The libertarians who love to sue Seattle are back. This time they're filing a lawsuit over the city's temporary ban on websites where tenants are asked to bid on housing rates.
Back in March, the Seattle City Council passed a one-year moratorium on rent-bidding websites. Sites like Rentberry and Biddwell allow landlords to post rental units and then ask tenants to bid on how much they would pay in rent. Although neither of the sites had launched in Seattle when the council passed the moratorium, skeptics cautioned that the sites could exacerbate high rental costs or violate city housing laws. Council Member Teresa Mosqueda, who sponsored the moratorium, said at the time it was an effort to "be proactive and get ahead of new platforms as they come on the market to make sure we’re looking at any unintended consequences."
On Wednesday, the Pacific Legal Foundation announced it will represent Rentberry and one Seattle landlord in a federal lawsuit challenging the moratorium.
PLF is a conservative law firm with an office in Bellevue and a penchant for defending landlords and property rights. In its complaint, PLF argues that the rent-bidding moratorium violates landlords' free speech rights because sites like Rentberry allow communication between landlords and tenants. The firm argues the council "has no evidence" that rental bidding platforms violate Seattle's housing laws, affect equitable access to Seattle's rental housing market, or that banning them "directly advances a substantial governmental interests."
PLF's client, a Seattle landlord named Delaney Wysingle, has for three years owned and rented out a single family home in Seattle, according to the complaint. He wants to use a bidding platform to find a new tenant this summer. The site would allow him to "save time, settle on a mutually beneficial arrangement with prospective tenants, and determine the best market rent through bidding," the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court, claims.
The complaint marks PLF's fifth active case against the City of Seattle. They've also sued over Seattle's income tax, democracy vouchers, first-in-time rental law, and law barring landlords' use of most criminal records when selecting tenants.
A spokesperson for Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said the office has not yet received the complaint but "will review [it]...then evaluate our next steps from there."
UPDATE: In a statement, Mosqueda defended the moratorium. “I do not believe there are any ‘free speech’ violations associated with this legislation,” Mosqueda said. “Landlords still retain the right to post rental listings on whatever sites they choose.” The city is “working with landlords and consumers as we study this issue in anticipation of revisiting the moratorium next year,” she said.