Though they can’t always agree on what, exactly, a small landlord is, a group of property owners representing what they say is a vital source of Seattle housing is calling for more protections for their industry amid claims that these types of apartment buildings are being wiped out by new development and an avalanche of new tenant laws.
Wednesday morning, the Seattle City Council’s Economic Development, Technology and City Light Committee will hear testimony from participants in a Small Landlord Stakeholder Group convened last year to make recommendations on how best to support alternatives to nationwide developers companies.
According to the group, they are more likely to live in the communities where they own housing, more likely to be personally involved in setting rent and selecting tenants, and more likely to set terms that seek tenant stability over market trends. They are also more fragile than the big companies with much higher personal financial stakes in their investments and are more likely to face personal and legal risks than large developers.
The result is a change in Seattle’s housing mix that includes a decay in “small” buildings. According to the Small Landlord Stakeholder Report (PDF) produced by the group, Seattle lost 14% of its “small rental properties” between 2018 and 2022. According to the report, the “added gain” of units in large buildings (10,749) was “canceled out” by the loss of units in small buildings (11,285). Small properties in this analysis were defined as buildings with 20 or fewer units.
But according to the report, the stakeholder group had a difficult time reaching a consensus on how a small landlord should be defined with only agreement on some key characteristics and a challenge in more hard measures like unit count:
Stakeholder groups represented included Seattle Grassroots Landlords, Rental Housing Association, and Housing Connector, as well as Be:Seattle and Catholic Community Services to provide “tenant advocacy.” The city says the group met six times beginning last August.
The council committee could act on recommendations and issues raised by the group including changes to laws like First in Time, roommate law, and winter and school year eviction restrictions. The group also raised needs for exemptions from the city’s Fair Chance Housing and Right of First Refusal laws for small landlords, as well as an expansion of issues that would qualify a tenant for a Just Cause eviction.
The group also called for free legal help for small landlords mirroring what tenants can receive under the city’s new Right to Counsel law.
Overall, one key message from the group is that small landlords — however you define them — are drowning in a tidal wave of new housing laws in Seattle.
The group’s recommendation for establishment of a formal “small landlord stakeholder advisory committee or expansion of the Renters’ Commission to include landlords as a
“Renting in Seattle” Commission could be one small step in helping these businesses stay afloat.
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