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Jason Rantz

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Seattle landlord on why Sawant’s rent control push will hurt small owners

(Unsplash/Brandon Griggs)

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant is back with an idea she’s long been pushing: rent control. If it is ever enacted, every Seattle landlord, big or small, will be subject to it.

Sawant unveiled her plan recently at a committee meeting that somewhat turned into a press conference. Her proposal limits rent increases to the rate of inflation. Of course, Washington state law states you actually can’t go ahead with rent control, but that’s not stopping her from moving forward anyway.

Seattle landlord Marylin Yim owns a triplex where she occupies one of the units and rents out the other two, and joined the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH to discuss the dangers of rent control.

“We’re small landlords. We live in a triplex with our family and rent out the other two units, and that was basically a solution so that we could be able to live in the city with our family and raise our children here,” she said. “We couldn’t otherwise qualify for a single family home loan on our own. So having two rental units helps us to be able to qualify for a mortgage, but it also helps us to pay the mortgage.”

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“But it only helps. There are other costs of home ownership and of being a landlord that factor in here, and rent control, even at 2 or 3 percent of inflation just doesn’t cover that cost at all. So I’m really concerned that we won’t be able to keep up maintenance on our house to the level that we think it’s appropriate for our family and for our tenants living there, and that we may have to consider getting out of it as a long-term thing.”

“It will impact our ability to maintain, but also impact the housing supply in the city, when right now we’re in a housing crisis and an affordability crisis.”

A recent University of Washington study on Seattle rental housing found that 40 percent of landlords have sold or are planning to sell their properties as a result of the new rental rules. For Yim, the portrayal by Sawant of landlords as greedy people who only raise the rent for nefarious reasons misses the mark entirely, and doesn’t take into account the costs and context of what landlords, especially the small ones, have to deal with as well.

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“We’re providing housing that is good quality, it’s affordable, and we are very close to our tenants. We treat our tenants as our neighbors, because they live in the same place that we live and where we actually have a relationship with them. So no, there’s nothing cold hearted about this at all,” she said.

Yim says that many costs go into being a landlord, including regular maintenance, repairs, rising utilities costs, complying with constantly changing building codes, and rising taxes, among plenty others.

“In fact, we’ve been there when our tenants had a short-term crisis. So because we don’t have a rent-controlled situation, we have some freedom and some flexibility to say, ‘Okay, we’ll bend or flex on here because we know who you are, we like you, we think you’re working hard on this, and we’re willing to help you out this time.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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