With a few notable tweaks, Portland City Council this evening passed the strongest renter protections Portland's seen since well before declaring a housing emergency in 2015. In a unanimous vote, council voted to immediately enact a law that will require landlords to pay relocation costs of between $2,900 and $4,500 to tenants when they've raised rents by more than 10 percent or issued a no-cause eviction.
That could have immediate results. The law council passed will affect landlords that have already begun 90 day notice periods for qualifying rent increases or a no-cause eviction, which would rope in some high-profile recent examples.
But thanks to some late amendments, the new law will exempt small-scale landlords who manage only one rental unit.
The law—literally cheered by renters' rights advocates and hated by many landlords who testified—will now be in place until at least October, when the city's housing emergency is scheduled to lapse. If the emergency is extended (it has been once before) the relocation ordinance could be, too.
"This is a temporary measure. It's for eight months," Commissioner Amanda Fritz said before voting. "I have at this hearing decided I could enthusiastically support it."
In a nearly six-hour hearing Thursday, landlords painted the law as a rush job that would spur people to hike rents, neglect or sell off their rental properties, and further exacerbate the city's fraught housing market.
The arguments did not sway city council, though commissioners found reasons to enact changes in the proposal over the course of testimony. One of those reasons: the absence of large property owners.
"We've just spent 6.5 hours in this room listening to people," said Commissioner Nick Fish. "Investors and owners that are at issue in terms of headlines… chose not to attend this hearing. Dozens of mom and pop landlords came in and said, 'We have a problem.'"
That led to the exemption for one-unit landlords, which joins several others already in the ordinance and accompanying code. Council also made it easier for owners who are out of the country or have to move temporarily to come back to their own home. And commissioners modified some of the time requirements for when landlords must pay tenants relocation costs, and supported creating a "stakeholder group" in the Portland Housing Bureau that can address needed changes to the law, and might make recommendations later this year.
The law is an early and distinct political victory for Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. She won office in November vowing to fight for renters, and has just ushered through robust protections while lawmakers in Salem prepare to talk about statewide fixes to the housing crisis.
Eudaly had initially pledged to fight for a citywide rent freeze—a central goal of local housing activists—but came to the conclusion that it wasn't viable. Fish cheered her for "a compromise that is less than she sought, but is according to our lawyers legally defensible."
It's a big deal, but Eudaly was composed in a speech before delivering the decisive vote.
Low-income renters “have not had protections in place for 30 years,” she said, referring to the passage of a state ban on rent control. “The rules are going to change. However, I cannot assert enough this is a temporary emergency ordinance.
"This is literally the only tool the City of Portland has to protect renters, and we are using it."
Word is there's an after party.
HIT THE JUMP FOR OUR COMPLETE LIVE BLOG OF THE MARATHON HEARING:
This is where the rubber meets the road, people. For the first time, this iteration of the Portland City Council is about to take up a genuinely controversial piece of policy—one that, if passed, will fundamentally change the city's housing landscape.
As we wrote last week, the ordinance being pushed by Commissioner Chloe Eudaly and Mayor Ted Wheeler would force landlords to pay relocation costs between $2,900 and $4,500 when they evict someone without cause or raise rents by at least 10 percent. Eudaly and Wheeler both ran partly on platforms that relied on housing and renters' protections, and Eudaly wasn't wrong when she told demonstrators out front of City Hall a moment ago that this is a big deal.
As I write this, council chambers are absolutely packed out, though the precise balance between renters' rights advocates and landlord reps isn't clear (seems like numbers are clearly with the renters). For the next three hours or so, I'll be offering updates on what transpires. This is especially crucial because this law could go into effect TODAY. It's listed as an emergency, meaning a unanimous council vote would put it on the books immediately. It'd stay in effect until October at least.
Eudaly's voiced confidence that she has the votes to make that happen, though it appears we might see tweaks to the proposal today (for instance, there could be exceptions carved out for so-called "mom and pop" landlords).
But you can expect a forceful pushback from landlords, who've long said no-cause evictions are necessary to eject problem tenants, and say they'll be unduly burdened by the new potential fees.
And pretty much no matter what happens, you can expect a lawsuit. Attorney John DiLorenzo, who represents the landlord organization Multifamily NW, said today he's prepping a suit that might be filed as early as tomorrow. He can't be certain of specifics until he sees if something passes—and what that is. The general gist of the suit will be that the Portland ordinance is a violation of the state's ban on rent control.
Stay tuned! This should be interesting.
Mayor Ted Wheeler has kicked things off, and is laying out the format of the hearing for people. Two notable things:
•Wheeler's confirmed that there will be amendments to the policy introduced later in the hearing.
