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Small landlord says he’s leaving Seattle over the city's rental laws

Data from the city, analyzed by the Rental Housing Association of Washington, shows Seattle lost more than 3,400 properties in 2021, equaling more than 11,500 units.

SEATTLE — Small landlords say Seattle’s rental laws are running small providers out of the city.

Data from the city, analyzed by the Rental Housing Association of Washington, shows Seattle lost 3,407 properties in 2021. That is equivalent to 11,521 units.

Roughly 2,500, or 75%, of those properties were single-family homes, which are typically owned by small landlords.

For almost three decades, Brian, who asked not to use his last name, has been a small landlord in Seattle. He’s currently charging $2,240 per month for a two-bedroom in Ballard, which is well below the going rate.

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However, when his tenant moves out, he’s selling.

“I chose to exit, and I’m investing in Mountlake Terrace, which is over the border of King County. So, I don’t have to deal with Seattle or King County,” Brian said, who's already sold one of his properties in Seattle. 

Brian cited Seattle’s rental laws as the reason he’s leaving, including laws that prevent him from running criminal background checks and could require him to provide financial relocation services to tenants who qualify. 

Earlier this week, the council passed a new law to prevent evictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, capping repayment installments for past due rent at one-third of the tenant's current rent and forcing the landlord to give the renter a "reasonable" amount of time to pay them back. 

“At a point, there needs to be a level playing field with the small-time providers such as myself,” Brian said.

Brian is one of the many individuals who responded when KING 5 asked small landlords to share their stories. Real estate brokers chimed in, too, saying they’ve lost dozens of rental properties. They all say the laws are too much to handle.

In the last year, Seattle City Council has passed at least five new rental laws. 

“It only takes one tenant that can turn your life upside down as an individual housing provider,” Brian said. “I don’t have a ton of money to spend on lawyers.”

Landlords believe it’s not too late to keep small landlords in Seattle. Brian would like to see them exempt from some of the laws, hoping the city council considers a policy change as small landlords leave the market.

“I expect, as a constituent, that we have a conversation, and maybe you meet us halfway,” Brian said.