Current Events Report

Portlanders Should Act Fast on Relocation Assistance

City ordinance to protect Portland renters could be dashed by association of landlords called Multifamily NW.

Last week, dozens of dire Portlanders flocked to David Douglas High School for a free class focused on Portland’s new Tenant Relocation Assistance ordinance. Throughout the class, hands rose into the air from people that seemed desperate to vent their personal housing issue. Renters are stressed as the housing market has grown into a monster while tenant laws seem to change as quickly as the urban landscape.

The lesson was taught by Legal Aid Services of Oregon with Oregon Law Center. Everyone received a 36-page packet detailing the city ordinance passed on February 2. THRU has published the packet (view and download here). It provides renters the right to collect between $2,900 and $4,500 in the event of any no-cause eviction, or rent hikes (including new utilities charges) above 10% on 1-year leases.

The Portland-specific law has been challenged by Multifamily NW, an association of landlords and property owners, because it flies in the face of Oregon’s longstanding ban against rent control. On April 6, at the downtown Portland courthouse, a judge will hear the case presented by Multifamily NW and will make a decision as to whether or not the ordinance is unlawful. Until the ordinance is struck down — Portland City Council feels strongly that they can defend it — renters are protected.

For this reason, anyone who may be eligible for the program right now needs to understand the details, to take advantage of this much needed relief. To collect, numerous factors could effect any renter’s eligibility, and the sum owed to them. Some of those details are more intuitive than others.

I suppose the first question to ask, if you think you may be eligible, is whether or not you live in Portland. You may have a Portland address but live just outside incorporated territory; your landlord would then be exempt. If you live on that unincorporated land on the outskirts, then you only receive 30 or 60 days notice prior to an eviction, depending on whether or not you have been renting the same unit for less than one year.

Portland City Council declared a state of emergency in 2015 — renewing it in 2016 — providing stronger tenant protection like giving Portlanders 90 days notice for any changes to their lease. That is where this ordinance springboards. Housing advocates would like to see similar protections passed for all Oregonians.

The easiest reference is this Portland services map. If you definitely live in Portland, then it is possible that your landlord is also eligible to provide relocation assistance.

Current services map for the City of Portland. Source: City of Portland

If you live in the same unit as your landlord, they are exempt. In the example of a duplex building, where your landlord lives next door in a separate unit, they are not exempt. This is to prevent disgruntled roommates from taking out frustrations on landlords renting out rooms in their home to supplement a meager income.

The landlord must also own more than one rental unit in Portland. So if that duplex owner you share the building with has no other property, then they are also exempt. This again protects landlords who are not serious investors. It could also be a suburban family with just one income property in the city.

The ordinance targets investors, especially those pouring in from out-of-state because they learned about Oregon’s ban on rent control and realized they could profit in the short term by serving no cause evictions and having their way with vast swaths of property.

Given that you are a renter whose landlord is from the investor class, including of course property management companies who act on the owner’s behalf, then you are currently protected. But there are more details to determine if your specific case is eligible.

You must be renting month-to-month or be locked into a fixed lease. This eliminates weekly and nightly renters. Many rental agreements default into a month-to-month contract after the term of the fixed lease. The renter may do nothing in that case to continue renting indefinitely, but the landlord is required to provide 90-days notice to terminate the month-to-month contract.

If the lease does not go month-to-month, the landlord is still required to provide notice and the option to renew. The renewal rate must not exceed the 9.99%, lest the landlord be ready to pay up. So if you’re renting in Portland and you’ve been given either of these notices, whether or not you were ever in a fixed lease, then you are eligible to collect.

For-cause evictions, in which the landlord claims that the renter has broken the rental agreement in some way, can be challenged. The burden of proof is on the landlord to demonstrate, but at the same time, an eviction court saw the evidence prior to serving the notice. That is why it is difficult to challenge, it puts you on the defense.

Tenant protections are there to put renters on the offense.

Tenant protections are there to put renters on the offense, given that the landlord is breaking the law. But it is designed to protect both sides and assumes that most landlords are honest. But the devil is in the details of tenant law and everything is technical, and it is full of loopholes.

It is very important to observe the timeline on which all the paperwork must be exchanged. After the landlord provides 90 days notice, the renter has 14 days to provide notice of their intent to keep the unit or terminate. It would probably make more sense for you to terminate and take the relocation assistance than face a 10% rent hike, and same for the landlord, so it effectively controls rent without making it illegal to raise rents.

This detail will be crucial to the court argument forthcoming against this ordinance. Because Oregon prohibits all city governments from enforcing the amount a landlord can increase rent, this ordinance enforces large fees in the event of rent hikes, without regulating the rates themselves.

This also prevents investors planning a large rental turnaround from carrying out their plan, thereby slowing down the rate that renters are being turned out into an unforgiving market.

If you have received your 90-day notice, and you agreed within 14 days to terminate the lease as specified in the notice, then the landlord has 14 days to provide payment to you. This means that you should receive your relocation payment 45 days prior to moving out. You may then vacate the unit at any time.

The table below provides the correct amount owed to you.

In Portland’s rental market, where $1,000 can only get you a studio apartment, and you are not interested in renting a bedroom within a household, then you must have at least $2,900 to comfortably move. After first, last, and deposit, plus the rigmarole of moving, you will have almost nothing leftover.

Given that the procedure has not been carried out lawfully by the landlord, and the tenant has in good faith attempted to resolve issues, then the tenant reserves the right to take the landlord to court to collect the fee. This is never the ideal option. Best to take care of the matter out of court. If necessary, however, it can be done.

Another article could be devoted to this process, but it is worth noting now that low-income people can file in small claims court and the clerk will waive the $95 fee. Given that the court decides in your favor, it has no power to collect the award for you. You must do that. As a last resort, you can sell their debt to a collection agency for a much lesser amount.

In just two weeks, the court may find this whole scheme unlawful, and only during that window between February 2 and April 6 will Portlanders have been protected. THRU will continue to follow this story and will report on the outcome of the Multifamily NW lawsuit.

Correction: In the second paragraph, it was updated that 10% rental rate hikes trigger the ordinance only in the case of 1-year leases.

Sean Ongley

By Sean Ongley

Co-Founder of THRU Media. A background in non-profit, music, and radio preceded my ambitions here. Now, I aspire to produce new media and publish independent journalism at this site and beyond.

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