Reminded of the Law of Unintended Consequences

Many years ago I learned to think and ask about the unintended consequences when taking new action on an issue. Dr. Pournelle called this the ‘Law of Unintended Consequences’. It is not a new concept: the results of an action may be the opposite of the intent.

I have observed over the years that the unintended consequences of social action are always more important, and usually less agreeable, than the intended consequences.

Irving Kristol

In the local news comes “Seattle City Council OKs new leasing rules for tenants hit with higher rent charges”.

One part is agreeable. Give tenants more notice of rental increases from a minimum of two weeks, increased to six weeks.

It is the second proposed law that is thought provoking.

If the tenant decides to vacate the apartment because of the rental increase, the previous landlord would be responsible for paying the move-in costs of their ex-tenant if the rent hike exceeded 10 percent. That landlord would be required to pay three times the amount of what the new rental charge would be…

Seattle City Council OKs new leasing rules for tenants hit with higher rent charges

I immediately thought, how might a landlord address this going forward?

An unintended consequence, possibly having the opposite affect intended, is to write into each new lease an automatic nine percent increase at the end of the lease term. Leases may be shorter in length, and rents start as high as the market allows. Landlords can offer new tenants incentives to keep vacancies low, and be less costly than the potential penalties.

Overall, this drives rents higher, increases tenant cycling, and avoids penalties on landlords. None of this solves the objectives of reining in rental price growth, displacement, and gentrification.

I could be wrong. It is an observation based on how people behave when given new rules. Maybe the law will ultimately be rejected by the mayor or council.