Mayor Harrell vetoes bill requiring landlords to submit data on rental rates

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Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell vetoed a bill Friday that would have required landlords to provide proprietary information about their rental units to a research institution, according to a letter from his office.

Council Bill 120325 was narrowly adopted by the Seattle city council by a 5 to 4 vote.

If passed, it would’ve added reporting requirements related to rent and rental housing information, such as prices and square footage, to the existing Rental Registration Inspection Ordinance.

In a letter to Seattle city clerk Monica Martinez Simmons, Harrell says one of the problems with the legislation is that the accuracy of the data collected would be in question.

“A mandatory system compelling landlords to provide commercially sensitive business information about the size, characteristics, price and occupancy status of rental units is unlikely to yield reliable data,” Harrell said, citing information from James Young, Director of the University of Washington’s Washington Center for Real Estate Research.

In a letter to councilmembers a month earlier, Young said that the legislation as drafted “will not yield the level of quality of data the city requires” for two key reasons: the program needs to be voluntary, and that owners and landlords need to be able to trust the entity collecting the information.

Young says that in the past, the city relied on data from a company that had “widespread trust among the private rental housing community,” but since that company closed due to retirement, a viable replacement hasn’t been found.

Harrell also said that financial costs associated with a mandatory reporting system would be too high.

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“City department staff provided estimates that the costs to stand up a new system and provide staffing support could be at least $2 million and as much as $5 million — money that could otherwise directly serve people suffering in the ongoing homelessness crisis,” Harrell said. “Meanwhile, the city is facing a significant budget shortfall, and I have asked executive departments to identify significant budget reductions for 2023 and 2024.”

Seattle city councilmembers Alex Pedersen and Tammy Morales expressed their disappointment with the mayor’s decision in a statement Friday.

“I am deeply disappointed our solution to collect housing data helpful for preventing displacement of economically vulnerable people was not signed into law,” said Pedersen. “Similar laws to collect rental housing data are already in place throughout the nation, so the veto means Seattle is still behind the times.”

“Councilmember Pedersen and I worked together on this bill because we understand that the city needs solid data to help us make smart policy decisions,” said Morales. “The fact of the matter is that we have no reliable source of data on average rents, rent increases, vacancy rates, or year-over-year trends in these areas. Vetoing this bill means relying on a private for-profit firm like the now-shuttered Dupre + Scott.”

The council members argue that had the bill been signed into law, Seattle would have filled a gap in rental housing data that they claim is needed for better-informed policymaking about affordable housing.