From a Small Landlord: If Rules and Politicians Aren’t Helping, Get Rid of Them

Here is another story from someone who provides housing sharing the mess being created by the City Council for people trying to make a living providing reasonably priced housing. We’ve also shared a couple stories from builders facing similar troubles trying to build housing and worried about rent control. The City Council has ceased to function as a rational policy making body when it comes to housing. Here’s how new rules are impacting one small landlord. 

First a little backdrop:

My husband and I are very small-time landlords, with only 2 buildings in Seattle, a triplex and a SFH. The properties are a key component in our retirement planning, and both of us work full time engineering jobs.

We tend to have very long-term tenants because our practices keep them happy. This isn’t just because we are nice. Aside from the very occasional giant repair, only tenant turnovers make land lording a temporary, full-time job. So we hate turnovers, and avoid them as long as reasonable. We want this as passive as possible while we head to retirement.


As you can imagine, one thing making it hard to be passive is the amount of change and bureaucracy coming from city hall. This is easy for a big company to track as they have full time employees watching and lobbying. Not so much for us small fries.

Stupid Example: Voter Registration.

Is that a very reasonable sounding ask that landlords give tenants a voting registration card? Sure, sounds simple. BUT! What happens if I don’t do it / didn’t know / didn’t remember? Honestly, I have no idea; I can’t find that information online. I’m just relieved I happened to read about it since there is no systematic way to find out this information without paying for a service like the one the Rental Housing Association of Washington has (who are great). What else am I missing? I frequently worry.

More serious example: RRIO

I signed up my triplex for RRIO in Jan of 2017, as required. I was told that I would get called up to inspect sometime in the next 5 years. That’s crazy on its own, that I need to expect the next step of bureaucracy anytime in the next 1,800 days. But ok

Evidently the city sent me a letter eleven months later telling me I was up for inspection. I missed this letter. Yes that’s on me (assuming it was sent) but there are five adults living in my house and sometimes we lose mail.

I got very lucky and looked at the RRIO website out of curiosity for a political debate I was having and found that my triplex was due THAT DAY! I called and got an extension (grateful for that, the city employees are very nice and cooperative). But had I not noticed, then evidently, I would be facing $150 / day fines for ten days and $500 per day fines after that.

Shouldn’t a fine that like at least require certified mail given the five-year span in which it might come?

You know, who wouldn’t miss such mail? Companies devoted to nothing but land lording. You know who might? Small fries like me.

I did end up passing but this was a giant stress, for no tenant gain. None. They were fine and happy already; Just another stress, slowly pushing me out of the city.

In short, like all bureaucracy, ours favors the big guys. Continued rules continue to favor them.

If Seattle likes us small businesses, Seattle should stop putting in rules as though their impact were inconsequential. And it should be required to measure the actual impact of their rules. If they aren’t helping they should be cut. And so should the politicians peddling them for votes.

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