Denise Myers | Director of Learning
Tenant rights advocates have been fighting landlords through legislation in Seattle for 40 years. This city has many aging buildings and has been through several cycles of economic growth and expansion, resulting in poor living conditions and displacement of low-income members of the community. With each news story involving the actions of slumlords and careless property developers, the City reacts with retaliatory legislation that negatively impacts all landlords – including those who are ethical local citizens who care about their community. RHAWA does its best to defend our members from the most harmful of these measures, while supporting those that offer real benefits. Regrettably, in recent years these laws have become more harmful than helpful. Following are a few examples that Chris Benis reflects on while teaching Seattle Landlord-Tenant Law to members.
For Immediate Release
(206) 905-0609 | smartin@RHAwa.org
Rentberry and Seattle landlord file suit over Seattle ban on rent bidding websites
Seattle, WA – May 23, 2018 – Rentberry, an online rental bidding site, and a Seattle landlord are named as plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed today by Pacific Legal Foundation which seeks to uphold the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech under the US Constitution.
The lawsuit argues that the City is violating those constitutional rights by enforcing a ban on rental bidding websites that facilitate communication between landlords and renters in the City of Seattle. It asks for a preliminarily injunction to restrain the City from enforcing the ordinance in the short term.
The ordinance, passed unanimously by Seattle City Council in March of this year, was cited as necessary for the city to get ahead of an emerging technology with Councilmembers citing Uber and Airbnb as disrupting markets without being regulated. The ordinance also claimed that rent bidding sites may conflict with the City’s “first in time” rental ordinance – that ordinance has since been overturned by courts after being challenged successfully by Pacific Legal Foundation on four separate constitutional issues.
“Rent bidding sites offer renters and landlords to settle on mutually agreeable terms, terms which could greatly benefit the renter such as negotiating lower rent or deposit. The mom and pop landlords that are RHAWA’s members know the value of a great renter. It’s unfortunate that Seattle City Council chose to view rent bidding sites as a threat rather than an opportunity for renters to negotiate with landlords,” said RHAWA Board President William Shadbolt. “Blocking innovation is not a progressive solution.”
Delaney Wysingle, the named landlord plaintiff, sites Rentberry’s platform as a way “to easily communicate with his tenants...to facilitate easier communication with both existing and prospective tenants.” Mr. Wysingle notes that he had expected to be able to advertise a rental vacancy this summer to save time and settle on a mutually beneficial arrangement with a renter, and that the ordinance has unconstitutionally deprived him of the ability to do so.
About Rental Housing Association of Washington
RHAWA is the State’s largest association of rental property owners, managers, and investors representing over 5,400 rental housing owners statewide, with over 4,000 owning units in the City of Seattle. Of those Seattle owners, 90% own less than 10 rental units. A not-for-profit organization, its mission is to advance the general welfare of the rental housing industry and provide its members with a full range of products and services including tenant screening, leasing forms, and education.
Yesterday, RHAWA transmitted the following letter to Seattle City Council and the Mayor stating our opposition to the proposed head tax for funding initiatives aimed at reducing homelessness.
May 9, 2018
Seattle City Council
PO Box 34025
Seattle, WA 98124-4025
Re: Employee head tax
The Rental Housing Association of Washington represents more than 5,300 small, independent landlords across Washington State.
Our members live and work in the City of Seattle and are good neighbors providing a vital community benefit – locally-owned rental housing; the most organically affordable housing in the city. Small, independent landlords seek stable tenancies and tenant-retention thru keeping rents below market, and by giving opportunities to people who often would not qualify for corporately-owned housing.
As small business owners, our members rely upon a stable economic environment to ensure stable and successful tenancies. We oppose CB 119250 and encourage the Council to seek a regional approach by coordinating its work with the One Table effort.
Retaining affordable rental housing under local ownership is a critical component to preventing rental housing costs from rising higher, and for ensuring accessibility to housing for all.
How does a tax on jobs harm tenants in Seattle? Every property that our members sell means one more property that is no longer available as an affordable rental unit. A loss of employment due to a tax on jobs increases the likelihood that landlords will exit the industry to offset their financial risk, and that new landlords will not invest in the city. Both mean less rental housing – the most affordable housing solution.
RHAWA supported the City’s 2016 Housing Levy because it laid out a clear plan and was a societal solution to a societal problem. However, even with record revenues, including $700 million per year from business taxes for the general fund, the City's budget director warns that the City is facing deficits in 2019 and 2020.
We recognize the need for more affordable housing in the city, but taxing jobs and discouraging the development that has been funding the city budget is not the right solution. We ask that Council focuses its efforts and resources on systemic and sustainable solutions, and that you vote no on CB 119250.
