Rentberry sues city of Seattle over ban on rent bidding sites, alleging free speech violations

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Seattle temporarily halts rent bidding. (Flickr Photo / Shumei_There)

Rentberry, a San Francisco apartment rental service, and a Seattle landlord are suing the city over a one-year ban on websites that allow prospective tenants to bid on rental homes.

Rentberry and the landlord, Delaney Wysingle, claim that the one-year moratorium on rent bidding sites infringes on their First amendment Right to free speech by restricting communications between renters and landlords. Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian legal organization based in Sacramento with an office in Bellevue, Wash. is representing the plaintiffs.

“By prohibiting Plaintiffs from communicating through a rental housing bidding platform, the City currently maintains and actively enforces a set of laws, practices, policies, and procedures under color of state law that deprive Plaintiffs of their rights of free speech, in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” according to the suit filed in U.S. District court in Seattle.

GeekWire reached out to Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, a sponsor of the ban, and will update this story if we hear back.

Startups like Rentberry allow landlords to list rental units so that would-be tenants can offer higher or lower prices, based on what they would be willing to pay. The sites take a percentage of the difference. Operators of these rental auction sites claim supply and demand already affect rent prices and that their services just make the process more transparent.

But the City Council passed a one-year moratorium on sites like Rentberry over concerns rent bidding could make it harder for low-income residents to afford homes. Seattle will take the year to study whether bidding on rent violates city law and then reassess whether the companies can continue to operate in the city.

Here is Rentberry’s full complaint:

Rentberry complaint by Nat Levy on Scribd



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