Audit shows Seattle’s house and small building rental market is dwindling, down 19% in five years

A report on Seattle’s rental housing shows the city is experiencing consolidation of ownership with larger property owners and a quickly-shaping decline in small rental properties ranging from fourplexes to single family-style homes.

The report from the Department of Construction and Inspections utilizing data from the Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance Program was presented (PDF) to the Seattle City Council’s Housing & Human Services Committee Wednesday as part of an audit to improve the program.

The registration program has struggled with technical limitations and resources and the audit found oversight of the program requiring landlords to register properties and undergo inspections has weakened, City Auditor David Jones said.

Landlords with smaller holdings including many single-property owners have said it is becoming increasingly difficult to continue renting in the city as regulation requirements have increased making it more likely that the properties would be sold to a smaller and smaller market of larger real estate and development companies. The city has convened a Small Landlord Stakeholder Group to try to stem the tide.

According to the report presented to the council committee Wednesday, early efforts may have slowed the transition but the number of low-unit properties including houses and building with up to four units has plunged 19% in only five years. Meanwhile, even the number of large properties registered under the program has dropped as ownership is consolidated and fewer, larger landlords emerge. Continue reading

As properties drop ‘14%’, Seattle small landlords speak up with call for assistance

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.

Source: Small Landlord Stakeholder Group analysis

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. Continue reading

Rent a Capitol Hill apartment from one of these companies? You ‘may have rights under antitrust laws to compensation’ as lawsuit alleges price-fixing violations in Seattle

A lawsuit filed on behalf of tenants accuses a group of leasing companies that control thousands of apartment units in the city including on Capitol Hill of price fixing and antitrust violations that artificially drive rents higher in core Seattle neighborhoods.

Greystar, Trammell Crow Company, Lincoln Property Co., FPI Management, Avenue5, Equity, Essex Property Trust, Thrive, Avalonbay Communities, and Security Properties have been named in the suit for their actions to allegedly control prices at buildings they manage when they “colluded and shared data through RealPage, effectively inflating the prices of multifamily residential real estate in and around downtown Seattle above competitive levels,” according to the federal suit filed Friday.

The Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro firm is seeking renters to joint the potential class action lawsuit. Continue reading

To help find more units for people experiencing homelessness to become renters, Regional Homelessness Authority landlord incentive program provides ‘guaranteed rent’ and ‘good tenant’ coaching

(Image: City of Seattle)

Seattle’s small landlords and those involved with family-owned properties could become a bigger part of solutions to the region’s housing crisis under a new incentive program from the Regional Homelessness Authority designed to make it easier for people without a place to live to rent existing units in the city.

The new package offers private building owners including smaller owners of individual properties incentives including guaranteed rent payment managed by a third party, “good tenant” and “good landlord” coaching to help people transition into the rental environment, and ongoing “human services” support from the authority in exchange for using “alternative screening criteria to promote maximum acceptance of referrals” from the program. Continue reading

Seattle City Council weighs changes to COVID-19 rent repayment plan protections — UPDATE

The Seattle City Council Tuesday afternoon will consider legislation that would amend a Seattle protection for tenants behind on their rent by tying repayment plan requirements to the city’s ongoing COVID-19 civil emergency, not the state’s.

UPDATE: The bill has passed. “Rather than limiting tenants to six months to repay debts accumulated over two years, Council Bill 120305 defines a reasonable repayment plan as one in which debts can be repaid in monthly installments, with no monthly installment exceeding one-third of the tenant’s monthly rent,” an announcement from sponsoring councilmember Dan Strauss’s office reads. “This repayment plan will apply to any rental debts incurred during the City of Seattle’s ongoing COVID-19 civil emergency, or within six-months after the end of the civil emergency.”

The procedural change comes amid legal challenges and will create a new timeline for the protections which require landlords to accept a repayment plan “of rental arrears accrued during or within six months after the termination of the COVID civil emergency.”

