Portland, Oregon enacted a law Feb. 2 penalizing landlords who evict tenants without cause or force them out with high rent increases—but two city landlords almost immediately challenged it in court.
The emergency ordinance, passed 5-0 by the City Council, requires landlords to pay relocation costs to tenants who they evict without a specific cause or who have to move because they can’t afford to pay a rent increase of 10 percent or more in one year. It exempts owners who rent only one unit in the city, people subletting their apartment, and those renting to roommates, but it covers tenants facing 90-day eviction notices they received before it was passed. The relocation costs paid range from $2,900 for a studio to $4,500 for a three-bedroom apartment.
“My name is Chloe Eudaly, and I’m a renter!” the bill’s sponsor told a rally outside City Hall before the vote. A former bookstore owner who upset a Council incumbent last November, she says her experience running an online forum for cost-burdened renters spurred her to run.
Two city landlords filed a lawsuit to void the bill on Feb. 6, arguing that it “effectively” violates the state law prohibiting local rent controls. They also contended that because it covers tenants who’ve already signed leases, it unconstitutionally interferes with contracts and violated their due-process rights by “imposing significant financial burdens.” Multifamily Northwest, a landlord trade group, is paying their legal costs.
Federal District Judge Michael Simon dismissed the constitutional claims on Feb. 15 and sent the case to Multnomah County Circuit Court.
The ordinance has already had one effect: On Feb. 26, the owners of Titan Manor, a 72-apartment complex on the city’s north side, rescinded no-cause eviction orders sent out in December. “It’s the best example thus far of how powerful [the ordinance] is,” Portland Tenants United organizer Shamus Cooke told Willamette Week. “It’s going to be able to slow down the process of gentrification.”
Residents of the Normandy Apartments building in Northeast Portland, however, are still facing near-double rent increases announced in December. “That’s a whole paycheck and you don’t have nothing left over for utility bills or nothing else,” Yesica Sanchez, whose rent will go up to almost $1,300, told Oregon Public Broadcasting at a protest there Feb. 25. “I think we’re all going to be forced to be moved with family members—I don’t know, share rooms. Or end up in a shelter.”
About half the city’s residents are renters, according to Eudaly. Of those, about a quarter spend more than half their income on rent.
Meanwhile, a bill to repeal the statewide ban on rent control has been introduced in the Oregon legislature. “It returns the tools to the local government to allow us to be able to make our own decisions about what policies to implement,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler told a committee hearing March 2. Pam Phan, organizing director of the Community Alliance of Tenants, a statewide group based in Portland, testified that she gets 2,000 calls a month from tenants evicted without cause in “this really insane market.”