During a rally outside a landlord trade show on Tuesday, state Rep. Nicole Macri announced she’d be introducing legislation to lift the state’s contentious ban on rent control.
Rent control was banned in Washington State in 1981, on the heels of an unsuccessful Seattle initiative to establish a rent-control system in 1980. That initiative appeared on the same ballot that first elected Ronald Reagan president, during a time when conservative organizing was strong.
With rising rents in Seattle in recent years, though, the state on the rent-control issue has gained mainstream momentum. In 2015, the City Council passed a resolution calling for the law to be changed. The city’s 2017 legislative agenda, which was approved by the City Council earlier this week, also calls for “repeal or modification” of the law “to allow local governments to protect tenants from rent increases, without causing a negative impact on the quality or quantity of housing supply.”
The debate around rent control has been bubbling in renter-advocacy circles for quite some time, though.
Landlord advocacy group Rental Housing Association of Washington (RHA), which takes credit for the state’s ban on rent control, claimed in a recent blog post that “rental housing costs will soar, new rental housing construction will stop, and housing opportunities and mobility will be limited to anyone not lucky enough to already be living in their preferred rental unit.”
“The cause of increasing rents in the region is due to a lack of supply of housing,” said RHA spokesperson Sean Martin over email. “Rent control would further restrict construction of new housing and exacerbate this problem. The best place for state and local governments to look when addressing housing affordability issues is the basic lack of housing supply and how they can encourage more construction of housing.”
Martin pointed to New York and San Francisco as examples of why rent control won’t work. Those cities employ a specific form of rent control: rent stabilization. But it’s not the only form that rent control can take—and the state’s ban could reach wider than just stabilization.
Oregon, for example, has a similar statewide ban on rent control. A Portland ordinance that would require landlords to pay relocation after certain rent increases is currently tied up in the state courts, although one court has already ruled in the city’s favor. (Seattle City Councilor Kshama Sawant has been mulling a similar ordinance.)
The ordinance wouldn’t enact rent control anywhere—it would simply allow individual jurisdictions to establish rent-control laws that work for them. If this ordinance does eventually pass through the state legislature, it’d be up to Seattle to pass its own regulations.
This article has been updated with comment from the Rental Housing Association of Washington.