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June 8 2018

Seattle's Bright New Idea: Hey, Let's Make It Harder to Rent an Apartment!

by Charlotte Hays

Seattle, a city that is facing a severe homelessness crisis, is making it harder for anybody to rent an apartment.  

And it's a twofer for the progressive beacon: the initiative will not just limit one's ability to find a place to live; it will limit free speech. A column by Ethan Blevins at Fox explains the latest from the Seattle City Council:

It has slapped a year-long ban on the use of certain housing websites that allow renters to place bids on advertised rental housing, while it reviews the sites.

Officials say they fear the sites might violate local housing laws or inflate housing costs, so the City Council wants to study the sites while forbidding their use in the meantime. While city leaders try to figure things out, landlords are barred from posting ads on the sites, and renters can’t even do a simple search for Seattle housing on the sites.

This is a clear restriction of speech protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Pacific Legal Foundation, representing a website called Rentberry and a small-time landlord, recently filed a lawsuit to raise this claim.

The City Council will likely try to portray the website ban as modest and temporary, as if it is just pressing the “pause” button. But in fact, the City Council has resurrected a frightening government power – the power to censor speech until the government has decided to approve it.

In First Amendment parlance, a law that forces speakers to receive government approval in advance of speaking (including publishing) is called a prior restraint – the most insidious form of government speech restriction.

This treats landlords and potential renters as children: you must get consent from the government before you enter into a rental agreement.

Blevins invokes John Milton's impassioned defense of free speech and notes that the Supreme Court "frowns upon" prior restraints.

Another thing to think about: why make it harder to put a roof over your head in a city that already has housing problems?

Rentberry, according to the PLF website, is a small start-up that connects landlords and apartment seekers through a website and allows bidding on rental space. Sounds like a great innovation for a famously tech-savvy city, right?

The City Council wants to study effects of these websites--but that is what the market would do automatically, if allowed to function.

Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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