Nelson, Breaking from Frequent Ally Pedersen, Says Landlords Shouldn’t Have to Divulge Rents

City Councilmembers Alex Pedersen (l) and Sara Nelson (r)
City Councilmembers Alex Pedersen (l) and Sara Nelson (r)

By Erica C. Barnett

When City Councilmember Alex Pedersen proposed legislation that would require landlords to report basic information about their rental units, such as the size of each unit they own and how much it rents for, twice a year, his intent wasn’t to make it harder for small landlords to stay in business.

In fact, one of the goals of the proposal was to provide data to demonstrate the value of protecting so-called “naturally occurring affordable housing”—private, nonsubsidized apartments that rent below market rate—against development, through limits on density in areas that might otherwise be redeveloped into high-rise apartments.

So it was somewhat surprising when, earlier this month, Pedersen’s frequent ally Sara Nelson accused him of trying to impose onerous regulations that would “burden small landlords” who are “really struggling to deal with the impacts of the pandemic on their businesses.” Comparing housing to consumer goods, Nelson said the legislation would force landlords to divulge “proprietary” information that other types of businesses don’t have to disclose.

“We don’t ask other small business owners for this kind of detailed information,” Nelson said during a May 20 meeting of the council’s renter’s rights committee. “For example, we don’t ask all produce vendors to submit the kinds of vegetables they sell and the prices they charge.” (Actually, we do, and on a much larger scale.)

Pedersen, seeming a bit startled by the analogy, pointed out that “the current prices of products are publicly available, whereas we don’t know what the current contract rents are for an apartment project.”

“The problem here is that the price of housing is not known,” added committee chair Kshama Sawant, who supports Pedersen’s legislation. “I don’t understand how it is a burden to disclose the amount of rent you charge—it seems to be the most basic form of information that landlords should be required to share.”

In response, Nelson said people can find out what rents landlords are charging, “kind of, when you’re looking for units,” and that if the city wants to know more about rents they should hire a contractor to do a study. Then she said supporters of the legislation should be honest and acknowledge that “this information is going to be used for other political purposes, such as rent control.”

Sawant, a socialist, supports rent control; Pedersen, a former aide to onetime City Council member Tim Burgess, does not.

Prior to 2017, the private firm Dupre + Scott issued detailed, informative reports about rents and rental trends, but since they closed, the city has had to rely on high-level Census information to keep tabs on rental data, including residential displacement rates. (In contrast, housing purchase prices are monitored by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, which regularly issues detailed, neighborhood-level reports.)

As we reported in March, Pedersen has argued that knowing more about the rents landlords charge for various apartment sizes will help inform the 2024 update of Seattle’s comprehensive plan, the document that governs rules around land use and development in the city. “We really want to do more to prevent displacement, prevent economic displacement of existing residents, and we need to understand where this below market housing exists,” Pedersen said

The committee voted 3-2 to move the legislation forward to the full council, which will take it up on Tuesday; Council President Debora Juarez joined Nelson in voting “no,”

8 thoughts on “Nelson, Breaking from Frequent Ally Pedersen, Says Landlords Shouldn’t Have to Divulge Rents”

  1. Aren’t employers going to be required to post salaries? How is that somehow less onerous than a rentier divulging how much unearned value they are taking? Last I looked 1/5 of the precious single family homes in seattle were rentals: they are not where families invest in their neighborhood or community. It’s where they invest in some rentier’s retirement plan or finance their travel.

    I continue to be disappointed in Sawant’s support for rent control. There is no surer way to destroy the housing stock of city, short of saturating bombing as someone said. Rather that watch the housing stock get hollowed out by rising property taxes and static rents, tax the land value and force landlords to develop unused land or improve properties to match the rents they charge. Rents chase wages, like a buoy on the rising tide, and not everyone can rise with it.

    1. You have never owned a rental unit, based on ” divulging how much unearned value they are taking”…….

  2. Considering the bullying and harassment small landlords deal with after Sawant vilified them, and having had our phone numbers and names made public on city pages registering our rentals, these added policies target and demonize mom and pop landlords. I hope the city council does the right thing and votes no.

  3. I read the legislation. It is short and vague. The requirement is that landlords submit their rental data not to the city but directly “to a third party like a research university for analysis”. The third party is not identified or selected. Why does the city want a third party in charge of this data? Does the third party then own the data? And will sell it back to the city which required its collection? Why would the city fund “at least one
    Planning and Development Specialist II position” to basically enforce data collection for a third party? Can the third party sell the data to other landlords or investment firms to make financial decisions? Seems like very valuable information that a commercial real estate company would pay for. Maybe these questions were answered in the session but it is not described in the legislation. Debora Juarez also voted against it.

    1. So what if a landlord just doesn’t reply? I would never send this information to a 3rd party. As long as I don’t reply, do my rental units even exist in the system? I’m sure the City government could use tax records to figure out I’m not complying, but then what?

  4. Pedersen’s real objective is, as the article notes, “limits on density”. So far as I can tell stopping or slowing increased density is behind everything Pedersen does about housing. Less density means less housing which means higher housing costs for everyone except the few would might benefit from small apartments not being developed into larger apartments that would house more people. Pedersen’s benefit is the continued support of homeowners who want to keep their single family zoning intact. And Sawant, as usual, doesn’t seem to care much about increasing the amount of housing built.

  5. If the city created artificial scarcity with vegetable production like it does with housing, damn right it should ask for prices for them too.

    Landlords are benefiting from a supply-constrained market, and providing a little data is the least they can do.

    1. A supply-constrained market is exactly the problem. And Pedersen hopes to keep it that way by using data such as this to fight against more development that would increase the amount of housing and bring prices down.

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