•He's REALLY hoping people won't interrupt the hearing, as has been happening lately. "I want to be very emphatic today about allowing people’s testimony to be heard," Wheeler says. "This is an issue that people are very passionate about… everybody has a right to be heard respectfully."
Also, more than 100 people have signed up to speak, but Wheeler's trying to get things done by 6 pm. We'll see!
Eudaly gets to kick it off with an opening salvo, and it's a doozie.
"I’ve been living and breathing affordable housing and tenants rights issues for the past three years," she says. "Some people have asked me what's the rush on this ordinance? This housing crisis has been growing for the past decade, so we have to ask what’s taken so long?"
Then she shares something I've never heard. Eudaly is critical of legislating "by anecdote" but shares one of her own. Her parents, she says, were landlords when she was young, and had problem tenants who didn't pay rent and trashed the property. Her father was driving back from appraising the damage on a rainy day in 1983, when he lost control of his vehicle, struck a truck head-on, and died instantly.
"If you’ve come here today to conjure a bad tenant boogeyman… please save your breath, I have already met him," she says. "I recognize him for what he is: An anomaly in an ocean of good tenants."
Now an invited panel gets to speak.
Here's the actual flat fee schedule landlords would be required to pay under the ordinance:
•$2,900 for a studio or single room
•$3,300 for a one-bedroom unit
•$4,200 for a two-bedroom unit
•$4,500 for a three-bedroom unit or larger
Eudaly staffer Jamey Duhamel tells council the first idea was to just make it three months rent. That's problematic, though, because low-income folks don't pay that much and need the help more. And high-income folks pay a lot and don't need the help. So they arrived at a flat fee.
"It is a broad policy that is intended to be as simple and straight-forward as possible," Duhamel says.
She also notes something big: This would affect rent hike or no-cause evictions that have already been dropped on tenants. Landlords are required to give three month notices for no-causes and high rent hikes. Making this effect situations within that 90-day period affects at least three apartment complexes, Duhamel says.
City and county officials are laying out the landscape:
•Nearly half of Portland rental households make less $2,900 a month, says the housing bureau's Matthew Tschabold. Most of them pay more than 30 percent of income on rent—technically making them rent burdened.
•Average rents have shot up 30 to 35 percent in the last five years. The average rent is now $1,445 in Portland.
•Tschabold says the flat fee under discussion is attempting to account for typical costs when moving: first month's rent, last month's rent, and a security deposit. Other moving costs aren't considered.
Marc Jolin of the Joint Office of Homeless Services, says that the stark rent increases have rendered short-term rent assistance—a central tool in his tool box—less potent than it once was.
"Short-term rental assistance can only forestall the inevitable," Jolin says. "They will eventually lose their housing." He notes that the city has dramatically increased shelter space, and also helped record numbers of people get permanent housing. It doesn't matter—the shelters are still packed, Jolin says.
County Chair Deborah Kafoury is talking now. She says the county is trying to find money to help Northeast Portland renters who were recently hit with a 100 percent rent increase.
"We don’t have enough money to help every family that’s experiencing this crisis," Kafoury says. "We need more housing. Particularly we need more housing for people with lower incomes—roughly 30 percent of the median family income."
ON THAT NOTE: If you haven't read our story this week about how that very type of housing is being imperiled under Donald Trump, you should do that now.
Local attorney Vivien Lyon, an invited speaker, is pulling a B. Rabbit-in-8-Mile style testimony in which she lays out the arguments she anticipates from landlords. She downplays the harsh scenarios that she envisions will be painted later in the hearing, and suggests that no-cause evictions are easy, but often not proper.
"The key thing to note is that using a no-cause eviction in a situation in which a for-cause is called for is an end run around due process," Lyon says. "These nightmare scenarios assume the tenant in question is guilty."
Andy Miller, of the shelter operator Human Solutions, just urged council to pass the ordinance, and said it won't be enough to curb Portland's issues.
"We need a more systemic and comprehensive response," Millers says.
Here's Portland Tenants United's Margot Black, who, as always, is speaking forcefully about the plight tenants can face with a variety of anecdotes.
"The renters who call PTU in a desperate panic are those who need to be out next week, or tomorrow, or yesterday," she says, laying out how frantic things become when one unexpectedly loses housing. She says tenants are no better equipped to deal with the costs of moving than landlords, so if landlords are upset by sharing the cost, they should rethink no-cause evictions or steep hikes.
Also: "Sorry about the hat," she tells council. "Once you put it on, you can't take it off."
