Seattle landlords will soon be required to report rents, but will they comply?

Seattle landlords will soon be required to report how much they’re charging for rent. A recent lack of compliance with similar registry laws complicates the potential future success of the program.

‘We’re so far behind on this’: Seattle council looks to catch up on affordable housing data

Tuesday, the Seattle City Council approved on a 5-4 margin an ordinance that requires landlords to report to the city twice annually information about their rentals, including square footage, number of bedrooms, occupancy status, and rent cost. The legislation is intended to improve the city’s data collection on its rental housing capacity before the city begins drafting its Comprehensive Plan, a growth management strategy through the next decade.

The City of Seattle currently uses Census data to inform its housing policy, information that is not detailed enough to satisfy the demands of the Comprehensive Plan.

“[This bill] will efficiently fill a long-standing gap in data collection and analysis for Seattle’s rental housing inventory, which will generate several benefits, including key data needed to measure and prevent economic displacement of existing residents from our dynamic and growing city,” Councilmember Alex Pedersen, the bill’s sponsor, said Tuesday.

The legislation builds off of the requirement that landlords register their units with the City. Analysis of that registry, conducted by the Rental Housing Association of Washington, found that 3,000 fewer rental properties were registered year over year between May 2021 and January 2022. Those figures are concurrent with explosive population growth in the city, with the Census reporting that Seattle’s population grew by nearly 20% in the last decade.

Seattle loses nearly 3,000 rental properties in less than a year

That data calls into question the extent to which Seattle’s landlords have complied with the registry, and whether they will do so in the future.

“I understand that rental housing providers have had to absorb many changes and requirements over the past few years,” Pedersen continued.

“The goal here is to collect unvetted data that the entire council knows will be incomplete and misleading. That’s by design. It allows each council member to abuse the data to promote whatever policy proposal they favor at the time,” KTTH’s Jason Rantz said.

Tuesday’s bill, as passed, calls out the potential of noncompliance. Currently, the city’s office of building inspections fines non-compliant landlords $150 per day for the first 10 days and up to $500 per day after that. Failure to not submit the information requested under the new legislation would result in a $500 first-time penalty, and $1,000 fines for subsequent violations.

A memo between The Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) and the council points out that “Enforcement … will be a challenge, as reviewing the declarations to determine if they are truthful and that the information provided to the third-party vendor is accurate will require more staffing for compliance review and follow-up enforcement.”

“SDCI will also need at least one position to support enforcement of the legislation. It is important the landlord declaration requirement does not go into effect until after the system is in place to collect rent Data.”

The new requirement on landlords was adjusted before final passage to include a sunset clause: the law would become void in December 2025. It has yet to be signed into law by Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, and would take effect in 2023.

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