Interim Executive Director, RHAWA
Lawsuit against Seattle’s “Prohibiting Criminal Background Screening” Ordinance filed May 1
Seattle, WA – Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) and the Rental Housing Association of Washington (RHAWA) held a joint press conference on May 1 to announce a legal challenge against the City of Seattle's law which bans landlords from considering criminal history when screening an applicant.
Click here to view the press conference recording.
The ordinance is based on the flawed reasoning that inequities of our criminal justice system can be solved by limiting the rights of property owners from making informed decisions about the person(s) with whom they enter into rental agreements.
“Rental property owners recognize the struggle for applicants with criminal convictions history and the industry supports measures like Certificates of Restoration of Opportunities and simple “ban the box” legislation to ensure that an individual’s full list of qualifications are considered. However, the ostensibly blanket restrictions imposed by the City put rental property owners at too high of a risk of exposure to the safety of other tenants and their property,” said RHAWA Interim Executive Director, Sean Martin. “RHAWA supports second-chance housing and educates its members on HUD guidelines and state law which restrict how criminal records history may be considered, including an individualized assessment which consider factors such as the nature and severity of a criminal conviction.”
To learn more about our position on this issue, and our supported policy solutions aimed at addressing the issue of ex-offenders seeking housing options, click the file attachment at the end of this post.
For more information contact:
Heather Pierce, Deputy Director of Government Affairs
(206) 905-0611 | hpierce@RHAwa.org
Chartrice Young | Tenant Screening Director
There are several new changes in Tenant Screening within the City of Seattle this year. I’d like to talk to you about two of them that affect our Seattle Housing Providers right now. As many of you know, the First in Time Ordinance has been struck down and Fair Chance Housing is now in place. Let’s look at how these ordinances affect tenant screening and selection as we move into this busy rental season.
Sean Martin | Interim Executive Director
The market in Seattle is changing. Simply posting an ad on Craigslist isn't going to cut it when 12,000 new units are coming online in 2018 with more coming in 2019 as well as talk about upzoing and the development that will come along with denser zoning and a denser city. For independent housing providers, this means fresh competition for your units as we enter into the busy rental season. It's vitally important that your online advertising includes essential items, looks really good, and is complete. It's also important to expand your postings beyond Craigslist. For quite awhile, Craigslist was the premiere online destination for rentals. When people were looking for a place to live, they turned to the popular local site. However, like everything else, times have changed. The rules on building a quality ad remain the same no matter the platform you plan to use.
Being a housing provider always has it's little annoyances. Some of them are bigger than others. But if you want to get involved in rental housing, there are some things that you'll have to face on your journey to building your own real estate portfolio. Many people get into this business and think that all it involves is signing a generic lease and collecting the rent. If you're hiring management, it can be like that, however, most people self manage due to the expense of management. If you're going to self-manage, then owning an income property is more complicated than "set it up and forget it!" An income property is a housing business. We say it all the time here at RHAWA, "Rental housing is a business; treat it like a business." Once you've changed your perspective, things become much easier. But there are some pitfalls to watch out for and RHAWA has done it's best to try and solve them for you!
If you have been thinking about getting into a larger investment within rental housing, buying yet more houses might seem a bit unwieldy. It can be difficult to make repairs and keep up with tenants when your investments are all over town! However, the multi-family building has the advantage of having multiple units in one spot. When most people think of apartment buildings, they might think of massive buildings that cost millions of dollars, but that's not always the case. Small buildings starting as small as a duplexes or triplexes and going up to 4-10 units can be well within someone's price range. Many of these buildings are coming up for sale as older owners look to exit the business. This means there is tremendous market opportunity and these buildings usually have tenants already in place and they are already generating income. This can make getting financing or finding a partner much easier than buying an empty house.
Real Estate Investment takes many forms. It's been a popular way to gain income for awhile. Online websites like BiggerPockets, Landlordology, and popular YouTube videos have reasonable sounding people standing on camera talking about how they built their real estate "empire" and ended the 9-5 grind. The reality, as any RHAWA member will tell you, is quite a bit different. However, if you're looking at real estate investing, it is definitely a journey. Let's talk about that rental housing journey.
Pets and Service Animals are a subject that we get many calls to the RHAWA Resource Desk about from our members. Many people have some anxiety about this policy and having to allow an animal when they have a no pets policy. The decision to accept pets or not is up to you. There is an argument for accepting pets, especially in the single family home market, however service animals are quite different. There are some significant differences between Pets and Service Animals. Since most of the confusion has to do with service animals, let's talk about pets first.