effect last year. Asked about that policy, Lubinsky said RentBerry relies on the landlords who use its platform to obey local laws.
The moratorium on rent-bidding platforms is scheduled to take effect 30 days after its approval by Mayor Jenny Durkan and is set to expire a year after that.
“I look forward to signing the ordinance,” Durkan said in a statement Monday, applauding Mosqueda and the students “who quickly worked to ensure that any new platforms focus on fair and equitable access to housing.”
Lubinsky said he still hopes to do business in Seattle. “It’s only a year — it’s not forever,” he said of the city’s temporary ban.
The council could choose to extend the ban for another year, the ordinance says.