Our first landlord speaks! And since he;s been invited, he clearly supports the ordinance (I didn't catch his name). He also says he has a letter signed by more than 20 realtors.
"Landlords are not being punished here," he says. "We all know landlords can afford this, they just have to budget for it."
Then it's time for the other side—who, notably, was also invited by Eudaly. Jeff Edinger, a board member for Multifamily NW, says this ordinance is just going to make things messier in Portland.
"We have an issue in Portland," Edinger says, as some in the crowd hiss." We all agree on that issue: We do not have enough supply to meet the demand." He says the proposal will "not only dissuade new housing, but they do jeopardize the health and safety of our residents."
Then the anecdote: A rhetorical tenant who's harassing neighborhood children.
"Why would we use the for-cause process and put those children on a stand, when we can use the no-cause process?" he says. "What about landlord that needs to put a new roof on their property? Under this ordinance they won’t be able to raise the rents to cover the cost. This may result in houses falling into disrepair."
A landlords' attorney is up next. He suggests rents have fallen. People laugh, and both Ted Wheeler and Nick Fish urge civility.
Then Fish asks Edinger how he'd recommend the council shape rules on this policy, if it passes today. Edinger doesn't want it to pass, and notes that his organization, Multifamily NW, has ties to 200,000 rental units in the state.
"Don't you think you should give us more than five minutes’ time?" he asks. "Let us give you some solutions."
And now the landlord types in the audience are the ones being a bit boisterous! It's getting chippy as Eudaly questions folks at the stand.
A council rarity: Things briefly turn into an open debate between Eudaly and Edinger of Multifamily NW. Here's the rough exchange:
EUDALY: "This is a temporary emergency ordinance. We are attempting to do the most good for the most people. We can never account for every possible outcome when we are setting policy. By and large the hardship is on the tenants. We are asking the landlords to acknowledge their role in this housing crisis."
EDINGER, complaining his group wasn't brought to the table: "We can help, you just have to let us. Give us the opportunity."
EUDALY: "You weren't asked to participate and I’ll tel you why: Your organization is among many special interest groups that support the ban on rent control… Your organization has had several years to come up with an alternative." She mentions a recent proposal from the landlord lobby to use state tax credits to give some renters $100 per month. "We have 75,000 people in the City of Portland alone spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing. $100 a month is an insult to those households—mine included. That is why you weren't asked to the table. You weren't willing to participate in a meaningful discussion on the issues."
EDINGER, saying $100 per month was a starting suggestion: "Why would you turn away any tools in this market that can help the people that we are all trying to protect?"
AMENDMENTS! It turns out there are a lot of possible tweaks on the table.
Eudaly has some changes that would help landlords who've already given notice they're evicting tenants or hiking rents rescind that decision, if they don't want to pay the fees. She also wants to amend the timeline under which landlords have to pay tenants a check.
Fish is concerned about unintended consequences, and wants to create a rulemaking process that will help tweak this law if there are issues. He also suggests letting Housing Bureau Director Kurt Creager rule on claims of "hardship" under the rule. It's unclear any of that will happen.
Lastly, Commissioner Amanda Fritz wants council to consider an exemption for mom-and-pop landlords that control between one and four rental units. Wheeler seems to agree. They've both heard from constituents about this, and there are lots of thumbs up in the crowd when they suggest it.
By the way, this is the ordinance under consideration.
Eudaly also mentions something I should probably note: If this passes, there's no city mechanism that will actually be able to enforce this rule. There's an Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs being mulled in the next budget, but no entity that can bring landlords into compliance before July at the soonest.
"The remedy for tenants at this point is the same remedy they have now, which is going to court," Eudaly says.
Now we sit back and watch citizen testimony. Nearly 120 people have signed up to speak, which could translate to hours and hours. It's already getting emotional as people speak out about the hardships they've experienced.
"I can't see myself in the streets," one woman is saying. "I can't see [my son] in the streets. Please take action. We don't know if we're going to make it."
It's all renters and supporters of the ordinance, so far.
"We are in a time of crisis," says one woman, who came with neighbors from her St. Johns apartment complex. "Renters all over the city are experiencing astronomical rent hikes." The ordinance, she says, "gives us a chance to not be insignificant to the powers that be. All we’re asking is a chance to stay in our neighborhoods."
People are approaching the stand en masse, toting their children, imploring council to act.
Joe Walsh, who always attends these hearings and frequently upbraids commissioners, gets up and says all landlords are multimillionaires. When a contingent begins jeering, he says: "Okay, the landlords that are here today, are only ALMOST multimillionaires."
His point:"You hear the plea of your citizens and then you hear the plea of the people with the money. Make your choice."
