Regarding the Bellingham People First Initiative #1 Seeking to Expand Tenants’ Rights

As you likely already know, there has been a WA State eviction moratorium since March, 2020, in response to Covid. The same proclamation prohibits late fees, and prevents raising the rents.

It has been extended multiple times and is currently extended through September 30, 2021.

Meanwhile, a group called People First has presented an initiative with four main components, one of which seeks to further expand tenants’ rights for rentals in the City of Bellingham, WA.

You can read a summary of the People First Initiatives here.

You can read in more detail about Initiative #1, specific to tenants’ rights, here.

I am a rental property owner. I am also a community supporter, and I fully support fair social programs that help those in need.

That being said, I want to share my thoughts on this initiative, which I recently sent to Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood and all City Council Members.

My Letter to the City of Bellingham

Hello Mayor Fleetwood and City Councilmembers Stone, Knutson, Hammill, Vargas, Anderson, and Huthman,

I hope this email finds you well! I’m writing to express my concern about the People First Initiative #1 that would further expand tenants’ rights inside the City of Bellingham.

The initiative contains language I find deeply concerning and soundly unfair to landlords like myself.

If passed, the ordinance requires that if:

  • Landlord delivers to a tenant written notice to vacate at the contractual end of a rental agreement or lease, or…
  • If Landlord delivers notice to increase rent by 8% or more within a rolling 12-month period…

Then the tenant can instead opt for a payout from the landlord of 3 times market rent as “relocation assistance”.

Before I continue, let me state that I absolutely love all my tenants, and I go out of my way to take care of them. My thoughts below are not at all intended to position tenants as a bad or guilty party in any way.

That being said… In what universe is this initiative fair to Landlords — those citizens like myself who actually PROVIDE 54% of the housing in this city?

Let me share three simple points:

Point 1: The assumption is clearly that all landlords have all their rental units rented at full, fair market value and any increase would be egregious “price gouging.”

Fact: I have 4 rental units that are 30 to 40% below market rates, and have been stuck there since the WA State eviction moratorium (and rent rate increase moratorium, or late fee moratorium) that went into effect in March 2020.

Point 2: It assumes that all landlords are sitting on a mountain of cash that they can just shovel into a bag and hand it to a tenant who opts for the payday.

Fact: Countless rental units in the City of Bellingham are owned by “mom and pop” investors who own just one, maybe two rentals, for retirement purposes or to try to send junior to college. I’m talking about working-class people who live paycheck to paycheck like the tenants this initiative is trying to protect. They’re not Blackrock, sitting on piles of available capital. Yet the initiative has already decided that anyone on the ownership side of the landlord/tenant relationship has plenty of money to fulfill this ridiculous obligation.

Point 3: It unfairly targets landlords — a type of small business owner who fulfills a fundamental need in society — while letting grocers, mechanics, daycare centers, dry cleaners, gas stations, hardware stores, etc., to shoulder exactly zero of this financial strain that this initiative seeks to mitigate.

Fact: Social policy should be funded through taxes, especially during short-term emergencies. Tax-payer-funded vouchers to the tenants who truly qualify for such help is a fair solution, just like when low-income people who qualify require food assistance or daycare assistance. You don’t penalize the grocer or the daycare center and make them foot the bill, do you?

Landlords have been handcuffed from keeping up with real-world expenses since March of last year. Meanwhile, the cost of EVERYTHING that affects our care and maintenance of our rental units has increased. Our operating expenses, our repair-person service calls, our replacement appliances, our property taxes, our landscape maintenance, our building materials, our insurance…. every single category of expense has increased.

Yet who is protecting us? Where is the initiative that recognizes, appreciates, and supports landlords and the housing that we provide, during this time of across-the-board increases in operating expenses?

“People First”??? Really? What a name. Are landlords not people, too?

I urge you all to solidly reject this initiative and as an alternative propose a fair, paid-for-by-all-members-of-society, tenant voucher program funded by taxes, if supporting tenants through a move is the goal.

Thank you for reading my thoughts on this matter and please consider them as a voice for all landlords.

Brandon Nelson
Real estate firm owner, employer, taxpayer, supporter of fair local social causes, and landlord

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Want to make a comment to the City Council? You can do so at this link.

Want to email the City Council and/or Mayor Fleetwood directly? Here’s their contact info:

Mayor Seth Fleetwood
[email protected]

Hannah Stone
Represents: 1st Ward
Phone: (360) 778-8211
Email: [email protected]

Gene Knutson
Represents: 2nd Ward
Phone: (360) 733-1640
Email: [email protected]

Daniel Hammill
Represents: 3rd Ward
Phone: (360) 778-8213
Email: [email protected]

Pinky Vargas
Represents: 4th Ward
Phone: (360) 778-8210
Email: [email protected]

Lisa Anderson
Represents: 5th Ward
Phone: (360) 778-8217
Email: [email protected]

Hollie Huthman
Represents: At-Large
Phone: (360) 778-8216
Email: [email protected]