In Seattle, Washington, free-market advocacy law firm Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Seattle. PLF argues that free speech rights and business innovation are endangered by the city’s moratorium on various web-based 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 PLF attorney Ethan Blevins. “Instead, the city has banned websites that offer a solution without even giving them a chance.”
The lawsuit was filed by PLF on behalf of Rentberry, which is a startup rent-bidding company looking to expand to Seattle. In an email to Spero News, Blevins wrote: “Rentberry and websites like it have introduced long overdue innovation into an industry mired in delay, frustration, and stagnation. The Seattle city council, though, won’t allow people to even try it out. Their first instinct is to ban a technology that offers to ease the city’s housing crisis—a crisis the city itself has spectacularly failed to solve.”
In March, the Seattle city council imposed a minimum one-year moratorium, which is supposed to allow time to study the rent-bidding platforms’ possible conflict with existing housing laws and its potential effect on Seattle’s housing market. Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, the Rentberry lawsuit charges that 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 in a statement released by PLF. “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.”
Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) is a leading public interest legal organization that has successfully litigated multiple cases before the Supreme Court and other courts in favor of limited government, private property rights, and free enterprise in the nation’s highest courts.