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Portland city council tightens landlord duties to pay tenants' relocation costs

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 9/18/2020 Tim Gruver, The Center Square
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Portland landlords will be footing the bill for their tenants moving expenses through next spring if they raise rent by any amount, the city council decided.

The new ordinance is effective immediately and will remain in effect through at least March 31.

Portland landlords have had to pay for their tenants' moving costs since 2017 if they raised rent by more than 10 percent in one year. Those costs can amount to as much as $4,500, depending on the size of the renter’s home.

Portland Tenants United, which has made months-long calls for a rent freeze, was pleased with the city council's actions, according to PTU spokesperson Lauren Everett.

"Emergency price controls are a common governmental response to protect and stabilize the people, and this initiative follows in that vein," Everett said.

Portland Tenants United is advocating for a moratorium on evictions through the duration of the COVID-19 and wildfire emergencies.

Everett said the organization is also calling for forgiveness of rent debt for impacted households and a federal landlord assistance program for qualified property owners, especially small landlords, covering their mortgage payments and other business expenses.

The city council came to the decision unanimously in a rare moment of solidarity following months of conflict between council members and Mayor Ted Wheeler over such issues as policing citywide protests this summer.

“I’m proud of the days where we’re able to accomplish something good because we actually deeply listen to each other,” Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said. “We’re willing to change our minds. We’re willing to accept new information.”

Wheeler voiced concern that the city could see a large wave of evictions if Gov. Kate Brown's statewide moratorium on residential evictions is allowed to expire by the end of the month.

He said that between May and September, back rent in Portland could amount to as much as $125 million.

This possibility also comes as the state faces a current unemployment rate of 7.7 percent, the Oregon Employment Department reported.

“All we’re doing is putting off the date by which a lot of people are going to be evicted from their houses,” Wheeler said. “This a Band-Aid.”

During Wednesday's council meeting, Wheeler said he understood the financial strain the city's landlords are under in light of the nationwide recession brought on by the COVID-19 epidemic.

He stressed that the city is limited in what financial relief it can provide and called on the federal government to safeguard Portland from “a complete upending" of the real estate market.

Wheeler's original proposal extended relocation costs for rent increases through Dec. 31 when the city's moratorium on evictions is set to expire.

Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, a long-time tenants' rights advocate, successfully pushed for a 90-day extension of the proposal's provisions.

The Rental Housing Alliance of Oregon had remained neutral on Wheeler's original proposal, according to RHAO President Ken Shriver.

Shriver described Eudaly's amendment as "another blow to small landlords" if the city's eviction moratorium is extended past Dec. 31. He said he believes it will.

"So once again, the city has passed a retroactive ordinance that significantly interferes with the landlord-tenant contracts that were entered into in good faith," Schriver added.

In an Aug. 31 letter to Oregon State House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, RHAO outlined a list of demands, including the reinstatement of no-cause evictions and guidance from lawmakers on how to pursue payments upon the moratorium's end.

Eudaly said the ordinance passed by the council on Wednesday did not go far enough for tenants, but nonetheless thanked the council for its decision.

In June, the Portland city council voted by a 3-1 margin to adopt a $5.6 billion city budget for 2021. It included $242 million for the Portland Police Bureau, which amounts to a 5 percent cut of about $13 million.

Eudaly was the lone "no" vote, arguing that the approved police budget cuts fell short of the $50 million cut local activists have demanded.

Portland's budget deficit was estimated by city staff to be around $75 million in April.

The state of Oregon is looking at a $1.2 billion annual budget gap, which state lawmakers attempted to correct with budget cuts in August during a special legislative session.

Brown has since announced she is issuing a line item veto to those cuts to preserve fire fighting and state police resources.

Tags: States, News, Portland, Oregon

Original Author: Tim Gruver, The Center Square

Original Location: Portland city council tightens landlord duties to pay tenants' relocation costs

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