A property owner named Mike Nuss, of a company called RareBird, comes to the table to go to bat for mom-and-pop landlords, which he defines as people managing 20 units or less.
"Thanks you for the boldness of bringing such an ordinance to the table," Nuss says. "I do have to say that it's very sad to see the way its been brought to the table with so much disrespect. Donald Trump politics will not solve this situation."
Nuss's main point is that small-time property managers are willing to work with people. He says he sets rents at below market rates for people in special circumstances. And he argues that the city needs to play ball with people like him, saying the real enemies are owners of larger complexes. He seems to believe only large buildings should be subject to the ordinance, though he runs out of time.
As of 4:45pm council is on a brief recess.
It's not clear we'll get any answer on this thing tonight. When council returns from break, Wheeler announces he's cutting testimony to 1.5 minutes, from three (though he suggests he'll be lenient). Fish suggests council take stock at 6 pm to see how many people are waiting to testify. If it's a lot, we may be looking at a continuation to next week.
We're hearing from more and more landlord advocates. A woman named Diane Frank (sp?) says she's owned a single-family home for years, and rented it ethically, with no rent increases for more than five years.
"Landlords have really be slandered here today," Frank says. If council passes this policy she believes "small independent landlords like myself who have been conscientious… will sell. I have four tenants, and there will be four tenants looking for housing."
Others add on that they don't think council is taking landlords' many costs into effect. "We're going to raise the rents to the maximum level possible," one self-described "small-time" landlord says. "If I don't pay [my] mortgage, no one's going to pay me $4,500 to get my stuff out of that house."
Adds: "I'm sorry, but we live in a capitalist society." ALL THE BOOS. Then some claps?
Snow and sleet have apparently begun outdoors. Events are already being canceled, Fish reports to crowd. "Of course it has," says Wheeler.
And yet here we all are in City Hall! Maybe we'll all be here forever.
It's pretty much a holding pattern of people alternating support and opposition at this point. Not a lot of new arguments.
One man, a Portland Association of Teachers member who's also a landlord, doesn't buy the argument that small landlords should get off the hook. His take: "I can't believe people are complaining about this. There’s no reason landlords like me have to raise rents by more than 10 percent. I really think it should be 3 percent. There’s also no reason landlords should have to evict for cause... Already the system is so rigged for landlords... The system is so unfair. This is one thing to protect tenants."
All the landlord types vehemently agree that there's a housing crisis, but most are insistent that this is going to further hurt things.
Another man says he only just moved back from overseas, and may have to now pay his tenants thousands to move back into his home. He says doing so will "absolutely destroy" his finances.
That draws a follow up from Fritz, which is notable. Typically when a member of council hears something that might sway their opinion, they follow up with the person testifying. That's not happened often tonight. I'm legit unsure if Commissioner Dan Saltzman's said a single word.
That might be a sign that a council that seemed to favor this measure heading into tonight is still ready to pass these protections. But, again, its unclear there will be a vote tonight. If there is, only a unanimous vote would be enough to put the law into effect right away.
Steven Goldberg, an attorney who represents Portland Tenants United, takes the stand to dismiss the notion that the law might count as rent control.
" This law does not pre-empt landlords from increasing rents," Goldberg says. "State law does nothing to prevent cities from mitigating the impact of rent increases on its most vulnerable citizens."
Further he says threats of a suit are "the same kind of bullying behavior which seems to be controlling national politics at this time," which means each side has compared the other to Trump tonight.
It's 6 pm! There are still 80 people signed up, but it's clear many of those are gone. Council has recessed again to plan next steps.
What could happen?
"There's a lot of interest in getting this wrapped up this evening," Wheeler tells the crowd as council reconvenes. So it looks like we'll see a vote!
Wheeler is going to limit people to a minute of testimony—there are 26 folks left. Both he and Fish say people should limit their testimony to new arguments.
We're five hours into this thing, and it seems everyone's getting a little punchy. A landlord tells council that she might be forced to evict her below-market tenants, pay the relocation costs, then raise rents to the market. She makes the mistake of referring to Eudaly by only her last name, and the commissioner responds:
"When you address the council I'd appreciate it if you'd use our formal titles and not just our last names."
First time I've heard a commissioner say that.
We've reached a part of the hearing that's heavily weighted toward landlord testimony. A man just said that the stories of hardship he'd heard tonight touched his heart, but then promised to "retaliate" with higher rents when this passes. Another woman scoffs at the notion that landlords are rich, saying she drives a 13-year-old car and works another job.
We must be getting close to a vote. Dan Saltzman is missing right now, but I assume he'll be back?