Seattle’s rent-bidding moratorium blocks innovation, free speech
May 23, 2018
Seattle, Washington; May 23, 2018: Innovation and free speech are on the line in a new federal lawsuit filed today against the City of Seattle. Rentberry, a start-up rent-bidding company looking to expand to Seattle, is challenging the city’s moratorium on platforms that allow prospective tenants to bid on rental properties posted by landlords.
“Seattle should applaud innovators who are trying to solve a growing housing crisis,” said Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) attorney Ethan Blevins. “Instead, the city has banned websites that offer a solution without even giving them a chance.”
The City Council approved the minimum one-year moratorium in March, supposedly to allow time to study rent-bidding’s possible conflict with existing housing laws and its potential effect on Seattle’s housing market.
Rentberry’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, says the moratorium violates the First Amendment because it censors the free speech of Rentberry, as well as the landlords and renters who want to use such sites to communicate. The mayor signed the ordinance on March 30. As a result, Rentberry has abandoned plans to expand in Seattle, depriving the city of this innovative, cost-effective way to establish and maintain landlord-tenant relationships.
“We basically offer the same type of market-based pricing as eBay, only in the rental markets,” Rentberry CEO and co-founder Alex Lubinsky said. “Restricting Rentberry really just hurts tenants and landlords, promotes under-the-table bidding wars, and at the end of the day leaves even fewer housing options which are more expensive. This is not something I think the government of Seattle wants.”
PLF represents Rentberry and Seattle landlord Delaney Wysingle, who owns one single-family rental property in the city, in Rentberry v. City of Seattle.
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Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit law firm that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 34 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 17 wins of 19 cases litigated at the U.S. Supreme Court.