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Seattle City Council votes to temporarily ban ‘rent-bidding’ platforms

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The ordinance calls for a year’s moratorium and more study

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Without enough housing to go around for Seattle’s booming population, home prices in the real estate market are being driven up by bidding wars—especially at lower price points. And with demand for housing at an all-time high, various startups like Rentberry have popped up to encourage bidding wars on rental properties, too.

Rentberry currently doesn’t have any listings available for bidding in Seattle, and after today’s Seattle City Council vote, it’s possible that it never will—at least not for the next year or so. Council Bill 119198, introduced by city councilor Teresa Mosqueda’s office and passed unanimously by the City Council on Monday, puts a temporary moratorium on rent-bidding platforms and requests a study on the impact such services would have on Seattle’s rental market.

In addition to nodding toward Seattle’s “very competitive” rental market “causing scarcity issues for tenants,” the ordinance suggests that such platforms might be out of compliance with some of Seattle’s renter-protection laws.

That includes the controversial “first-in-time” law, which requires most landlords to rent to the first qualified candidate to apply to live in a rental property. That law is currently mired in a lawsuit supported by landlord advocacy group Rental Housing Association of Washington.

“The City of Seattle is committed to ensuring equitable access to rental housing, and platforms that require use of a computer and internet in order to access rental housing may hinder the ability for certain communities to meaningfully identify and obtain needed housing,” the ordinance continues.

Specifically, the ordinance prohibits use of “online or application-based” platforms that facilitate auctions over rental terms—including not just the base monthly price, but lease length and other terms—for one year, starting on the effective date of the legislation, usually 30 days after being signed by the mayor. The City Council will have an option to extend the period.

The ordinance directs that, during the course of the next year, the Office of Housing, the Office of Civil Rights, and the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections will conduct a review of the program from a few different angles, including compliance with Seattle laws and impacts to housing equity.

An inventory crunch, as many argue, isn’t the only thing driving up home prices in Seattle. But the ordinance prevents rental homes from literally being given to the highest bidder, at least for now.

This article has been updated to correct the spelling of city councilor Mosqueda’s name.