Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman today announced he's introducing short-term tenant protections in light of Portland's worsening housing crisis.
The proposed protections would include increasing the amount of notice a landlord must offer tenants they're serving with no-cause eviction notices to 90 days. Currently state law requires landlords to give just 30 days' notice to tenants who've rented in one place for less than a year. That notice period is 60 days if a tenancy has been longer than one year.
Saltzman is also proposing changing the notice time from 30 to 90 days for landlords who are planning to raise rent on a unit by more than 10 percent.
“Portland renters need additional protections,” Saltzman wrote in a news release. “Our city is experiencing record low vacancy rates coupled with record high rents, creating the perfect storm of housing uncertainty for many Portland families.”
Mayor Charlie Hales says he supports Saltzman's proposal.
“Dan is right. Protections for renters are entwined in the city’s values of equity and affordability. I applaud his proposals,” Hales wrote in the news release.
The proposals come at a telling time. The Community Alliance of Tenants yesterday formally announced a "Renters State of Emergency" and called on city leaders to enact similar, but more stringent, protections. CAT's requests include enacting a temporary ban on no-cause evictions and extending the notice that landlords must give tenants when raising the rent to one year if the increase is more than five percent.
Update, 12:19 pm:
Saltzman tells the Mercury he listened to CAT's thoughts, but says "we don't think we can do those things legally." In fact, formal language for the commissioner's proposals—expected to come before Portland City Council early next month—isn't even drafted yet. Saltzman says he got the thumbs up for the policies from the City Attorney's Office only this week.
His staff asked for that opinion a couple weeks ago—as CAT and other organizations began agitating for relief—but Saltzman says he's been considering workarounds to the state's preemption on rent control ever since the legislature failed to let Portland and other cities use inclusionary zoning (IZ) in this year's session. IZ lets cities mandate affordable housing in new developments.
"We felt exasperated that we couldn't do anything," Saltzman says. "Now we think there's something we can do."
The commissioner says he expects pushback—whether in the form of a lawsuit or something else—from property owners who might construe his policy proposals as rent control, which is banned under state law. Saltzman believes the city can fend off those arguments. "We're requiring notice," he says. "There's nothing that controls rent."
Saltzman also says he envisions the changes will extent into perpetuity, not sunset, though that will have to be decided by council. "I think it's good policy going forward."
Update 3:00 pm:
Saltzman says he's meeting with CAT Executive Director Justin Buri on Monday and suspects Buri's not satisfied with the proposal because it doesn't mirror the relief mechanisms CAT is calling for. He's right.
"We're encouraged by Commissioner Saltzman's immediate response to the Renters State of Emergency and think its' a step in the right direction," Buri says. "We want to support the protections, but looking forward I'm planning to speak with my Board and CAT leaders to make sure this provides adequate protections to tenants."
Saltzman's 90-day notice is a far cry from CAT's ask for one year's notice and a complete moratorium on no-cause evictions. When asked why he chose 90 days, Saltzman responded he felt this was a fair compromise.
"Tenants have to find a place, come up with first and last month's rent, a security deposit, and possibly move their kids to a new school," Saltzman says. "We feel like 90 days strikes a better balance while still being fair to landlords and helping tenants."
The commissioner hopes to introduce the proposal to City Council in early October.