Mayor Ted Wheeler made it official on February 9. Appearing before an advisory committee that's been studying fixes to Portland's law requiring relocation payments to renters, Wheeler announced he'd support closing a controversial loophole in the policy.
Now, members of a separate but similar committee are quitting in protest. Since Wheeler's announcement that he'll be a crucial vote in making sure landlords who rent only a single unit are required to pay relocation fees, two men have resigned from the new Rental Services Commission (RSC), a board meant to make recommendations on city policies around rentals.
Shortly after Wheeler's announcement, RSC member Ron Garcia was the first to defect. A property manager and president of Rental Housing Alliance Oregon, Garcia told the Portland Tribune he was upset that Wheeler hadn't asked the RSC for its input.
"The people I represent feel betrayed," Garcia said, according to the Trib. "I can't continue to serve on the commission in good conscience. That would make it look like the landlord point of view is being considered, which it isn't."
It turns out Garcia's move inspired another member of the RSC. Nick Cook, a property manager who derives much of his business from people who entrust him to rent out and manage their lone rental property, sent notice on Monday, February 12 that he, too, was bailing from the RSC.
Cook tells the Mercury he feels the same as Garcia—that the RSC has been set up to favor renters over landlords, and that policy decisions are being made without adequate understanding of the economic and business realities landlords face.
"The 180 on that policy—from what I can tell without any data with real merit—is concerning," Cook says. "Politics is going to trump whatever logical or perhaps factual discussion that we have."
The question Cook says he asked himself: "If I continue on the commission, do I feel like I’ll have an impact, or do I feel Like I’m going to be part of a commission that already has a direction?"
Cook's letter of resignation [PDF] was fairly scathing, suggesting the RSC has spoon fed "what appears to be an already ironed out agenda."
"The premise guiding the agenda and terminology is that tenants are victims who need more protection," Cook wrote. "There have been zero ideas or discussions on how to relieve the hardships, liability, and risk landlords face every day."
Both Garcia and Cook's objection to Wheeler's reversal are a bit overblown. Prior to convening the RSC, the city created a technical advisory committee that has the express mission of studying potential changes to the renter relocation law, which mandates payments of between $2,900 and $4,500 to renters who have been issued a no-cause eviction or are moving because of rent hikes of 10 percent or more.
"The RSC was not the permanent body on the relo policy," says Michael Cox, Wheeler's deputy chief of staff. "There was a separate committee."
Interestingly, while the RSC and relocation committee share many members, Cook and Garcia only sat on the former.
"I just think it’s absurd for them to quit the RSC for a decision that was not meant to be sent to the RSC," says Margot Black, an organizer with Portland Tenants United who serves on both commissions.
To date, the renter relocation law approved by Portland City Council a year ago has always had an expiration date. That's expected to change on February 28, when the council will take up a permanent version of the law that also includes changes. Chief among those: an end to the exemption that freed single-unit landlords from having to abide the law.
That exemption has seen repeated attacks from tenants' advocates, and earlier this year was the subject of an analysis that suggested more than 20,000 units could be exempted under the policy. In response to the analysis, Wheeler first announced that better data was needed, and that he could not support killing the single-unit exemption. Weeks later, he reversed course.
In place of the single-unit exemption, council is expected to create an exemption for accessory dwelling units, and for duplexes in which the owner lives in one half and rents out the other.