Seattle Landlords Feel Vilified By Overly Punitive City Ordinances

A new Seattle rental housing study says Seattle landlords feel vilified by overly punitive city ordinances which they believe are actually inadvertently reducing rental housing access.

The study from University of Washington Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology says a large majority of “landlords who responded to the survey reported feeling left out of debates about the development of the City’s housing ordinances and only 10% supported any of the central goals the City has adopted in developing new housing policies.

“Large majorities of landlords believe that ordinances to limit move-in fees, the First-in-Time ordinance, and the ordinance to limit criminal background checks are likely to be ineffective,” the study said.

First-in-Time ordinance a real negative for Seattle landlords

“Attitudes toward the First-in-Time ordinance are especially negative, with large majorities of landlords – and especially those reporting flexible rental standards – reporting that the ordinance places an undue burden on landlords and may reduce housing access for lower-income renters. About 40% of landlords have sold, or plan to sell, property in response to City ordinances governing the housing market,” the study says.

Highlights of the Seattle landlords portion of the survey

    • “Our survey of over four thousand landlords in the Seattle area indicates that the majority of them own or manage a small number of units and/or buildings, and more than half maintain rental property as a way to supplement their main income or support their retirement.
    • “Recent rent increases tended to be more common, and larger, among landlords managing large- (20+ unit) and moderate-sized buildings than among landlords managing smaller buildings, and are also relatively large among landlords who manage multiple buildings. While landlords most often cited increasing taxes and repair costs as the primary motivations for rent increases, landlords managing larger buildings were especially likely to report that recent rent increases have been in response to recent City ordinances.
    • A majority of landlords report that they use a standard set of criteria in deciding to whom to rent their property, but more than half also report that they exercise flexibility in those criteria. Managers of larger buildings are more likely than managers of smaller buildings to employ standard rental criteria and are less likely to relax these criteria in a way that may allow for tenants with imperfect applicant characteristics.

Seattle landlords provide thoughts on city ordinances

Overall, the landlords who responded to the survey appear to see limited value in the city council’s efforts to affect the rental market. Respondents were asked to indicate which of the following goals the council should adopt in establishing housing policies:

    • Increasing the supply of affordable housing
    • Reducing risks to landlords associated with providing affordable housing units
    • Increasing the overall supply of rental units
    • Increasing affordable options for protected classes of renters
    • Making it easier for landlords to terminate leases

“Just over 9% of the respondents indicated an interest in more than one of these goals. However, no individual goal garnered support from more than about 1% of respondents, and the overwhelming majority (89%) of landlords selected none of these options as worthy policy goals for the council,” the study said.

“Landlords’ general dissatisfaction with city ordinances is amplified by the fact that very few landlords feel that the City’s ordinances reflect landlords’ interests,” the study says.

Landlords’ response to ordinances

“We also asked landlords how they have responded to, or plan to respond to, the City’s ordinances.

“About one in five landlords who raised their rent in the past year report that these increases were in response to new city ordinances,” the study said.

Summary of Seattle landlord study

“Overall, the results of the survey highlighted in this report indicate that basic rental practices – from the use of strict tenant requirements to patterns of rent increases – vary sharply by the characteristics of landlords and their properties. These findings point to opportunities to develop housing policies that engage the varied strategies and priorities of a diverse set of landlords.

“However, there appears to be a strong consensus among landlords that the development of city housing ordinance has largely ignored landlords’ perspectives, resulting in a set of ordinances perceived by landlords as highly burdensome and ineffective.

“In addition, responses to open-ended survey questions point to substantial misinformation about City ordinances, suggesting potential value in efforts to engage landlords on the content, intent, and operation of City housing ordinances,” the study says.

Get the full study report here.

Survey methodology:

The survey went live in January, 2018 with invitations via email to 18,477 individuals represented in data from the City’s Rental Registry and Inspection Ordinance (RRIO) program. Representatives from WMFHA and RHAWA also sent email messages to their members, as well as calls in their organization newsletters, requesting that they complete the survey. Between February 9, 2018, and April 2, 2018, four email reminders were sent to all individuals on the RRIO list. Below we provide a description of basic analyses of the data from over four thousand responses received as of April 10, 2018.