Mayor Bruce Harrell has not said what his plans are to terminate the city’s civil emergency, established by Jenny Durkan in March 2020. In February, Harrell decided to end the long string of extensions, bringing an end to the city’s ban on evictions. Continue reading

First in the nation Renters’ Commission trying to pick up the pieces from pandemic including Seattle’s inspection backlog

(Image: CHS)

By Elizabeth Turnbull

Five years after Seattle became the first city in the nation to create a Renters’ Commission, the group of appointees and volunteers is focused on sifting through a pandemic world and addressing needs like securing funding to address a backlog of inspections in Seattle

“Renters have faced [many challenges] with losing jobs and being backed up on rent, and then having the moratorium, you know sweating that every time, not knowing if it was going to be extended or not,” Mac Scotty McGregor, a co-chair of the commission, said. “I know some people want to act like it’s over with, but it’s not.”

Since 2020, and the beginning of the global health crisis, McGregor and others on the commission saw apartment inspections put on hold while residents were also forced to spend more time at home. Continue reading

Seattle weighs options after court strikes down ‘Eviction Defense for Renters’

A key component of Seattle’s efforts to protect renters from eviction as the city emerges from years of COVID-19 restrictions has been struck down by the Washington State Court of Appeals.

CHS reported here in May 2020 on Seattle’s “Eviction Defense for Renters,” a policy that was designed to provide renters with a six-month cushion after the lifting of COVID-19 eviction restrictions. The Seattle City Council legislation from then council president M. Lorena González was intended to create “a defense a tenant may use for six months should a landlord take their tenant to eviction court” and establish that renters can use “non-payment of rent for any reason as a defense to eviction, as long as they submit a declaration of financial hardship to the court. Continue reading

‘Has your landlord violated your rights?’ — Sawant office preparing legislation to strengthen penalties for landlord violations

Kshama Sawant’s office says the District 3 representative on the Seattle City Council is preparing legislation “to strengthen the City’s enforcement procedures when tenant rights are violated” and is calling for tenants across Capitol Hill and the Central District to share their stories.

Has your landlord violated your rights?

  • Ignored necessary repairs, such as for heating and hot water, addressing infestation, or fixing broken appliances?
  • Unjustly withheld security deposits? Threatened retaliation for tenants speaking out?
  • Attempted to unjustly evict? Increased rent without the legally-required notice? Charged extra fees?
  • Other abuses?
    Tell us your story! Fill out the form here.

“My office has heard from renters who have gone months without heat, without hot water, with mold or roach infestations, with holes in the ceilings, windows, and walls, and many other unacceptable housing conditions,” Sawant said in the announcement sent by her City Hall office last week. “We have seen a landlord attempt to intimidate renters into signing away their right to relocation assistance after their building was gutted by fire. We have seen landlords retaliating against renters who contact building management to request basic repairs, and many other abuses of renter rights. Continue reading

With nearly 100,000 behind on rent, Harrell makes Valentine’s Day extension of Seattle’s ban on pandemic evictions

Mayor Bruce Harrell will extend Seattle’s eviction protections another 30 days into February but the new administration says it wants to do more to inform people about the rules and measure its impact on leases and real estate in the city.

The latest extension protecting residential tenants, businesses, and organizations from eviction during the pandemic will keep the restrictions in place through February 14th.

Saying his administration wants to better understand “the algebra behind it,” Harrell said the next executive order includes the creation of “an advisory group for the mayor composed of tenant advocates and small landlords,” and an evaluation of “Seattle’s intergovernmental coordination in receiving and distributing financial assistance to tenants and small landlords.” Harrell also promised a new online “portal” to provide information to tenants and property owners. Continue reading

Sawant picks another fight for tenants, this time over busted boiler on First Hill

As 75,000 District 3 voters prepare to weigh in on her political future, representative Kshama Sawant says she is standing up for the residents of 34 apartment units on First Hill.

The veteran Seattle City Council member has targeted 9th Ave’s Terrace Crest building with claims of landlord negligence including a lack of heating and hot water and is demanding a “rent refund” for residents.

Sawant gathered with residents from Terrace Crest Wednesday to demand the building owner Breier-Scheetz Properties “fix the boiler which has been broken since mid-September, leaving tenants almost entirely without hot water and/or heating for the last two months.” Continue reading