Sonia Peters, 76, works hard to maintain the Southeast Portland duplex that she owns and rents. Each time a tenant calls with a concern, she visits the property to see how she can help.

Recently, she found herself in court after she struggled to evict two tenants who removed trees on her property after she told them they couldn’t, demanded she replace carpeting after their cat peed on it and had previous eviction records, she said.

Peters lost her just-cause eviction case. Now, she’s worried about a proposed policy that would require landlords to pay $2,900 to $4,500 to tenants that they evict without cause or whose rents they increase by 10 percent or more in a year.

The Portland City Council will vote on Thursday on whether to immediately enact the tenant protection policy introduced by new Commissioner Chloe Eudaly.

The rule could go into effect just over a week after Eudaly first disclosed her plan and would last throughout the housing emergency set to expire in October. For it to take effect Thursday would require a unanimous council vote.

Margot Black, organizer and founder of renter advocacy group Portland Tenants United, said Tuesday that the rule is a good first step to protect tenants in a city with escalating rents, a short supply of apartments and no landlord-tenant office where renters can get help. 

If approved, the rule would trigger a lawsuit by upset landlords that could block or delay some or all of its provisions, attorney John DiLorenzo said.

If the rule takes effect, Portland landlords will have to go through the just-cause eviction process if they want a tenant out and don’t want to help pay moving costs. Eudaly’s policy will require landlords to pay that money for all no-cause evictions, said her policy director, Jamey Duhamel.

Eudaly and her staff have not decided, however, whether the policy will apply to landlords who have already given their tenants 90 days’ notice in the previous 89 days.

“It’s a nuanced situation and a lot of lawyers aren’t agreeing so we’ll just keep talking about it until we come to a decision that’s defensible in court,” Duhamel said.

Multifamily NW, an association of companies that own or manage many rental homes and apartments in Portland, intends to sue the city if it passes the ordinance, DiLorenzo said. He asserts that the proposal conflicts with Oregon state law that prohibits rent control measures.

Eudaly said the ordinance does not infringe on landlords’ rights to raise rents, but instead requires landlords to share the financial burden when they “choose to cause an economic displacement”.

“We feel very confident that this is highly defensible in court,” she said.

DiLorenzo has sued the City of Portland at least seven times, including a case over misspent utility money that dragged out for more than five years and cost the city roughly $13 million.

He said Eudaly’s office failed to consult with landlords about “unintended consequences” before drafting the ordinance. He also argued that Eudaly’s office rushed her proposal.

“I don’t believe any of this has been drafted in a collaborative process at all,” DiLorenzo said.

DiLorenzo provided The Oregonian/OregonLive a list of potential hardships that he said could result if the city requires landlords to pay tenants hit with no-cause evictions or 10 percent rent hikes $2,900 to $4,500 to help them relocate.

Homeowners who wish to move back into a home they own would have to pay those fees, he complained. Landlords who need to raise rents by 10 percent to cover the costs of necessary repairs also would face them, he said. So would landlords like Peters who want problem tenants out for good reason but face challenges in documenting the just cause, he said.

Eudaly called the hypothetical scenarios DiLorenzo posed “misinformation to rile up opposition.”

“The landlord lobby likes to conjure up these bad tenant boogeymen,” Eudaly said. “I don’t believe in policy-making based on personal anecdote Restbet and I certainly don’t believe on policy-making based on fantasy or myth.”

Eudaly said she’s considering exempting “mom and pop” landlords like Peters who only own one property.

Still, Peters said a set cost doesn’t make sense since rents vary so widely. A landlord could end up paying more than they’re receiving in rent, she said.

“Is she crazy?” Peters said. “What if there is something renters have done wrong?”

Eudaly also plans to exempt landlords who rent their primary residence for a short-term period with the intention of returning, Duhamel said. The policy as drafted already exempts week-to-week rentals and landlords that rent out rooms in the place they live.

“Our goal is not to burden landlords,” Eudaly said. “If a tenant is expected to come up with three times rent to move, we’d hope a property owner would have to do the same.”

Eudaly said her office has spoken with several landlords who expressed their support for her tenant protection plan.

Her staff did not consult DiLorenzo or Multifamily NW because she does not believe they have real solutions, she said.

“If they’re coming to testify on Thursday, I’m all ears,” Eudaly said. “I’m so excited to hear what their solutions are.”

Commissioner Nick Fish called Eudaly’s proposal a “thoughtful compromise,” considering that she advocated rent control during her campaign and won handily. He also urged landlords to come up with alternative solutions to the housing emergency.

“If there is a different and better approach I want to hear it,” Fish said. “If we have to fight this in court, so be it.”

Commissioner Dan Saltzman said he thinks the emergency ordinance, which requires five votes, will pass Thursday. His chief concern is the effect economic displacement has on children and their education.

Mayor Ted Wheeler has already said he supports Eudaly’s proposals. Commissioner Amanda Fritz declined to comment.

University of Oregon economics professor Tim Duy said the policy could reduce the will to build affordable housing or cause property owners to charge higher rents to make up for the added cost of helping tenants relocate.

“Fundamentally what we need to do is bring more supply to the market,” Duy said. “This will then be a very counterproductive approach.”

Duy acknowledged that Portland faces a “very real challenge” when it comes to housing affordability, but said the best solution is to increase supply.

The policy is intended to give tenants protections where they have none, Duhamel said.

The city lacks enforcement mechanism for tenants’ rights, said Black,  Portland Tenants United leader. The new policy is no exception.

If landlords fail to pay relocation costs after the policy takes effect, tenants would have to sue the landlords in small claims court to get the money, Duhamel said.

“It’s the same enforcement mechanism tenants have for everything,” Black said. “It’s why we need an office of landlord and tenant affairs.”

Mayor Ted Wheeler promised during his campaign and again in  December to create an Office of Landlord Tenant-Affairs within Portland’s Housing Bureau, which he currently manages. He did not say when that would happen.

The proposed tenant protection, Black said, is a good first step to protect tenants from retaliatory no-cause evictions. She hopes the

prospect of court costs for landlords who break the rule will also deter landlords from evicting renters, she said.

–Jessica Floum


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